BY NIALL SHERRY
Laois next up for Cody’s Cats
Allianz Hurling League Roinn 1B
Kilkenny vs Laois
Sunday February 27th,
UPMC Nowlan Park, 2pm
Kilkenny will take to the UPMC Nowlan Park turf on Sunday, looking to bounce back from their injury-time defeat to Tipperary, when they face-off against Laois in round 3 of the Allianz Hurling league.
Brian Cody will be eager to see his charges dust themselves off and get back to winning ways against a team that has lost both games in their campaign to date.
While the game in Thurles a couple of weeks ago, wasn’t high on quality, it was certainly a very entertaining affair, and while Colm Bonnar’s team won by the minimum, the result could have gone the other way, or even a share of the spoils.
The victory in round 1 over Antrim was no walk in the park either, but the Cats held on to claim full points at UPMC Nowlan Park, against Darren Gleeson’s battling Saffrons.
The early rounds of the league, historically, are the training ground for counties. They get to blood new players, try some out in different positions and generally have a blank canvas with which to experiment. This year however, is a little different, as the championship comes hot on the heels of the Allianz league. If you suffer a bad league campaign, it can be very difficult to re-group quickly and build any momentum for the business part of the season.
Winter hurling, and yes, it is very much still winter, can be very unpredictable. Conditions underfoot on many pitches will test the best of hurlers, but put that together with the weather elements and one never knows what the outcome might be at the end of many games!
Let’s take a look at Sunday’s opponents, Laois.
As we said earlier, The O’Moore County have started this year’s league with two defeats. Their opening day defeat, at home to Tipp saw Cheddars men battle well, but come up 4 points short at the long whistle. It’s worth noting that Laois played the last 25 minutes of that game with 14 men, having had Paddy Purcell red-carded following an off the ball incident with Craig Morgan. Six points behind and a man down, that could have spelt disaster, but to their credit, Laois dug in and ensured that Tipp had to work hard to claim the points.
Stephen ‘Picky’ Maher was again the main contributor of scores, hitting 8 points, including 5 from frees. Enda Rowland finished with 1-3, and was unlucky when his late free from the ‘21 was tipped over by Tipp keeper Hogan. There was also a very impressive cameo from James Keyes, who notched 0-3 from the bench.
How Laois battled against Tipp wouldn’t be indicative of what would happen in their round 2 match with Waterford in Walsh Park. Cheddar’s charges suffered a heavy 33-point defeat to the Deise men, who don’t forget, fielded without any of their Ballygunner contingent. Enda Rowland would see his net breached some SEVEN times as a four-goal salvo in the four minutes leading up to half-time, proved to be Laois’s undoing. Despite playing with wind advantage in the first-half, the O’Moore County found themselves 5-12 to 0-11 down at the short whistle, with 4-5 of Waterford’s half-time score coming in the last 8 minutes of the opening period.
Once again, Laois saw an improbable task turn into an impossible one, when Slieve Bloom club man Ben Conroy was then sent off for a challenge on Tom Barron early in the second half, meaning that unless there’s a last-minute appeal. Conroy won’t be available to line out against the Cats on Sunday.
Picky Maher hit another 0-8 in the defeat to Waterford, while wing-forward Ross king notched 0-4, but Laois only registered 8-points in the second period, playing against the elements.
Laois will look to the Clough/Ballacolla men when they roll up to UPMC Nowlan Park this weekend. Picky Maher, Willie Dunphy, Aidan Corby, Stephen Bergin and Jordan Walshe all have recent experience of Kilkenny opposition, and it didn’t end well that day when Shamrocks Ballyhale inflicted a 27-point defeat on them in the Leinster Final. Picky Maher was kept very quiet that day in Croker, thanks to a wonderful man-marking job by Darren Mullen.
Cheddar will know that it will be imperative that Laois keep their full quota of players against Cody’s Cats, if they are to stand any chance of a positive outcome on Sunday. Indeed, Plunkett made reference to the red cards dished out to his team this season recently, when he questioned if physicality was being taken out of the game and dismissed any suggestions that his side are ill-disciplined.
Turning our attention to the black and amber, Brian Cody will be stressing the importance of this game to his panel. It may well be the final two outings against Dublin and Waterford, before we see the Ballyhale boys back in their county colours. Kilkenny veteran, TJ Reid will definitely not be making a surprise re-appearance in the new county jersey this weekend, as he and his wife, Niamh de Brún have finally managed to get away on honeymoon, following Shamrocks extended club season, which ended in injury-time heartbreak, as Ballygunner stole the All-Ireland crown deep in stoppage time.
To compound matters for the Shamrocks County stars, Eoin Cody went on to suffer semi-final heartache, when he and his IT Carlow squad lost out in similar fashion to Dean Mason’s UL in their recent Fitzgibbon Cup match.
The club form shown by Ronan Corcoran in the season just finished, will have given Cats manager Brian Cody plenty to think about, in his search for additional squad depth. It will be interesting to see if the imposing and skillful midfielder can make the squad in the coming weeks, fitness permitting.
In the Noresiders opening round fixture with Antrim, the squad had to battle right to the long whistle to secure the expected victory. Mossy Keoghan at No.14 proved to be the main thorn in the Saffrons side at UPMC Nowlan Park, finishing the day with 2-2. He was supported in the scoring stakes by Padraig Walsh, who hit two lovely points and the accurate free-taking of Thomastown’s John Donnelly and Conahy Shamrocks, James Bergin, who contributed 7 points between them.
Kilkenny opted to start the Antrim game with St Lachtains Darren Brennan between the sticks, and he certainly earned his stripes, with an unbelievable save late on from Donal Nugent to ensure the Cats emerged with maximum points. Glenmore’s Eoin Murphy played against Tipp, and one puck-out aside, also acquitted himself well.
The trip to Tipp was always going to be a much more interesting fixture. To many of the so-called pundits, the game highlighted the gulf between those teams considered to be ‘top table and the rest.
In testing conditions, both Bonnar & Cody’s men delivered what they could and while the result didn’t go the Cats way, the managers will have taken plenty from the Thurles clash.
O’Loughlin’s Huw Lawlor was in good form, and will no doubt be one of the defensive lynchpins for Kilkenny this season. Mikey Butler has also stuck to his task well during both outings to date. In front of Huw Lawlor, you would normally find Padraig Walsh, but not so far this season. The talented Tullaroan man has been deployed at No.11 in the first two games, notching 6 points in total. We could well see him line-out in the attacking third again this Sunday.
There’s no doubt that Brian Cody has been experimenting in the opening two rounds of the Allianz league. Will we see Padraig Walsh at No.11, Paddy Deegan at No.9 come the Leinster Championship? Only time will tell. Walsh’s usual berth at centre-back has been shared around a little in the Walsh cup and league games. James Stephens Niall Brassil got the nod against Tipp, while Huw Lawlor had the No.6 jersey against Antrim. We have also seen Conor Heary there, during the Walsh Cup games.
In attack, Billy Ryan has looked lovely in his run-outs. His role in the Cats goal last time out against Tipp was crucial. Both Ryan and John Donnelly have dove-tailed well with Mossy, and may well get another opportunity against the O’Moore County. The Laois defence will certainly know they’ve been in a game after sparring with Mossy Keoghan.
Whatever XV Cody goes with from the start, Kilkenny should have enough about them to take maximum points and leave Cheddar pointless come Sunday evening.