BY NIALL SHERRY
ALL PIX: DANNY LAHART
Cats look to end Dub’s unbeaten run
Leinster GAA Hurling Senior Championship
Saturday May 14th Parnell Park, 7pm
Kilkenny will look to bounce back from their narrow defeat to Galway, when they take on Dublin in Parnell Park tomorrow evening (throw-in 7pm).
The race to be crowned Leinster champions is wide open, but both The Cats along with Henry’s tribesmen and tomorrow’s opponents Dublin, will be fancying their chances of getting their hands on the Bob O’Keefe Cup on June 4th.
Mattie Kenny’s super blues are unbeaten in Leinster so far this season, and will go into tomorrow’s game full of confidence against their more illustrious opposition. Of their three games to date, the Metropolitans one point win in Chadwicks Wexford Park is the result that caught the eye of many.
While Dublin is the only side in Leinster with a 100% record, they do have a tendency to concede a high number of scores to their opponents. Currently they have a scoring difference of just +11, the lowest of the top four sides on the table. In their championship games this season, they have shipped 3-54, while registering 1-71 in games against Laois, Wexford and their opponents, Westmeath.
During the National League, Kenny’s charges suffered a huge defeat at the hands of tomorrow’s visitors. When the sides met at Parnell Park in early March, Dublin where also unbeaten at that stage of the competition. Brian Cody’s men hit 2-23 in an emphatic 13-point victory and will be looking for a repeat performance and result in the Capital on Saturday evening.
Dublin come into this game on the back of their most comprehensive championship win, an 8-point win over the Lake County in Mullingar. Like in all their provincial matches to date, Na Fianna’s Donal Burke has hit double figures to help his team to victory, on this occasion, 11 points, seven of which came from frees. Burke has contributed over 35 of his teams 71 points in Leinster this season, and Kilkenny will need to bear this in mind when defending tomorrow evening.
Kilmacud duo, Fergal Whitely and Ronan Hayes have been lively in the full-forward line and along with Ballyboden St Enda’s Aidan Mellet will look to test the Cats defensive unit. Just behind this trio, we are likely to find Rian McBride and the very talented Danny Sutcliffe keeping placed ball specialist Burke company.
In the engine room, Mattie Kenny is likely to field Conor Burke and Lucan’s Chris Crummey, hoping that this duo will at least break even against their Noreside counterparts. The middle third could well be swamped with many bodies throughout the 70-odd minutes of action. St Vincents Rian McBride may drift deeper than his No.11 jersey would suggest.
For the Dubs to stand any chance of securing a home victory, they will look to their captain, Eoghan O’Donnell and his deputy, Cian O’Callaghan to set the tone and provide the necessary leadership at the back, to allow those further forward to ply their trade. Whitehall Colmcille’s O’Donnell is often spoken about in glowing terms, a Rolls Royce of a full-back, almost in the same bracket as his opposite number, Huw Lawlor. Injury has meant that the Dublin No.3 has had somewhat of a stop-start season, but there is no doubt that a fully-fit and flying Eoghan O’Donnell strengthens Mattie Kenny’s hand no end.
Cuala’s Sean Brennan appears to have cemented his place between the sticks, ahead of veteran Alan Nolan. The Dublin goalkeeper will be expecting a fairly busy evening in Parnell Park, and will need to be on top form against a Kilkenny team that has raised ten green flags in their championship campaign so far this season.
Now that the dust has settled on the Salthill showdown, Brian Cody will look to mastermind his side to victory in the Capital tomorrow. Henry & Co are one point better off in the table, while Dublin are two ahead of the Cats. With the top two sides facing-off for the provincial honours, Cody will be keen to secure maximum points from the two fixtures remaining, which could potentially mean Shefflin vs Cody part 2.
It will be interesting to see if the James Stephens club man starts TJ Reid against the Dubs. The legendary Reid was hauled ashore at half-time in the defeat to Galway, and to be honest, didn’t look himself in the opening 35 minutes. Let’s not forget that the Shamrocks man has been nursing an injury since last season’s Kilkenny County Final, hence his absence from the black and amber until recently.
