After a three-year hiatus, the black and yellow flags, flags and jerseys are back in force across Kilkenny as the hurling superpower counts down to Sunday’s All-Ireland final.
Beaten by Tipperary in 2019, the Cats last brought the Liam MacCarthy Cup back to the banks of the Nore in 2015. So that’s a seven-year itch that players and fans alike want to get rid of by the end of the weekend.
And that gap, which wouldn’t seem so long in other counties but feels like a famine in relative terms in Kilkenny, means enthusiasm and excitement are at a high level on these balmy summer days.
Villages, towns, streets and avenues of the city are decorated to a high standard, no more so than in properties like The Butts and Ossory Park in the city itself.
Ossory Park resident Liam Carroll said the decision to deck their streets in the borough’s colors dates back to the current manager’s hugely successful tenure.
“It’s been like this for a couple of years now, ever since Brian Cody got everyone together in 1998/99 and said we were going to show some support for the Kilkenny team. They’re just auditioning so fair up there at Nowlan Park, they’ve put a lot of time and effort into it, so we said we’re doing our bit,” he explained.
“We’re trying to get as many people involved and it’s looking good and hopefully appreciated on Sunday.”
As for the match: “I would say it will be close, it will be 50-50, hopefully Kilkenny will win that point or two.”
At De La Salle Place, John Delaney followed a family tradition and also set an example for others by painting the entire front of the house black and amber.
“It’s been like this for years, my father [also John] did and I said I would continue with my own children. The last time we did that was in 2010,” he said.
“We just added the black and amber stripes, traced some cats and swirls, it’s basically a hit. We brushed off the black and amber stripes and made sure it’s nice and straight. We continued anyway.”
John, a junior manager at O’Loughlin Gaels, said he was “fairly confident” about Kilkenny’s chances at the weekend and that the colors will continue to exist in the aftermath. “We’re going to give it a couple of weeks and paint it cream again and maybe if my own club get to the County Finals this year we’ll paint it O’Loughlin’s colors.”
Of course, it’s not hard to find examples of Kilkenny’s earlier successes – in Brian Cody’s day alone they won 11 Senior All-Irelands – and the windscreen of Brett’s family-run hardware reflects that fame. In recent days they have added photos, match reports and other memorabilia to their exhibition, along with a stunning ‘double-sided’ painting of Brian Cody at his most intense by artist Paul Murphy.
“Every year we make it to the finals,” said employee Joe Delaney, “we’re a big group of supporters in the business. To show the support we’ve built on each year, put up some pictures. Obviously when we had what’s called Boom a few years ago, that was a constant feature, but because we’re big fans it’s just to show our support.
“Declan [Brett] and I myself have decided that we’re going to try really hard this year, obviously we haven’t been there for the past few years and then with the pandemic, so we said we’re going to try really hard this year.
“It’s been a few years since we were really at the top but just to look back at a few years before the pandemic it’s nice to even look at the results and the old photos of the old winning teams it’s nice to think about it. But hopefully now we can update it with new memories.”
Kellogg’s Cúl Camps are back in force this year, nowhere more so than in Kilkenny, and one of the biggest crowds of young hurlers and camogie players to gather was in Clara, home to some top-tier inter-county stars over the course of the Years.
Assisting this time is Graigue-Ballycallan’s Aaron McEvoy, who had a secret feeling for Kilkenny but added: “I’d say we need to score a few goals if we’re going to have any chance of overcoming that Limerick defence.”
His friend Cian Byrne from O’Loughlin Gaels agreed: “I would say Kilkenny have a great chance of winning if Mikey Butler is there [Aaron] Gillan, I hope you keep him calm and everything will be fine. I’d say it’s the best chance we’ll have but we need a couple of goals to get past the Limerick defense because they score a lot of points and we don’t really. So goals will win the game.”
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