THEY MIGHT not be on first name terms with each other, but when the Kilkenny and Galway hurlers meet in Saturday’s under-21 All-Ireland semi-final there’ll be plenty of familiar faces involved.
“In my three years with the minors we played Galway in the All-Ireland finals of 2008 and 2009 and the 2010 semi-final,” said team boss Richie Mulrooney. “There isn’t much we don’t know about each other!”
The counties have had regular jousts this year, the latest of which will see them collide in Semple Stadium on Saturday (throw-in 6pm).
The game comes just seven days after the Kilkenny intermediates beat the Tribesmen in their semi-final in Tullamore. Mulrooney was in O’Connor Park for that game, using it as a chance to run the rule over some potential opponents.
“A small number of both teams played in the intermediate match, but 12 of the Galway under-21s weren’t eligible as they have already played senior hurling for Galway,” he said. “That is some achievement as such a young age. In Kilkenny just two - Cillian Buckley and Richie Doyle - have played championship hurling at senior level.”
The contrast in numbers shows how much of a rebuilding process Galway hurling has undergone this year. The senior, intermediate and under-21 teams have trained as a unit, with players getting experience at higher levels - of the 26 players named in the Galway squad for their senior semi-final against Cork 14 are eligible for the under-21 grade. Kilkenny had three on the bench for Sunday’s semi-final clash with Tipp - Doyle and Buckley and Walter Walsh.
“While Galway are excellent hurlers - we know that and are very aware of the huge task ahead - they are at the start of a rebuilding process,” said Mulrooney. “To be fair to our under-21 players you can’t break instantly into the current Kilkenny senior set-up. Kieran Joyce made his championship debut against Limerick this year and continued his excellent form against Tipp on Sunday - he’s 25 years of age.
“That’s the way it has been and will continue - players who want to make the breakthrough will have to bide their time, as Kilkenny have been at the top for so long,” he added. “We’re not concerned about how many of our under-21s are breaking through into the senior panel, as it’s not the usual thing to happen in the county.”
It is for that reason that Mulrooney is happy to see so many of his players involved with the county’s intermediate team. Jason Corcoran, Brian Kennedy, Geoff Brennan, Kevin Kelly and Ger Aylward all started the semi-final in Tullamore on Saturday, while Cathal Kenny and Luke Harney came off the bench during the 0-21 to 1-13 win.
“Any time that an under-21 player goes out in a grade that has a higher sense of bodystrength or physicality then it’s good for them,” he said. “Saturday’s intermediate semi-final will only have been good for our under-21 players, no doubt about that. I was very happy with how they performed.
“There has been great co-operation between the under-21 and intermediate set-ups,” he said. “On top of that eight of our players have been regularly involved with the senior training this year, which has helped them immensely. The flip-side is that the whole Galway team is training with their seniors, so that’ll stand to them!
“Their strength and physicality may have progressed quicker than ours because of their involvement in the senior set-up,” he added. “Looking at the intermediate game at the weekend I felt Galway might have that physical advantage, but Kilkenny have the edge in hurling terms.
“Galway are the favourites to win this game on Saturday, but as Kilkenny hurlers we’re going up to give it everything,” he said. “A lot of talk about the potential of both sets of forwards. While our lads haven’t broken into the senior forward lines - the way the seniors are playing how could they! - they have played some very exciting hurling at under-21 level. Our movement upfront has been very good but we have some high quality defenders as well. I think it’s going to be a very good match.”
After watching two inter-county teams let their hurling do the talking last weekend Mulrooney expects his under-21s to do the same.
We’ll go out and try to hurl the Kilkenny way,” he said. “There are no greater role models at present than the seniors and how they went about their business against Tipp. We’ll be trying to copy that - we won’t be far away.”
Kilkenny panel (from): Dylan Walsh (Thomastown), Jason Corcoran (John Lockes), Willie Phelan (Dunnamaggin), Brian Kennedy (St Lachtain’s), Luke Harney (Kilmacow), Richie Doyle (Barrow Rangers), Joe Lyng (Rower-Inistioge), Geoff Brennan (St Patrick’s), Ollie Walsh (Dicksboro), Kevin Kelly (St Patrick’s), Padraig Walsh (Tullaroan), Cillian Buckley (Dicksboro), Walter Walsh (Tullogher-Rosbercon), John Power (Carrickshock), Ger Aylward (Glenmore), Richie Reid (Shamrocks), Owen McGrath (John Lockes), Cathal Kenny (Barrow Rangers), Ian Duggan (Mullinavat), Pat O’Carroll (Lisdowney), Martin Gaffney (Dicksboro), Paul Buggy (Tullaroan), James Cassin (Rower-Inistioge), Michael Brennan (St Patrick’s), James Gannon (St Patrick’s), Sean Phelan (Lisdowney), Stephen Staunton (St Patrick’s), Conor Tobin (Fenians), Johnny Hayes (Kilmacow), David Glynn (Dicksboro), Paddy Butler (O’Loughlin Gaels), Danny Kenny (Dicksboro), Canice Maher (St Martin’s), Sean Kehoe (Young Irelands), Robert Lennon (Bennettsbridge). Selectors: Richie Mulrooney, Adrian Finan, Brian Ryan.