JJ Delaney tribute: A hurling legend made of different stuff 3 months ago

JJ Delaney tribute: A hurling legend made of different stuff

When you lead by example, words are an unnecessary luxury.

Match-day and in the Kilkenny dressing room, JJ Delaney is happy in his own skin. Has a scan of the programme, a yawn maybe and a chat with the fella sitting down beside him. That's all that's needed.

While some players like to share their thoughts with the group, JJ led with actions rather than words and standing in the middle of the Kilkenny dressing room, Brian Cody always knew that no matter how relaxed he looked, that his man was ready for whatever lay ahead.

"He was totally relaxed in the dressing room," said a refreshingly laid back Cody on JJ Delaney's GAA Hour tribute show recently.

"He'd sit down, look through the programme while everyone else would be out pucking or walking around. Then, when everyone else was half togged out, he might start getting changed.

"He wasn't a massive talker," said Cody, "but whenever he did speak, it was worth hearing. I suppose (he wasn't a talker) because he was hugely concentrated on his own performance - and that stood to him. He was always preparing, and that's the most important thing for every player, that you're ready to go yourself..."

For 14 years, JJ was ready to go.

Widely regarded as one of the greatest defenders ever, one of the many standout aspects of JJ's game was his ability to claim ownership of the skies.

Having come up against JJ on numerous occasions, Waterford's Dan Shanahan is more familiar with his aerial prowess than most and he says that the Kilkenny man's timing set him apart.

"His timing was unreal in the air. If he didn't catch it, you could be guaranteed you wouldn't catch it either and I knew all about it," he laughs.

When asked for his approach to contesting a puck-out, Delaney shared some interesting secrets.

"I never really caught the ball in front of my face. I used to catch it at the back of my head, let the ball pass my opponent because you have the ball falling into your hand, rather than hitting your hand. All you've to do is clear the path.

"You win that ball in the air, it's demoralising for your opponent. You can dictate where play is going to go as well. It's a real individual battle, whoever wants it more..."

One of the more striking insights into the mindset of a great hurler came when Delaney discussed his motivations heading into 2014, the year he knew would be his final one.

"I wasn't happy with the way 2013 went," he says.

"Fitness wise, touch wise. I wasn't where I should have been. And if you're really harsh looking back, you can bluff your teammates, you can bluff your manager, but you can't bluff yourself.

"So I had a hard conversation with myself saying I wasn't fit enough. I wasn't putting in enough gym work, the touch wasn't right. I was just putting in all the things I could to rectify my own game. I was going to put myself in the best position for Brian to pick me."

And while many may have felt that there was more in the tank, none-more so than Brian Cody who told him 'there's probably more in you,' - Delaney had his mind made up.

"After 2013, I told my wife Aisling I was going to give it one more year. I said I'd give it my all for that year. I was just looking forward to going back to the club and all. But fair enough, the legs could have been able to do it (another year,) but I could have cost Kilkenny an All-Ireland who knows.

"I was just done with the county scene, my mind was made up and I didn't want to be taking up a Kilkenny jersey that another fella might have appreciated more.

"I kind of had a few red flags in my own head that my standards were slipping as well. There was a few occasions during the year that I just felt myself, if the ball broke our way, I wouldn't have got there..."

A perfectionist at work. A hurling legend from a different planet.

You can listen to the GAA Hour's JJ Delaney tribute show here.