TJ’s replacement during the league has been Glenmore’s Alan Murphy. Alan has been outstanding for the county when called upon, and performed really well when called upon in Salthill last time out. His accuracy from the placed ball and his no-nonsense style means he is definitely an option, should the manager decide to manage TJ’s workload tomorrow.
Reid’s club mate, Eoin Cody has been in inspirational form since returning to county action in 2022. As mentioned in our Galway match review, Cody went through a number of markers in the west, and looked a constant threat throughout proceedings. His one-handed finish to goal against Galway, along with his pass to set up Graigue-Ballycallan’s Billy Ryan were of the highest order. The twice-crowned Young Hurler of the Year will hope to continue this form in Parnell Park and help bring the Dubs 100% record to an end.
During the sides league meeting in March, Walter Walsh hit 1-3 and was in sparkling form. The big Tullogher-Rosbercon man has continued that form in the subsequent games, and has the skill set to be a prove a very useful weapon in the Capital tomorrow evening. Walter’s ability to dominate aerial exchanges and break the defensive line will be crucial against the Dubs. We shouldn’t forget Walter’s passing ability either. He was key in setting up Eoin Cody’s goal in Salthill last time out.
Another Kilkenny man to shine in the league encounter with Mattie Kenny’s men was Padraig Walsh. The Tullaroan man hit 0-4 in a wonderful exhibition of shooting, and like Walter, has been in fine form for the county in 2022. Padraig will be instrumental in knitting his side’s attacking play together for the remainder of the championship.
Last year’s captain, Adrian Mullen has put the disappointment of the All-Ireland Club Final defeat to Ballygunner behind him and put in some good shifts in the stripes since he came back into the panel. I always say it, but Mullen’s ability to win his own ball and get stuck in will be of real benefit to Kilkenny as we get deeper into the championship.
In defence, the 2 Mikey’s, Butler & Carey have taken to inter-county hurling like ducks to water, and will no doubt look to continue their development against the Dubs. For my money, 4 of the 6 defensive spots are almost nailed on. The above-mentioned Mikey’s, Huw Lawlor and Paddy Deegan are the foundation of the Cats rearguard.
The last line of defence for Kilkenny will no doubt see All-Star keeper Eoin Murphy retain the number one jersey. Eoin had an ‘up and down’ day at the office against Galway, but I for one wouldn’t contemplate replacing the Glenmore man between the posts. The elder of the Murphy brothers has all the tools needed to be a modern-day netminder.
Tomorrow’s game could be the perfect opportunity to see David Blanchfield in from the start. The Bennettsbridge man has fond memories Parnell Park and the Dubs, as the rangy defender notched 3 fine points from play during the league encounter.
Whatever XV take to the Parnell Park turf, Brian Cody will demand that those entrusted will put in a performance that will secure a vital victory tomorrow night and set up a winner takes-all clash against the Yellowbellies next weekend at UPMC Nowlan Park.
>> SHERRY SAYS…..
We need to beat the Dubs, plain and simple. Kilkenny Gaels not only demand, but expect a provincial final berth in early June. This quest starts tomorrow evening in the capital.
I fully expect to see a positive reaction from Brian Cody’s charges when referee Thomas Walsh throws the ball in at Parnell Park. No team can afford to spend time licking their wounds in championship hurling.
Their appears to be plenty of hunger and desire within this Kilkenny panel, and its now time to unleash this and lay down another marker in the battle to end the Liam McCarthy drought.
Along with hunger and desire, do not underestimate the level of talent within the squad. We have plenty of goals in the panel too. The men in black and amber have notched 10 majors in Leinster to date and are the provinces top scorers so far.
Mattie Kenny’s men will be eager to maintain their 100% record in Leinster this season, but tomorrow’s opposition are a different animal to that that they have faced so far. Donal Burke’s accuracy from the placed ball will again be the blue’s main scoring threat, but in Hayes, McBride and Sutcliffe, to name by three, Dublin has many top-level hurlers.
Let’s take care of business at Parnell Park, then look forward to neighbour’s Wexford rocking up to UPMC Nowlan Park, when God willing we will secure a Leinster Final berth.