Former Kilkenny hurler, Michael Fennelly is worried about the lack of stand-out players at underage level within his county’s setup.
Speaking at the Electric Ireland Minor Hurling Team of the Year announcement, the eight-time All-Ireland winner admitted that Kilkenny need to start the hunt for replacements for their more experienced players like Richie Hogan and Fennelly’s brother, Colin.
“We need to find more forwards, that’s the key. TJ is probably the main fella there and we need more quality like that. Richie Hogan and Colin (Fennelly) the two boys are close to 30.”
“In the U21s we were knocked out very early so I’m not sure if there is that talent coming through yet. There are some good hurlers there but no-one is sticking out massively in terms of a name that everyone will know.”
Despite this, Fennelly believes there is much to be optimistic about in Kilkenny. Their minor team reached the All Ireland final where they lost out to Galway on a scoreline of 0-21 to 0-14. The Ballyhale Shamrocks man likened the Cats to Limerick, who have built a young team through their underage setup.
“I think it’s optimistic alright. We got to an All-Ireland minor final. Our U21s lost the first round to Galway by two points, but that was a strong team. There are hurlers there and the skill levels haven’t gone away. St Kieran’s College and Kilkenny CBS are still producing good hurlers. Even though we didn’t win the minor we hopefully still have that cohort coming through.”
“Limerick have that. Even though they haven’t won a minor in the last 40 years, they’ve been strong at U21. They won two over the last three years and now they’ve a huge cohort of 30 players. That’s when training gets better and when you can develop more players. There’s some real talent there that came through in those years and are now shining.”
Kilkenny were knocked out of the senior championship at the quarter-final stage at the hands of that young Limerick team but Fennelly maintains that result could have been much different had injuries not played a factor and insists that the Cats are still a force to be reckoned with.
“They could be fifth or sixth in the pecking order at the moment. They’re not massively far off it. They barely lost against Limerick this year and were missing Walter Walsh which was a huge loss. They could have won that game, it came down to the last four or five minutes. And Limerick have been coming strong in every game at the end, their subs make a huge impact.”
Brian Cody’s side had to manage without Colin Fennelly and Paul Murphy at the beginning of the year as they were both on tour in Lebanon with the Irish defence forces and the 33-year-old admitted that the situation wasn’t “ideal”.
“That wasn’t ideal. That’s two players gone already and you’ve injuries on top of that as well. You need absolutely everyone. In my last year in 2017 we had eight or nine injuries in the league. That’s just not sustainable. This year they were lucky they had maybe two or three injuries – Richie Hogan was one, Ger Aylward was up and down, Kevin Kelly as well. Even at that, two or three is still a lot to be honest. Injury prevention is absolutely key.”
“Limerick were lucky this year, I think only one player (got injured) – Paul Browne the midfielder done his cruciate. And they can happen, they’re once-off things that can happen every so often. But you’ve got to minimise injuries and keep as many players together. Kilkenny are lacking that quality of players in terms of the 30 or 40-odd so whatever they have they need to hold onto.”
Michael Fennelly was speaking at the Electric Ireland Minor Hurling Team of the Year announcement.
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