As the GAA was busy readying itself to celebrate its 125th Anniversary, one county, steeped in the tradition of its oldest game, achieved an unprecedented triumph in 2008. That county was Kilkenny, and its triumph was a clean sweep in all four grades; Minor, Under 21, Intermediate and Senior All-Ireland titles. As a sporting achievement it was unprecedented, and has been faithfully and passionately recorded in 'The Year of the Cats' by Charlie Keegan.
The achievement of this grand slam of titles, simultaneously with Kilkenny senior hurlers achieving their much sought-after second 'three-in-a-row', forms much, but not all, of this well-researched book.
As a sporting journalist with local paper The Kilkenny Voice, the author was certainly well-positioned to recount the championship matches that made the clean sweep possible. Indeed, save for the first match of the intermediate championship, Keegan was present at each and every one, and so is able to give a comprehensive account on each side's road to All-Ireland glory.
He manages, however, to avoid getting bogged down in recounting blow-by-blow accounts of matches, opting for quick summaries, and so the book moves a fast pace, dispatching the telling of the triumphs before mid-way.
However, it is the author's a penchant for hurling history, Kilkenny or otherwise, that greatly enhances the book's appeal, regardless of whether the reader is a 'True Cat' or not.
For example, while documenting the 'three-in-a-row', Keegan not only gives the three All-Ireland titles (2006-2008) an in-depth treatment, but also goes on to compare and contrast the achievement with all the great hurling teams of the 20th Century. He highlights those counties (Kilkenny included) that might have made it, but for the odd season which, ravaged with injuries or by the odd freak result, ended in failure. It is in this manner that the reader gets a greatly enhanced perspective on the recent triumph.
Later, the author's local knowledge and eye for coincidence comes to the fore as he delves into the past, recounting the original 'three-in-a-row' of 1911-1913, and the connections between the hurlers of nearly a century ago to today's modern breed.
Elsewhere, the managers and captains of all four grades of the 2008 winning teams give insightful interviews on the year that was; with senior manager Brian Cody outlining his philosophy on success, a decade into his successful tenure.
To say 'The Year of the Cats' is comprehensive would be a bit of an understatement. The author's obvious passion for the county is evident with every page turned. Where it excels, however, is the in-depth treatment he gives to the history of Kilkenny hurling in achieving so much over the past century.