BY: Niall Sherry, SPORTS CORRESPONDENT
PHOTOGRAPHY: Danny Lahart
Wins over Dublin and Antrim achieved as ‘Davy Day’ looms
As the league begins to settle down and Division One Group B takes shape, the Cats will be hoping to make it a hat-trick of wins when Brian Cody’s men welcome Wexford to UPMC Nowlan Park on Sunday (throw-in 2pm).
In this, his 23rd season in-a-row in charge, Cody will be hoping to lay down a marker against the Model County and maintain their unbeaten start to the season, in this dress rehearsal for a possible Leinster SHC Semi-Final. With both teams unbeaten, somethings got to give.
The Kilkenny faithful don’t take kindly to opposition victories on home soil, and will be praying that Wexford’s Nowlan Park victory in 2017 is not repeated this time round.
Indeed, the two sides most recent league meeting during ‘Storm Dennis’ in February last year, saw the Slaney-siders hold on for a hard-fought 2-point win at a windswept Wexford Park.
No doubt the Yellow Bellies manager, Davy Fitzgerald will have his team pumped up for this derby clash, and Kilkenny’s discipline will undoubtably be tested to the limits by the Clare native’s charges.
Cody will no doubt want to tighten things up, having conceded 3-15 at home to the Saffrons, again the Cats suffered in the third quarter, before pulling away.
At the time of writing, the starting XV hasn’t been announced, but it is likely that barring injury, talisman TJ Reid will return to the team, having been rested for last week’s win over Antrim. The manager may decide to rotate the net minders position again, and if he does so, expect Eoin Murphy to be given the nod ahead of Darren Brennan, who despite a fine penalty save saw his line breached on three occasions by the Ulstermen.
Paddy Deegan will be key in the full-back line, as the Cats defence looks to snuff out the Wexford attacking threat, likely to be spear-headed by star-man Lee Chin, Mikie Dwyer and the promising Conor McDonald.
At Centre-half-back, Tullaroan club-man Padraig Walsh fresh from an imperious display last week, can set the tempo and dictate play while also notching the odd score or two. The engine room of midfield will once again prove vital, and manager Cody will be looking to Cillian Buckley and possibly Richie Reid to dominate this sector while keeping tabs on the free running Diarmuid O’Keefe.
Winning the midfield battle should provide a platform for the Kilkenny forwards to trouble a Wexford defence that only conceded 10 points in their opening round win over Clare.
Should 2019 young hurler of the year and this year’s team captain, Adrian Mullen continues his comeback following injury, it would be hoped that his partnership with TJ will begin to reap reward.
Following on from his opening round tally of 1-4 against Dublin at Parnell Park, Martin Keoghan will hope to keep the scoreboard ticking over, along with Alan Murphy, who notched an impressive 13 points in the 7-point win last Sunday.
Both sides will again look to their respective benches to provide a spark as the game progresses, and the Nore-Siders should hold the upper-hand here. This could prove decisive.
Kilkenny to march on
An Armagh Gael once said to me “The League’s for playing…. The Championship’s for winning.”
There’s no doubt that getting your hands on Liam McCarthy is the mecca.
Following the gut-wrenching semi-final loss to Waterford last November, whispers started, the rumour mill was in full effect… Was the 2021 campaign to be the last at the helm for the Cats supremo Cody?
With DJ gone from the backroom team, tactics being questioned, and worries over the development of underage hurling in the county rife, what was to become of the future for the black and amber? Wins over Dublin and Antrim are not admired, but demanded.
The answers to some of these questions may not be known until later in the year, but a league victory over the Model County and quieting down Davy, may restore some faith in what may be a final season hurrah for Cody, the James Stephens clubman.
Appointing rising star Adrian Mullen as captain, isn’t without risk. Returning from injury and finding your rhythm is hard enough without the pressure of leading the most successful county in hurling history – the presence of fellow Ballyhale man TJ Reid will be crucial in Mullen’s development at inter-county level as he seeks to become the ‘main man’ for Kilkenny for the years to come.