Kilkenny took their foot off the pedal last year, but they are slowly emerging as a force in the hurling world once again.
2017 was a year to forget for the Kilkenny faithful. Their Leinster Championship hopes were diminished following a trip to Wexford Park, after Davy Fitzgerald’s Wexford side emerged victorious in the semi-final.
A gutsy performance ensued against Waterford in the qualifiers, but they were beaten by their near-neighbours on a scoreline of 4-23 to 2-22 after extra-time. Waterford ended a 58-year famine to beat Kilkenny in Championship hurling, and Kilkenny were unconventionally out of All-Ireland contention by July.
Overall though, Kilkenny supporters will be happy with the Cats’ progression in 2018. With TJ Reid and Ger Aylward’s return, the implementation of a new short-passing game and the incorporation of many young, talented players into their panel, this remains a Kilkenny side that possesses many dangerous traits.
Speaking to AgriLand in Croke Park lately, Ballyhale Shamrocks club-man TJ Reid outlined one of Kilkenny’s main aims for the 2018 season – and it’s a certainly an achievable one:
“We’re improving as the days go on, it’s still early days yet. But being here and looking out at the pitch just reminds me of how we didn’t get to Croke Park last year.
“That will be our main goal, we want to get back here either through Leinster or at the later stages.”
Previous Kilkenny sides had aims for All-Ireland glory as Leinster Championships came at will, but with the retirement of many players involved with Kilkenny’s golden-generation, the introduction of Galway and Wexford’s revival, claiming the Bob O’Keeffe Cup will be a difficult one.
However, with the return of Colin Fennelly, Richie Hogan and Paul Murphy looming for championship, the Cats will find themselves in a strong position ahead of the summer.
Although TJ’s “main goal” is to get to Croke Park again, if Kilkenny do manage this, they’ll fancy their chances against whoever stands in their way.
Jason Redmond, Pundit Arena