Despite several retirements during the off-season, Brian Barry argues that Kilkenny are by no means finished in their quest for more glory in 2015.
Kilkenny captured the All-Ireland Hurling Championship for the 35th time last September, with Brian Cody and Henry Shefflin both securing their tenth titles.
On the back of much criticism in 2013, there was a sense that the 2014 triumph was a last hurrah.
Now five prominent members of the squad have retired, with Shefflin’s decision pending. There is a true sense of the end of an era surrounding the Black and Amber entering 2015, but do not be fooled, they will come back, hungry as ever for Liam McCarthy.
Of the five retirees, three were in the backs. JJ Delaney, Brian Hogan, and Tommy Walsh are legends of the game, and have left big boots to fill. But in truth, none will be sorely missed, and there are plenty of suitors to the throne.
Walsh struggled to hold down a starting berth last year, while Hogan largely struggled throughout, and was dropped for the final replay. JJ meanwhile was a protagonist in the second game, driving the Cats to what many consider the greatest display of defending ever seen. But it was quickly forgotten that the 2003 Hurler of the Year seemed adrift in the drawn match three weeks earlier.
No disrespect to three warriors who owe nothing to their county nor hurling itself, but they reached a point where they were no longer irreplaceable. In Paul Murphy, the Cats hold the best defender in the country at present, and he can play anywhere across the back six.
Should he remain in the corner, Jackie Tyrell could move over to the edge of the square. Kieran Joyce showed that he is more than capable of filling Brian Hogan’s boots, with Lester Ryan, Pádraig Walsh, Joey Holden, and Cillian Buckley all eager for a starting spot. Essentially, Kilkenny are in a healthier position in defence than this time last year.
Further up the field, it is as you were. Kilkenny are renowned for the conveyor belt of talent, so don’t be surprised to see a few new faces make their way into Brian Cody’s plans this Spring.
While Henry Shefflin may be waning, and yet to even make a decision about the year, TJ Reid unquestionably filled the boots of his clubman last year, and was fantastic throughout the summer, leading the forwards with passion.
The competitive nature of the Kilkenny set-up ensures that they are always there or thereabouts come the end of the National Hurling League. For other counties, the league is a time to experiment, and certain players will be ensured of a summer starting spot.
But under the Cody regime, every man on the panel is fighting to keep his place. In the current league format, teams are only guaranteed five games in the league. We have seen there can be a fine margin between a semi-final spot and a date in the relegation play-off.
The Cats will come out all guns blazing in February, and with a trip to Cork first up, they will have to be at their best to hit the ground running and record a victory.
Kilkenny then bide their time until the 21st June, where a likely date with Wexford is on the cards. The Yellowbellies are rapidly improving, and many fancy them to take the scalp.
But Kilkenny have no intentions of taking the scenic route to September. Liam McCarthy wintering Noreside again is only a potential four matches away. Of course this is easier said than done considering the recent competitive nature of the All-Ireland Hurling Championship. However, Kilkenny are well primed facing into the new year.
The general consensus may be that the Cats are finished in light of their recent retirements, but emerging talent ensures that this could not be further from the truth. The bookmakers have installed Cody’s side as favourites to retain their title. Such teams don’t do transition periods. Write them off at your peril.
Brian Barry, Pundit Arena
Read More About: all ireland hurling championship, Brian Cody, brian hogan, cillian buckley, henry shefflin, Hurling, jackie tyrell, jj delaney, joey holden, kieran joyce, Kilkenny, kilkenny hurling, lester ryan, padraig walsh, paul murphy, tj reid, tommy walsh