The return of a provincial championship has brought something of a mixed bag as far as the Kilkenny intermediate hurlers are concerned.
On the one hand, the county has the chance to wrap up another provincial title. On the other, they’ll have to get past Wexford, a county who are currently soaring in the confidence stakes.
“It’s great to have a Leinster championship again,” said Kilkenny manager Pat O’Grady, “but the difficulty is that we’re starting against Wexford. Stopping that juggernaut is going to be tough.”
O’Grady knows he will have to have his side in top condition for the provincial decider in Nowlan Park this evening (throw-in 7.30pm), especially as Wexford have shown a liking for the venue in recent games.
“The Wexford under-21s came to Nowlan Park and showed no fear,while their senior side were just as impressive here against Waterford. Dave Guiney, who is training the side, is hugely passionate about Wexford hurling, so he’ll have them well prepared for the game.
“Hopefully there’ll be a big home crowd in Nowlan Park to give us a spur on,” he added, “but it won’t be easy.”
Seeing the revival of the provincial game (there was none last year) is a welcome sight for O’Grady, who believes counties - and players - can profit from competing in the championship.
“It’s definitely a platform for guys who are gone past under-21 level to show their talents. Michael Walsh, Brian Kennedy and Jonjo Farrell were three members of last year’s intermediate panel who took that chance and are now on the senior panel.
“Shane Prendergast and David Langton have also had Walsh Cup and League experience on the back of their intermediate performances,” he added. “There’s a great incentive there, not just to win a Leinster medal but to put yourself in the shop window. Where else will guys get the chance to show senior inter-county managers that they can compete at the highest level?”
The absence of the Clara contingent means Kilkenny are a team in transition - six of last year’s panel remain (Michael Walsh, Sean Cummins, Pat Hartley, Joe Lyng and Joe and Geoff Brennan) - but O’Grady will still be able to call on plenty of experience.
“On Wednesday night we’ll have five senior panelists in action,” O’Grady added. “The backbone of the team will feature players from the Rower-Inistioge side who won the club All-Ireland, while there will also be a number of players who were eligible for the county under-21 side. We have a few injury problems, but hopefully we’ll be able to get the players through in time for the game.”
Kilkenny panel - Liam Tierney (Rower-Inistioge), Richie O’Neill (Kilmacow), Sean Cummins (Rower-Inistioge), Pat Hartley (Tullogher-Rosbercon), Richie Doyle (Barrow Rangers), Michael Walsh (Young Irelands), Paddy Deegan (O’Loughlin Gaels), Joe Lyng (Rower-Inistioge), Padraig Gahan (Mullinavat), Tom Murphy (Rower-Inistioge), Tom Aylward (Mullinavat), Luke Harney (Kilmacow), Padraig Phelan (Emeralds), Niall Walsh (Slieverue), Ian Duggan (Mullinavat), Seoirse Kenny (St Patrick’s), Cathal Kenny (Barrow Rangers), Owen McGrath (John Lockes), Willie O’Dwyer (Mullinavat), Joe Brennan (St Patrick’s), Geoffrey Brennan (St Patrick’s), Michael Grace (Rower-Inistioge, captain), Willie Phelan (Dunnamaggin), Eoin Doyle (Rower-Inistioge), Darren Fitzpatrick (Dunnamaggin). Management: Pat O’Grady, Pat O’Neill (trainer), Tom Murphy, Paschal Connolly.