BY NIALL SHERRY
The Cats Allianz League campaign in review
The season so far
This year’s Allianz National Hurling League has ended, with Waterford being crowned champions, following their win over Kilkenny’s semi-final victors, Cork at Semple Stadium, Thurles last weekend.
The Deise are in decent form as the championship approaches, and are a dangerous kind of animal for potential opponents as we get ready to marvel at the race for the Liam McCarthy Cup.
But what about our men? Brian Cody will be hoping to navigate his way through Leinster, and onto the National stage as he seeks to mastermind a first All-Ireland title for the Noresiders since 2015.
Our league campaign has been somewhat of a mixed bag this season. As usual, the black & amber had to start their season minus the Ballyhale contingent, as the Shamrocks battled to add another All-Ireland club title to their illustrious roll of honour. Unfortunately, James O’Connor’s men came up just short after a pulsating final with Ballygunner.
The extended involvement in the club scene, meant that Brian Cody could look at numerous players in the pre-season Walsh Cup and the Allianz League.
John Locke Park in Callan would be the venue for the first competitive outing of the season, as Laois came to town for a Walsh Cup clash. Cheddar’s team controlled large periods of the game, but lost by 6 points, as an experimental Kilkenny team started the season with a win.
Tullaroan’s Shane Walsh hit 0-9 in the win and was ably supported in the scoring stakes by Windgap’s Emmet Landy who notched 1-2. Others to impress were O’Loughlin’s Robbie Buckley and Graigue Ballycallan’s Colm Prenderville, who both finished with 0-3.
The next outing saw Kilkenny make the journey to Chadwick’s Wexford Park. The boss shuffled his pack a little for this encounter and this allowed him to run his eye over some other inter-county candidates. Tipp native, Darragh Eagan is quietly going about re-jigging things with the Model County, as I say, quietly, compared to his predecessor! A more experienced Wexford side looked like they would secure a victory over the Cats, but a stirring second-half comeback saw Cody’s men take a share of the spoils.
Conahy Shamrocks James Bergin was on placed ball duty, and hit 0-7, as he showed his accuracy from frees. Thomastown’s John Donnelly finished the day with 0-4, while O’Loughlin’s Eoin O’Shea hit an impressive 0-3. Chris Bolger notched 1-1 while Mossy registered 0-3. One of the most eye-catching performances on the day, came from The Village’s Cian Kenny, who showed well across the game and took over the free-taking duties when Bergin was replaced. Indeed, Kenny went on to hit 0-4.
Despite the comeback and securing a draw, it would be the hosts that progressed to the Walsh Cup final on scoring difference.
The Walsh Cup games provided the perfect warm-up for the Allianz League campaign.
First up for the Cats was the challenge of Antrim. Darren Gleeson’s charges arrived at UPMC Nowlan Park full of optimism and put in a courageous display in a 3-point defeat in horrible blustery conditions.
In fact, had it not been for a stunning late save from St Lachtains Darren Brennan, the game would have finished all square. Star of the show was Mossy Keoghan, who hit 2-2 on the day, and his goals proved crucial, as the Saffrons nearly upset the favourites.
The Marble County men then hit the road and headed to Thurles, for a meeting with old foes Tipperary. Jason Forde’s injury time free saw the home side claim the narrowest of victories. This game saw the return to net minding of Glenmore man and All-Star Eoin Murphy. Padraig Walsh, who had been operating in a forward role early season, hit 0-4 in an accurate shooting display. Huw Lawlor was back on the edge of the square, as the talented Bennettsbridge defender, David Blanchfield got another run-out, as Brian Cody looked to add some height to his half-back line. Blanchfield can also take a score, and he did exactly this in Thurles.
Following their encouraging Walsh Cup display, Laois returned to Kilkenny for the league encounter at UPMC Nowlan Park.
Cheddar’s men played with the aid of a strong wind in the opening period, but found themselves 4 points down at the interval. The warning signs were there. The Cats upped the ante in the second half, and blitzed the O’Moore County in a devasting 5-minute spell from the 40th minute. Cody’ charges hit 1-5 without reply to ensure the result wasn’t ever to be in doubt.
Kilkenny would have the luxury of hitting 13 second-half wides as they romped to a 17-point victory over a deflated Laois side. Brian Cody will have been happy to see nine different names on the score sheet at the final whistle. Glenmore’s Alan Murphy was on free-taking duty and finished the day with 0-13, ten of which came from the placed ball. Conahy Shamrocks Tom Phelan was on fire too, hitting 2-1, while both Mossy Keoghan and Billy Ryan notched 0-4 each. David Blanchfield struck again too, as his stock started to rise quickly.
Next up for Kilkenny was an away game with Mattie Kenny’s Dublin in Parnell Park. The boys in blue were unbeaten to date, and this game would be a much tougher and more useful test than the previous outing.
