One of the shocks of the 2017 senior hurling championship was the early exit of Kilkenny after they were beaten by Wexford and Waterford respectively.
In light of their previous successful seasons, 2017 was one to forget for Brian Cody’s Cats. Their losses to Waterford and Clare in the National League were unpredictable, but their rocky start epitomised the season that was about to unfold.
Unlike the Kilkenny we all grew to know over the years, they seemed flat when they were defeated by Wexford for the first time in Nowlan Park since 1959 in the league before succumbing to the Yellowbellies’ pressure again in the Leinster Championship.
The air was gloomy in Kilkenny, and after failing to attain the win against Waterford in the qualifiers they bowed out of the championship before they could even get going.
Following that loss, question marks were raised about the most successful hurling manager of all time. Question marks were raised about the quality of players on the Kilkenny team and questions were certainly raised in relation to the county’s conveyor belt that was once unstoppable at producing the goods.
“Do they have anyone coming up? “Sure haven’t Wexford beat them in u-21 for the last few years” were the typical remarks coming from the GAA world, but it’s only those in Kilkenny that can actually witness the sheer quality that’s coming through their hurling ranks and be hopeful for the future.
As the saying goes, every cloud has its silver lining and that metaphor can be emphatically applied to Kilkenny’s current situation.
With attention to their current u-21 hurling team, the quality that team possesses would suggest that the Marble conveyor belt is still in perfect working order. They eased passed Wexford to attain u-21 silverware for the first time since 2012 in the Leinster Championship.
Albeit, this result was little surprise to Kilkenny locals, as they were totally aware that this Kilkenny team consisted of the same players that were victorious in the All-Ireland minor final three years earlier. However, after five years without silverware in the competition, it gives hope to Kilkenny hurling fans.
Now, three years later, these Kilkenny players await Derry in an All-Ireland semi-final, and with all due respect to Derry’s remarkable achievements in Ulster this year, this semi-final is destined to be one-way traffic.
However, even though Kilkenny are undeniably almost certain of a place in an u-21 All-Ireland final, they are coming completely under the radar with a lot of media attention and expectation being on Limerick. The talk of Limerick’s terrific players is warranted, but Kilkenny have equally talented players if not greater on their team.
Their starting fifteen is extremely strong, with players such as Jason Cleere, Alan Murphy, Richie Leahy and Liam Blanchfield being no strangers to the senior set-up in Kilkenny. Again, this would suggest that the conveyor built has not come to a halt, but the Kilkenny senior team are simply in a period of transition as Cody insists on introducing younger players.
The fact that The Noresiders are competitive at this level again though is no surprise. Over the last eight years, the successful Kilkenny school team, St Kieran’s College have won the Dr Croke Cup on five occasions, winning three of the previous four competitions.
Similarly, in the Leinster minor championship, the Cats continue to impress having brought back silverware four times in the previous five years.
Success in competitions like these does not come easy, and as long as Kilkenny continue to be successful in areas like this, there will always be room for a perfectly running conveyor belt.
Jason Redmond, Pundit Arena.
Check out the latest episode of The 16th Man where we hear from Derek McGrath, Dan Shanahan and Kieran Kingston after Waterford’s win over Cork in the All-Ireland semi-final.