‘If we get a chance,’ the player roared in the dressing room beforehand, ‘let’s bury these f***ers.’
It was just one of the many punishment beatings Kilkenny dished out during that spring but Kilkenny wanted to annihilate and destroy, Cork for a reason. Cork had just emerged from their third players strike, and the collective Kilkenny mentality, combined with the mood in the county towards Cork, ensured that a ruthless and relentless machine mowed Cork down like roadkill.
“There was a genuine disdain for Cork and what those players stood for,” wrote Jackie Tyrrell in his new autobiography ‘The Warrior’s Code’, which was released last week.
“We didn’t want to just beat Cork that day – we wanted to trample them into the ground like dirt.”
Once Kilkenny got on top early, that impulse and desire to keep nailing Cork was propelled by the crowd who were baying for blood. They kept pushing the players on for more and Kilkenny gladly responded to the mood of the mob.
"We took great satisfaction out of hammering Cork but we wanted to beat the sh**e out of everyone,” wrote Tyrrell. “We wanted to embarrass players. To mentally dominate them. A common phrase in our dressing room was, ‘Let’s put hurling out of these fellas’ heads for a long time.’
"That basically translated into, ‘Let’s psychologically scar these f***ers so much that when they come up against us in the championship, they’ll run from us.’”
For years, the whole Irish sporting world was intrigued and desperate to know more about Kilkenny, of what shaped their mentality and transformed them into the ruthless machine they were. Yet the mystery remained because Brian Cody ruthlessly policed everything so stringently that little or no information seeped out of the camp.
But that has all changed now as Tyrrell so graphically reveals in his book.
Kilkenny “operated like a crazed army” but destroying Cork provided the ultimate high.
It was always obvious that both counties had travelled in different directions after the 2002 league final, when half the Cork team followed through on an agreed protest beforehand, while Andy Comerford was the only Kilkenny player to do so.
The whole business left a sour taste in Cork’s mouths towards Kilkenny but it never bothered Kilkenny. They didn’t care what Cork thought about them.
As Cork led the charge towards a better welfare state for all players, Kilkenny just focused on themselves.
Cork clearly didn’t like Kilkenny, and their attitude. In his book, Donal Óg Cusack called Kilkenny ‘The Stepford Wives’.
The term refers to a thriller satirical novel, the story based around a young mother who begins to suspect that the frighteningly submissive housewives in her new idyllic Connecticut neighbourhood may be robots created by their husbands.
“In Cusack’s mind, we were all submissive robots controlled by Cody,” wrote Tyrrell. “They had their reasons for going on strike but we still thought that they lost sight of what hurling was really all about.
"They had the balls to stand up to their county board but my attitude was, ‘Have ye the balls to stand up to us?’”
Kilkenny had a beef with most counties but when they got a chance to stick it to Cork, they gave it to them harder than anyone else.
Cork had been on top for two years in the middle of the last decade but once Kilkenny took over after 2006, they made it their business to keep Cork down.
“When we met them in the 2008 All-Ireland semi-final, we didn’t just want to beat them – we wanted to set them back for a decade,” wrote Tyrrell. “They may have been getting notions about themselves but we weren’t long putting those ambitions out of their heads.”
Kilkenny were never hung up on trying to find an edge in motivation on the opposition but sourcing that fuel before they met Cork was always easy.
When Cork came with their running/possession game in the 2000s, they were rightly playing to their strengths. They were tailoring their game to the players they had at their disposal but Kilkenny never looked at it in those terms.
Especially Tyrrell: “We had an attitude of, ‘Why won’t Cork come out and play us 15 on 15? Are ye that scared of us?
"Ye came up with this game because ye haven’t got the balls to take us on man for man. And when it comes down to it, we will blow ye out of the water anyway.’”
When Kilkenny met Cork again in the 2010 championship, Donal Óg’s comments weren’t even a factor for Kilkenny by then.
It hardly even triggered a reaction from Kilkenny. They were able to hammer Cork without having to go beyond third gear.
“If we were robots, as Donal Óg suggested,” wrote Tyrrell, “we had no problem turning into Terminators and exterminating that team for good.”
Cork hurling went through a very difficult period in the latter half of the 2000s. The county board were responsible for much of that strife, which ultimately led to the second and third players strikes.
That Cork team was good enough to go on and win more All-Irelands but they never did.
The team was pushing on.
A younger Kilkenny team were getting stronger and better but the real sense of regret for many of those Cork players was wondering what could have happened if the strikes had never occurred?
When the Kilkenny machine started cranking up into a relentless force, Cork needed everyone, and everything to be right to try and halt their crusade.
Cork couldn’t. And Tyrrell, and Kilkenny, were ultimately proven right; they effectively buried that Cork team.
And set the county back for years.