BY NIALL SHERRY
Lyng’s first league action sees Cats Belfast bound
Allianz Hurling League Division 1 B
Sherry Says League Preview
Antrim vs Kilkenny
Corrigan Park, 2pm Saturday 4th February 2023
The ‘warm-up’ is over. The real season starts tomorrow for Derek Lyng and his Kilkenny panel, as they head north to face Leinster championship rivals Antrim at Corrigan Park (2pm).
The trip north is always a physical encounter, and Derek will know that his panel will need to win the battle in order to play their hurling and get a fast start to his first national league campaign.
The Walsh Cup is done and dusted and some players have had the opportunity to show the new manager what they can offer to this most condensed of condensed seasons. We have seen the first senior shoots of Billy Drennan and the young Galmoy attacker has certainly not let his former U20 boss down, with a couple of sparkling displays in the pre-season competition.
We have also seen the likes of Des Dunne, Padraic Moylan and Ian Byrne get minutes as Lyng seeks to freshen things up a little and add a touch more depth to the Cats squad. During this upcoming league run, we will perhaps get to see a panel forming that will take us into championship action..in April! Yes, April is when the Noresiders will begin their Leinster title defence at home to Westmeath at UPMC Nowlan Park.
The early date for championship action means that there is little time to get things right if your team gets off to a slow start. Lyng will be determined to ensure that his panel build momentum through the early stages of the Allianz sponsored competition, working towards that encounter with the Lake County at home in mid-April.
When the Cats arrive in Béal Feirste tomorrow they will know that they face a difficult opponent in the Saffrons. The Ulstermen received a massive boost in early August when Darren Gleeson agreed to continue his Antrim journey for another two years, with the option of a further 12 months. The former Tipperary netminder has done great work with the Saffrons, and it’s great to see the players and supporters all singing from the same hymn sheet.
Antrim have been building towards the start of the league on two fronts, playing in both The Walsh Cup and the Conor McGurk Cup. While tomorrow’s opponents have had to make do without the Shamrocks Ballyhale contingent, Gleeson has had to soldier on without Dunloy’s county men. With James McNaughton, Eoin O’Neill and Seamus McAuley all in decent form for the northern side, the return of Gregory O’Kane’s players will be key as Antrim seek to make further progress under their Tipp boss.
Gleeson has been dealt a huge blow with key men Ciaran Clarke and Conor McCann currently msising having suffered the dreaded ACL injuries, while long-time servant and defender Matthew Donnelly has hung up his hurl with the county. Injuries to Domhnall Nugent and Conor Johnston may keep the pair out for the early rounds of the league, but these injuries, along with Dunloy’s magnificent run to the All-Ireland club final has given the management team the chance to blood some younger players in the inter-county arena. Players who have come into the Antrim panel this season include Loughgiel quartet Christy McGarry, Rory McCloskey, Enda Óg McGarry and Paul Boyle are joined in the squad by Ballycastle’s Conor Boyd, Tiernan Smyth, Seamus McAuley and Eoin McAlonan. Rossa’s Eoin Trainor and Caolan McKernan of Sarsfield’s are the other new faces to the Antrim squad.
Whether or not we see some of the Dunloy players tomorrow, remains to be seen, but adding Conal Cunning, Kealan Molloy and Ryan Elliott to the squad will certainly give Antrim a better chance of remaining competitive in most games.
While the Walsh Cup run saw the Saffrons lose to Dublin, Westmeath and Galway, there were periods in all those games where we saw the ‘real’ Antrim. Poor shooting cost them dearly in all games to date, particularly when they faced Henry Shefflin’s Galway in Darver recently and that is something that manager Gleeson will hope to improve on as the league unfolds.
The Kilkenny management team will have been casting their eyes over tomorrow’s opponent’s games to date, knowing that many opportunities have been created, but that the Saffrons radar has been a little off in the early season. Derek Lyng will know that if his players stick to the script and do what’s required, they should be in a position to claim maximum points in Belfast.
During the Walsh Cup games, we got to see both Darren Brennan and Aidan Tallis between the posts for Kilkenny. I’d imagine that Glenmore’s Eoin Murphy will come into the black and amber at some stage of the league run. The manager alluded to the fixture congestion after the 4-point defeat to Wexford in the final group game of the Walsh Cup, that being the reason we didn’t see any of that man Drennan in Chadwicks Wexford Park.
The Noresiders like other counties have had plenty of representatives in the Fitzgibbon competition. Drennan, Emmet Landy and Colm Prenderville were all in action last week. Derek Lyng will be mindful of player load and will not risk any players that may lead to missing them for the business end of the season.
Billy Drennan notched 2-13 across games against Offaly and Laois, while the likes of Tom Phelan, Paul Cody, John Donnelly and young Gearoid Dunne have all hit decent tallies in the pre-season games. Also showing well has been Niall Brennan, Cian Kenny and Walter Walsh. It’s been good to see such a variety of scorers getting on the board.
It will be vital that the new manager can mix a good blend of youth and experience as he seeks to build a panel capable of not only competing with, but potentially getting one over on current kingpins Limerick. The likes of Cillian Buckley, Walter, Richie Hogan, TJ & Richie will be key to bringing through the young guns in the black and amber.
Even without the Shamrocks Ballyhale contingent, Kilkenny should have too much in all areas of the pitch for Antrim tomorrow. Secure maximum points in Corrigan Park, then the management can start to plan for the interesting visit of Liam Cahill’s Tipperary Sunday week in UPMC Nowlan Park.
>> SHERRY SAYS VERDICT…
Cats to secure big win on the road
• Congratulations to Shamrocks duo Eoin Cody & TJ Reid who have been named as Kilkenny captain and vice-captain respectively. We wish them both well in their roles with the Cats.