This game would see the Cats put in their most complete performance of the season to date. It was also the best conditions that the black and amber had played in during 2022. Cody’s men played with a physicality and intensity that was more akin to championship hurling. The Dubs failed to score in the 22 minutes leading up to half time, as the visitors led by 6 points at the short whistle.
Dublin hit the first few scores of the second period, but any thoughts of a sustained comeback were dashed when Walter Walsh rattled the net. The Noresiders would hit 2-3 without reply as the Metropolitans were put to the sword. The final nail would be hammered in by Mossy, after great work by John Donnelly. One of the most pleasing aspects of the afternoon’s work in the Capital, was the contribution from wing-backs, David Blanchfield and Mikey Carey. The exciting young defenders hit 5-points between them, as they gave their fans a taste of what could possibly be coming over the next few years.
Walter Walsh weighed in with 1-3, Padraig also hit a sumptuous 0-4, while Mossy had 1-1 to his name. A 13-point victory and a marker laid down for the major business ahead, later in the season.
Kilkenny rounded off the group stage of the league with a home tie against the Deise at UPMC Nowlan Park. If the Cats wished to make the last four, they would need to secure a victory against their near neighbours. This match saw Eoin Cody return to the black and amber jersey.
You could tell that this game meant something to both teams, as the challenges flew in and the hits were hard. Liam Cahill’s men raced into a lead, early on, but the home side responded as no quarter was given in this encounter.
A well-worked goal from Dicksboro’s Cillian Buckley brought the Cats level on 26 minutes. By the short whistle, the home side had a two-point lead. Billy Ryan got Kilkenny’s 2nd major of the day on 45 minutes, after taking a lovely pass from the influential Padraig Walsh, who was reveling in his attacking role.
Any hopes of a Deise victory were well and truly dashed on the hour mark, when substitute DJ Foran was shown a straight-red card for a nasty challenge on Mikey Butler. The O’Loughlin Gaels defender has been one of the stand-out performers for Brian Cody this season, and I feel he will definitely be around the starting XV come the first championship game against Westmeath.
Further scores from the Cats saw them home with 6-points to spare. Padraig Walsh was the standout performer for Cody’s men, hitting a magnificent 5 points. Billy Ryan had 1-1 to his name, while the returning Eoin Cody hit 2 points from the bench. Walter Walsh also notched 0-3, as he put in another sterling display.
The win over the Deise saw Kilkenny secure a semi-final berth and a trip to face Cork on Leeside.
Under the lights at Páirc Uí Chaoimh, the home side prevailed by 4-points, on a night when the standard of refereeing left a lot to be desired. “Free to Cork” was the most heard phrase that Saturday night.
Kilkenny would register two majors in the defeat, both from the hurl of Mossy Keoghan. Billy Ryan & Eoin Cody hit 0-4 a piece, while Alan Murphy, again, proved a reliable free-taker in the absence of TJ Reid.
For me, the performances of the two Mikey’s, Carey and Butler provided much optimism for the months ahead. Carey’s vision and passing ability are a welcome addition to the Cats style of play, while Butler’s battling all-action style of defending is a real ‘throw-back’ to proper hurling!
So, the league is done and dusted. Attention now turns to the Leinster Championship, and a trip to TEG Cusack Park in a couple of weeks.
The race for All-Ireland glory is about to commence. Let’s hope Brian Cody and his team are in the conversation come July 17th.
>> SHERRY SAYS………..
Another national league campaign comes to an end. No silverware to show for their efforts, but plenty of positives and a few bits and pieces to iron out before the serious business of championship hurling begins.
While current Liam McCarthy holders Limerick may have shown a little chink in their armour during the league, it would take a silly person to bet against the Treaty County.
Three huge positives for Kilkenny were undoubtably the introduction of David Blanchfield, Mikey Butler & Mikey Carey. These three defensive additions had added much needed quality, skill and more importantly, depth to the Cats squad.
In the attacking third, Mossy Keoghan and Billy Ryan have been in decent form as well, both raising green flags across the league. In the absence of TJ Reid, James Bergin, John Donnelly and Alan Murphy have been entrusted with the free-taking duties while the Shamrocks man spear-headed his club sides bid for All-Ireland glory. Like every season, placed ball accuracy will be vital in any county’s bid for glory.
Midfield will pose an interesting dilemma for Brian Cody. Cian Kenny has performed well in the league, but while the James Stephens man has clearly put his name in the hat, will the skillful left-handed hurler be given one of the two starting spots? The group games against Westmeath and Laois may be the arena for the manager to run his eye over the engine room.
As the league settled down, we saw Huw Lawlor revert to the No.3 jersey. The big O’Loughlin’s man is a master of his art at the edge of the square. There is perhaps one corner-back jersey up for grabs, the training games will no doubt see a vote of confidence given to someone before we take to the TEG Cusack Park turf.
Goodbye Allianz National Hurling League, hello Bord Gáis Energy All-Ireland Hurling Championship 2022.