There is no simple way to learn the heavy demands of senior inter-county hurling, but by having to live through what can be tough and demanding experiences will teach players quickly.
Call it tough love if you like, but that will be the Kilkenny way during the Allianz National Hurling League as manager, Brian Cody and fellow selectors, Michael Dempsey, James McGarry and Derek Lyng give as many players as possible as much experience as possible in the second most important competition.
“There is no easy way to learn the game at this level,” insisted Cody after a young and largely inexperienced Cats selection ran All-Ireland champions, Clare, close in a very competitive opening round tie in Ennis on Sunday.
Clare had suggested beforehand that their preparations were far from good in the run up to the start of the League. Yet when the ball was thrown-in they let rip, and they powered through the 70 minutes and finished with a strong blast to pip the visitors by the slimmest of margins.
“There is nothing but good for the new lads in games like this,” added the James Stephens clubman. “They have to be exposed to pressure, to high intensity games like this. There was a lot of decent stuff produced by a lot of the players.”
Mr Cody stopped short of saying he was satisfied with the performance, which would be to break new ground and accept defeat as an option. However, the emphasis he placed on praising the players suggested they met most of the demands placed on them.
“There were some decent performances,” he insisted. “We had a lot of players who weren’t explosed to that level of competition before. We were playing the All-Ireland champions who had most of their All-Ireland team in action.
We were competitive.
“We didn’t win the game, but we were very close to it. The basics of hard work and so on were there. There was no doubt about that. The energy was good. The competitiveness was good. That is what you look for.
“The result could have gone either way in the end. There was a lot of good stuff in our performance throughout the whole field. Naturally we would have preferred to have won.”
One suggested that certain games and outcomes had to be measured differently to others, and losing by a point to the All-Ireland champions wasn’t too bad, considering Kilkenny had so many new faces on show.
“You go out and look for complete competitiveness from the team at all times,” Mr Cody said. “We were beaten, but by a small margin. The effort is what you expect. No one is entitled to give anything less.”
Clare manager, Davy Fitzgerald said Kilkenny could have snatched victory. The subs they used gained them a bit of momentum at a vital time nearing the finish, he insisted.
“We are not fit enough yet,” he added. “We needed a bit of boost coming into the closing minutes and the subs gave us that. It is a win, but I wouldn’t read too much into it. Kilkenny had practically only half a team out. They tried out a lot of young players. They are good lads, good lads.
“I have to admit I was shocked by our effort. I didn’t think the players would have so much in the tank after the trimming we got last week in the Waterford Crystal final. That trimming might not been any harm.”
Tipperary will be next up ofr Kilkenny at Nowlan Park (hopefully) on Sunday in the second round of the League. Brian Cody said the team for that clash would be sorted later in the week.
“If we lose a second game I don’t know,” he said as he smiled, his voice tailing off. “We lost two at the start last year and won the League. It is a funny old thing.
“Again it is a big competition, a big challenge. Tipperary won their opening game. Again it is part of the process we have to go through, facing up to the next big challenge quickly, getting ourselves ready again.”
The teams clashed three times last season, twice in the League and then that never to be forgotten All-Ireland Qualifier in Nowlan Park in July. The results went 2-1 in favour of the Cats.