Kilkenny skipper Buckley leading by example
By John Harrington
Jackie Tyrrell might no longer be wearing the number four jersey for Kilkenny, but once a corner-back, always a corner-back.
His enjoyment of last Sunday’s drawn Leinster SHC Final was writ large all over his face when he analysed it later that night for the Sunday Game.
It wasn’t the most free-flowing or high-scoring game of hurling, but that’s because the aggression, hooking, blocking, tackling, clearing, and intercepting of both sets of defenders made it a hard afternoon for forwards. Grist for Jackie's mill.
Everyone loves an end to end contest full of flair, skill, and spectacular scores, but you can’t argue there’s no beauty in defending when Kilkenny centre-back Cillian Buckley produces a performance like he did against Galway last Sunday.
Up against arguably the greatest hurler of his generation in the shape of Joe Canning, not only did he neutralise that threat with the nous of his defending, he was also the launchpad time and again for Kilkenny’s attacking manoeuvres.
If ever someone played a captain’s part for a team, it was Buckley last Sunday. Time and again he took the fight to Galway and led by example, but that came as no surprise to those who know him best.
Former Kilkenny goalkeeper, Michael Walsh, coached Buckley up through the underage ranks with their club Dicksboro, and says the Kilkenny centre-back has always had those natural leadership qualities.
“That's what you'd expect from him and it's what he'd expect from himself too,” said Walsh.
“The necessity to move into that central position and be that leader was put on him this year and he's handled that very, very well.
“From Day One he was that type. Responsibility was something he thrived on.
“Right from an early stage you could see that the quality was there. Even at that age he had that ruthless streak, that desire to push on.
“He was very, very dedicated from an early age and always wanted to be the very best he could be.”
Even in a county like Kilkenny where the bar is set very high when it comes to honing the skill of young hurlers, Dicksboro’s underage coaching structures are regarded as among the very best in the county.
Buckley certainly plays like someone who was taught all the fundamentals from a very young age.
The best players make the game look effortless and tend to have time and space on the ball because their anticipation, first-touch, and decision-making is so sharp.
Defending is Buckley’s bread and butter, but it’s his ease on the ball and ability to dictate play in all areas of the field that makes him worth his weight in gold to this new-look Kilkenny team.
“He's just an all-round good hurler and, as you can see, a very good athlete as well,” said Walsh.
“In the early days he would have played everywhere from centre-back to centre-forward. Even at minor level he played his first year there as a wing-forward and was very effective.
“He could adapt to any position, but I always felt down through the years that he'd end up as a wing-back and centre-back.
“And the way the centre-back position has gone in the modern game, it suits him very well. He's settled in very well there for Kilkenny.”
Kilkenny were underdogs going into last Sunday’s drawn match with Galway and probably will be again for this weekend’s replay, but the manner in which this new-look team is learning so quickly on the jobs should be alarming for all of their rivals.
With Buckley and Padraig Walsh now looking so settled as the new defensive spine of the team, they’re going to be a formidable obstacle for everyone.
“If it had gone on another minute or two last Sunday I think they probably would have won it,” said Walsh.
“I actually fancied them beforehand because there was an amazing amount of talk about Galway and I thought Kilkenny would come in and take it.
“It's all to play for, I think it's wide open. I think for Galway's sake it might be a good thing for them because I think there was too much hype about them.
“I think all the teams left in it have a very good chance and whichever one can get into a rich vein of form in the coming weeks are the ones that will come through.
“It's kind of like two seasons condensed into one. There was the round robin then the bit of a break and now it's another bit of a season again.
“Whoever is left in the competition after this weekend will have a genuine chance and it'll be all about who can hit that vein of form.”