BY NIALL SHERRY
Walsh Cup see’s post-Cody era begin
Kilkenny vs Offaly John Locke Park, Callan
And just like that it’s back. Inter-County hurling returns for Kilkenny as Derek Lyng looks to build what he hopes will be another dynasty for the black and amber.
July 17th doesn’t seem that long ago, Brian Cody’s last outing as Cats boss in the narrow defeat to all-conquering Limerick in the Liam McCarthy decider at Croke Park. Less than a week later came the news that the greatest hurling manager of all-time had stepped down from the role that he held so proudly since 1998. 24 seasons, 11 Liam McCarthy’s, 18 Leinster titles and 10 National League crowns, just some of the eye-catching numbers of the legend’s reign on Noreside.
At a County Board meeting on August 4th, Emeralds club man Lyng was appointed as the new Kilkenny manager. The beginning of what all Gaels within the county hope to be a new era for the men in stripes, which leads to being reunited with our old friend Liam McCarthy.
While Lyng and his management team have been putting the Walsh Cup Squad through their paces ahead of this weekend’s opening fixture against Offaly in Callan, expect the newly installed bainisteoir to use the competition to cast his eye over potential players, hoping to earn their stripes for Kilkenny for the season ahead. It is believed that some fifty-odd players have been involved in the training camp ahead of the return to competitive action this weekend.
Obviously as is the ‘norm’ in January, the County will be without the Shamrocks Ballyhale contingent, as the South Kilkenny side seek to add another All-Ireland club title to their collection later this month when they face Ulster Champions Dunloy at Croke Park. The absence of these players, coupled with the decision of some to step away from the panel will present others with a great opportunity to step forward and show the undoubted depth of hurling in Kilkenny.
Having led his U20 panel to a fantastic All-Ireland Final win over Limerick at FBD Semple Stadium in May last year, Lyng will have a good understanding and knowledge of the young men hoping to break into the senior county ranks.
Lyng’s charges put in an incredible display against The Treaty in Thurles to claim the silverware, and you could see that there was clearly plenty of talent in the squad that the bainisteoir and his backroom team had developed.
One of the stand-out performers during that successful U20 campaign was Galmoy’s Billy Drennan. Having been the top-scorer during the 2019 All-Ireland Minor championship, when the Cats were just pipped to the title by Galway, Drennan has tormented most defences that he came up against and in the showpiece U20 decider, he hit 0-9, including 0-5 from play as the young Cats put Limerick to the sword. A former All-Ireland Handball champion, Drennan certainly looks like he has a sprinkling of that ‘star’ quality about him.
Palmerstown outfit Dicksboro provided a really strong spine for Lyng’s U20 champions. Niall Rowe, Padraic Moylan and Timmy Clifford all showed well for the 20’s, and are all involved on a regular basis in their club’s senior panel. Moylan captained the team from centre-back and had Rowe for company behind him, while flame-haired Clifford showed many classy touches during the Cats run to glory.
Thomastown’s Peter McDonald is another of that U20 panel that may force his way into manager Lyng’s thoughts. A former county minor captain, McDonald is a real leader and gets through a mountain of work across the pitch.
When you factor in that four of last season’s senior panel won’t be available for Lyng’s maiden campaign as bainisteoir, it is vital that others come to the fore. Conor Browne, Richie Leahy, James Maher may have been more squad men, but the absence of Mikey Carey is a real blow to the Cats as they seek to go again this year. Progressive wing-back’s that can take scores are a must for all teams seeking to challenge at the business end of the season.
Bennettsbridge’s David Blanchfield is one player who fits the bill in this area. The rangy defender saw quite a bit of action in the league last year, and I think he might get more minutes this season. With Darragh Corcoran concentrating on Shamrocks quest for club glory, O’Loughlin’s Paddy Deegan might get some early season action.
Two of last-season’s breakthrough players, Mikey Butler and Cian Kenny will look to kick-on again this season. Butler was outstanding last season and rightly won an All-Star for his efforts. Along with club mates Huw Lawlor and Paddy Deegan, expect to see more of these gents, especially when the league starts in early February.
As mentioned previously, Shamrocks players absence will mean the placed-ball duty will pass to others until TJ Reid returns to the fold, possibly late February / early March. Glenmore’s Alan Murphy has proved to be more that capable when given this responsibility, and could get another ‘rattle’ this season.
Last season’s Walsh Cup opener against Laois saw an experimental line-up take to John Locke Park in Callan:
L Dunphy; M Butler, J Burke, N MacMahon; D Blanchfield (0-1), C Heary (0-1), S Murphy (0-2); N Brennan (0-1), T Dunne; C Prenderville (0-3), E Landy (1-2), L Scanlon (0-2); C Bolger, S Walsh (0-9, 6 frees, 1 ‘65), S Morrissey (0-1).
Subs: D O’Keeffe for MacMahon (h/t), R Buckley (0-3) for Brennan (h/t), S Donnelly (0-2) for Bolger (h/t), A Brennan for Dunne (h/t), E O’Shea for Landy (56 mins), Ciaran Wallace for Heary (65 mins).
We could see the likes of Tullaroan’s Shane Walsh in county action again, as his free-taking is a great weapon.
Emmet Landy and Colm Prenderville did well that day as did sub Robbie Buckley. The Walsh Cup is perfect for blooding the younger and less experienced hurlers, but with another condensed season ahead, there’s a lot less time to experiment.
Expect Derek Lyng to give players a chance to earn a National League panel berth, and hopefully a gem or two emerges that adds to the players already known to the manager. We go again!
>> SHERRY SAYS…
Happy New Year!
Let’s face it, it’s going to be just a little strange seeing a Kilkenny senior team take to the field without Brian Cody on the line. Hard to believe that was 1998!
It’s a new dawn for the Cats and one that we are all excited about. The Walsh Cup is the perfect way for Derek to find his feet in these early stages of his tenure.
Whatever the outcome of these games, there no doubt that the new management team will have their eyes on the opening National League, when the Cats face-off against Antrim in Corrigan Park on February 4th.
Offaly provide the challenge this weekend, they to have a new man at the helm in the shape of Portumna native Johnny Kelly. Kelly was part of Kilkenny legend Michael Fennelly’s backroom team and will look to build on the excellent work that the Shamrocks man has done in the Faithful County.
Laois are the second opponents for Kilkenny, before we make the short trip to Chadwicks Wexford Park for an encounter under the recently installed new floodlight system. That will be a battle.
I’m looking forward to seeing if any of the U20 panel breakthrough during the early part of this season, there are definitely some quality hurlers from that group, and Derek knows them well.
Let’s get behind the new bainisteoir and give him the support that he needs and deserves. We wish Derek & his management team all the best for the 2023 season.