Can Kilkenny hurlers bounce back from poor six months?

A rare early elimination in the Leinster championship for Kilkenny has everyone in the hurling world in shock and excitement as the hurling championship has been blown wide open.

We ask where do Kilkenny go from here on and discuss the current state of Kilkenny hurling.

After the league defeat to Wexford, it was expected that we would see Kilkenny looking for revenge as they have done on so many an occasion when Kilkenny have been written off. In 2015 when they played Wexford, Kilkenny came off a poor league campaign much like this year. On that day in 2015 Kilkenny destroyed Wexford by over 20 points and it wasn’t up until this year that Wexford have recovered. However, on last Saturday evening for once, we did no see that ruthless Kilkenny we have seen in the past even with a dream start from a penalty from TJ Reid.

How many times have we seen Kilkenny with that type of start and the next thing you know its 15 minutes into a game and the cats have bagged two or three goals and the game as a contest is over but not on Saturday. Even when Reid scored the penalty he had the easiest of frees almost in front of the post he put it wide. It symbolised Kilkenny on the day they just looked unprepared for this game both on the field and from management.

The decision to play a clearly unfit Paudraig Walsh, who was in a protective boot for two weeks prior to the game and Ritchie Hogan who has been struggling with a back injury should not have played. Ger Aylward was lacking match sharpness but aside from Colin Fennelly was the only other forward who was winning ball in the full forward line but didn’t have the best time aiming for the post hitting four wides. The decision to pull him aside before HT seemed harsh and irrational. It was understandable that a player who has not played inter-county hurling in over a year would have some rustiness to shake off and it was possible a matter of time before he got his range.

Ger Loughnane in his article for The Star wrote ‘Kilkenny are no longer the team of 2007 and Brian Cody is no longer the Brian Cody of 2007.’ Based on last Saturday and even the All-Ireland final of last year this is a true statement. In the ALL-Ireland final, Cody was far too late making changes and when he did the game was up. On Saturday he was the opposite, rash in his decisions (such as the Aylward substitution) and his decision to use substitute goalie Ritchie Reid as a forward must be questioned. In terms of general play the tactic was to drive the ball into Colin Fennelly in the full-forward line. While Fennelly did get success, direct ball into your full forward is somewhat limiting as you cannot expect your full-forward at this level to win every ball that comes in. In contrast Wexford mixed the play from a running game with a mixture of direct hurling and it worked with Chin’s running and Guiney strength in the air. Wexford had a game plan and Kilkenny did not.

The reality is that Kilkenny do not have the players they once had. If you follow underage hurling, Wexford especially at U-21 grade have had the better of their neighbours including a 17-point victory in a Leinster final in 2015. They have not won a Leinster U-21 title since 2012 which for Kilkenny is not good enough. However, at minor there are some promising signs with St Kieran’s and Kilkenny CBS reaching Leinster school finals regularly and with the previous denied four in a row this year by Our Lady’s Templemore. The minors are one of the favourites to win the All-Ireland and face Dublin in the Leinster final on July 2nd. Kilkenny fans are hoping that the next golden generation will be made up of that side.

As for the seniors moving forward, a good qualifier draw will set the ball rolling. If Walsh, Aylward, Hogan and most importantly get fully fit they are still serious All-Ireland contenders. The nightmare situation for the qualifier draw for Kilkenny on Monday would be Tipperary. With all the questions surrounding Tipp at the moment what better way to silence the doubters than knocking out your biggest rivals. You also feel that Kilkenny would not be prepared for a shot at the champions considering their injuries. If they can get a win in the qualifiers to boost confidence and have their key players return to fitness, Kilkenny are still a force.


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