Cats welcome Yellowbellies for league opener

Richie Reid at the Allianz League’s launch

Lyng seeking hom e comforts & Walsh Cup revenge



Allianz National Hurling League

• UPMC Nowlan Park,
• Sunday 4th February
Kilkenny vs Wexford

The 2024 Allianz National Hurling League gets underway for Kilkenny on Sunday, with Walsh Cup winners Wexford first up for Derek Lyng’s side at UPMC Nowlan Park (throw-in 1:45pm). It will be the second meeting of the Leinster rivals in a matter of weeks, with the visitors running out winners in the pre-season competition semi-final in Callan.

The Cats should be boosted by the return of some familiar faces, including the O’Loughlin Gaels contingent over the coming weeks, but as expected Shamrocks TJ Reid will not be rushed into league action at present. The manager was keen to point that out during the recent media event to announce the continued sponsorship of Kilkenny GAA by Avonmore owners Tirlán.

“With TJ, it’s something we will have to manage, it’s a fluid situation”. “TJ is back training away; we’ll have to manage his minutes as the year goes on. As we move into March and April, we will see him at some stage but when you are looking at it, championship will be the priority there” added the Emeralds clubman.

In terms of the O’Loughlin Gaels players, Lyng is unlikely to do a ‘Mickey Harte’ and throw Messrs. Lawlor, Butler and Deegan straight back into the fold against Wexford.

“We have a few lads there a long time and have a good bit of hurling done this year and the last 12 months have been pretty intense in getting to two All-Ireland finals, unfortunately losing both. That takes its toll as well. They’ll need a little bit of a break. We’ll have to manage that in the next few weeks.

“It’s a bit of a balancing act at the minute, the first few games we have a number of new fellas on the panel so it’s about managing who we play and who we rest.”

With the pre-season competition out of the way, all focus turns to the Allianz League campaign and the visit of Wexford. Having come up just short against the Yellowbellies in Callan, the Kilkenny faithful will be hoping to see their side emerge victorious on Sunday.

With the announcement last week that Paddy Deegan will captain the men in black and amber this season, some might be hoping that the affable schoolteacher will lead the Cats out at county headquarters, but we’ll need to wait and see what the final line-up is.

Lyng’s panel have had a couple of games under their belt so far, a huge win over Carlow followed by that defeat to this weekend’s opponents. The manager will look to run his eye over some players during this Allianz campaign but will hope to have a settled panel before the latter stages of the competition, with trips to Clare and Waterford rounding off the group stages.

Last time out, Erin’s Own stalwart, Connor Delaney captained the side from full-back and one which was a mixture of youth and experience. The Blanchfield’s of Bennettsbridge joined a small number of families that have had three brothers on the team and given the form that they showed during the club season, we might see more of the trio over the next couple of months.

Conditions in Callan were atrocious to say the least, but Wexford got over the line by the narrowest of margins, despite finishing the encounter with 13 men. The Model County were 6-points up at the short whistle, but the Noresiders roared back and thanks to a later Billy Ryan goal, it set up a tense and tight finish, but Keith Rossiter’s charges held on for the win.

In the victory over neighbours Carlow, the cats had good performances from the likes of Billy Ryan (1-4), Billy Drennan (0-7), Liam Blanchfield (1-1) and Clara’s Paul Cody (0-3) as they cantered to a very easy win against Tom Mullally’s side. That will probably be the easiest game Lyng’s men will have this season and they know that this year the league is not just for playing, as this season’s finishing positions will dictate the structure of next year’s Allianz leagues.

Shamrocks players, Adrian Mullen, Richie Reid and former captain Eoin Cody should be available earlier than usual, having had some down-time over the winter period for the first time in ages. That may actually benefit the Cats as the season builds.

The Kilkenny management team will have been keeping a close eye on the club scene since last August, and the county has had a tremendous season at all levels, claiming two out of three national titles. Thomastown’s John Donnelly and Tullogher Rosbercon’s Walter Walsh, will be full of confidence when they rejoin the panel, having helped secure All-Ireland titles for their sides. Former U20 star, Peter McDonald got a start in Callan, while the impressive Stephen Donnelly and Zach Bay Hammond were in the squad also.

The one player that I hope does see some minutes during the league is David Fogarty. The Loughs wing-back had an unbelievable season with his club and notched some incredible scores on their remarkable journey that ended in defeat to St Thomas’ of Galway.

Keith Rossiter’s side claimed the Walsh Cup with an 8-point win over Henry Shefflin’s experimental Galway side in a match held at Netwatch Cullen Park. Spearheading Wexford’s quest for silverware was the supremely talented Lee Chin. The Faythe Harriers clubman has been out of action since his club made an early exit from the club championship, but showed no signs of rustiness as he finished the game with 0-9, including four from play as they gained revenge for last year’s defeat to the same opposition.

James Byrne and rising star’s Corey Byrne Dunbar and Cian Byrne hit a combined total of 0-8 as they ran out comfortable winners. I would expect to see much more of Corey and Cian over the next few weeks, especially as Wexford are missing the likes of Conor McDonald, Rory O’Connor, Diarmuid O’Keeffe and Liam Og McGovern. Keith Rossiter will be hoping to get some of these talents back in the fold sooner rather than later.

Oylegate-Genbrien’s Aaron Duggan has been the netminder of late, and his fellow clubman, Demien Reck could anchor the defensive unit from the centre-back position. Ferns St Aidan’s Niall Murphy, who was black carded late on in Callan is likely to occupy on of the corner-back roles, while another of the U-20 cohort, Eoin Ryan has also been impressing at the back. St Martin’s Jack O’Connor and Naomh Eanna’s Cathal Dunbar are players that have troubled Kilkenny in the past and both will be hoping to get the call this weekend.

The Model County faithful will be hoping that former U-20 boss Rossiter can help stabilise things and improve the consistency of the Slaneysiders over the next couple of years, and the manager has a decent backroom team in place to achieve just that. Former Offaly hurler David Franks is heading up the coaching side of things and is very much respected in coaching circles, having been involved with the All-Ireland winning Ballygunner side.

There should be a decent crowd in attendance at UPMC Nowlan Park and I think another close affair could be in store this Sunday. Derek Lyng’s side will need to step up and meet what is sure to be a tough, physical encounter with plenty of fire to lay down a marker before they make the difficult trip to Páirc Uí Chaoimh next weekend.


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