Flashback: 2006 All-Ireland SHC Final - Kilkenny v Cork
By Cian O’Connell
When Kilkenny and Cork collide the stakes are usually piled high. Tradition and talent means that is just the case.
The All Ireland Final of 2006 was eagerly anticipated. Cork had set the standard during the previous two campaigns.
Similar to other spells in the decorated Brian Cody era, Kilkenny watched and waited for an opportunity to pounce.
This was a chance to plant the striped flag on the hurling summit again. Cork’s purpose and ambition had been evident in the previous two Championships.
Throughout 2006 Clare, Tipperary, Limerick, and Waterford had all been beaten. Everything appeared to be motoring fairly smoothly for the champions.
It meant that Kilkenny entered the decider in the rare position of being underdogs. More than a decade later Tommy Walsh admits that supplied a drop of motivation. When asked about his standout wins at GAA headquarters the Tullaroan clubman offered an interesting reply last year.
“We were massive favourites for most of our All Ireland finals bar two - the '06 and 11 final,” Walsh remarked.
“Them two finals stand out above all. We weren't the favourites going in, we weren't expected to win them and we did. That pure elation and pure excitement those were two that stood out.”
In Cork the chance to secure a third All Ireland title on the spin was missed. Ultimately the defeat marked the end of a respected team.
Those who flared to prominence in 1999 had delivered so many splendid red and white days. Cork were a force, whoever bested them was relevant on the national stage.
So to lose to Kilkenny in 2006 was painful for a plethora of reasons. In Donal Óg Cusack’s autobiography the class Cork custodian reflected on the impact a Cork win could have had. Instead, though, Kilkenny triumphed. The Cats hoisted Liam MacCarthy four times on the spin.
“We had the All Ireland victory of 1999 following on underage success,” Cusack wrote. “We knew that if we kept it going, the next decade could be ours. We had no fear. Kilkenny came with us as rivals and we kept raising the bar for each other.
“In Cork, while we have had a series of managers over the years, we have watched Kilkenny thrive under what seems like the eternal presence of Brian Cody. We have always felt that we could have finished Cody off in 2006 if we had beaten them in the All Ireland final and completed a three in a row of titles.
That would have hurt Kilkenny deeply and Cody would have been under pressure to go. Instead we created a monster.”
Cody had Kilkenny precisely where he wanted the black and amber outfit. The genuineness Cody so frequently talks about was there. The application and attitude, a willingness to prevail regardless of the circumstances.
Every challenger was sorted out, including the bluebloods of the game, Cork and Tipperary. “We were all GAA young fellas, we were all fully aware of the tradition and the rivalries going back to the 30s, 40s, 50s, and 60s,” Walsh recalls. “At different stages we had a rivalry with Cork, at different stages we had a rivalry with Tipperary.
“When you had that tradition and history going head to head with two great teams, both the Cork and Tipperary teams had great forwards. When they came together like that it was going to be powerful.”
Kilkenny had everything too. Aidan Fogarty’s penchant for contributing handsomely on vital days was reflected with a 1-3 haul against Cork.
Shefflin, the leader, banged over eight points, while back at the opposite end of the field Michael Kavanagh and Jackie Tyrrell formed a strong full back line with Noel Hickey.
In the subsequent campaigns gifted new players were integrated into the Kilkenny set-up, but significant apprenticeships were served.
All the time graft had to be married with craft. In Michael Moynihan’s excellent Blood Brothers book key Cork players reflected on that damaging day.
“They were like frigging bees,” was Ronan Curran’s appraisal. “Everywhere. All over us.”
Kilkenny also were primed for Cork’s crisp style. “I noticed it in the puck-outs, the fact they had five men in the half back line,”Diarmuid O’Sullivan stated. “They had tried that before but broke after half an hour. But they stayed with it in 2006, and that made it hard for us.”
Joe Deane, the polished Cork forward, knew the implications of the reversal were severe. “Nothing compensates for losing an All Ireland final,” the Killeagh forward acknowledged.
“It was our crack at three in a row, and it didn’t come off. What was devastating was we didn’t play well. We left nothing behind us in 2003, while in 2006 we didn’t play as well as we did in the semi-final. That was the really disappointing thing.”
Kilkenny’s triumph signalled the start of a daring glittering spell under Cody. A culture had been cultivated in the county.
“Brian Cody that time set out his standard that it was all about creating a spirit that couldn't be broken,” Walsh remarks.
“When you have that kind of atmosphere around it is very easy to blend in. Young or old we were all very close.
“That comes from the top, that is led from the very top from the County Board, team management, they just lead that whole culture.
“The culture becomes before winning or anything else. Whatever happens after that is important too, but it is definitely secondary. The culture is number one and that is why you see the Kilkenny teams since Brian Cody took over will be tough to beat always.”