Cats have nothing only Offaly on minds

Michael Rice (Kilkenny) makes his return to competitive action during the Intercounty Senior Hurling Challenge match at the official opening of the James Stephens Kells Road Grounds. (Photo: Eoin Hennessy)
The injury concerns may be mounting in the Kilkenny camp, but the National Hurling League champions won’t let them get them down.

The injury concerns may be mounting in the Kilkenny camp, but the National Hurling League champions won’t let them get them down.

There is a deadly serious championship challenge coming up against Offaly in Nowlan Park on June 7, and nothing, absolutely nothing will get in Kilkenny’s way of being 100% ready for a match that could explode in their face if they were not ready.

“We saw what Offaly were capable of last year,” Kilkenny manager, Brian Cody, offered when he spoke after a satisfying work-out against Clare in a challenge game on Sunday.

“Offaly are potential destroyers as far as we are concerned,” the James Stephens clubman added. “They are serious opposition.

“We will approach the game in a massively serious way. They slaughtered us in lots of ways when we played them in the championship in Tullamore last year. They were hugely impressive at under-21 level last year as well.

“They are the next opposition and we will prepare properly for them. That is it. We got a warning last year.

“It is the Leinster championship. There is no room for anything other than total concentration on the next match, which is against Offaly.”

Issues like the injuries suffered by Henry Shefflin (stress fracture) and Richie Power (hamstring) the week before last, and Michael Fennelly (muscle strain) and Eoin Murphy (concussion) at the weekend may be uppermost in the minds of fans, but the panel will carry on regardless.

Injured players will be placed in the care of professionals, who will guide them through the medical processes on the road to recovery, but the rest of the panel will get down to work in Nowlan Park.

“Injured players will be dealt with by the people in that area,” Mr Cody explained when asked how such knocks affected the squad. “There is no point in feeling sorry for yourself. It is all part and parcel of the game. It is something that could happen to any team.”

He revealed that Shefflin will be visiting a specialist shortly for an update on his injury, and he was hopeful that “it will be short term stuff”.

Power was in the care of the team doctor and physio, and he expressed the wish that the Carrickshock man would be back soon, although sources suggest it could be a minimum of six weeks.

The clash with All-Ireland champions, Clare, on Sunday evening to mark the official opening of James Stephens new grounds on the Kells Road was more than a mere friendly as far as Mr Cody and his fellow selectors, Michael Dempsey, Derek Lyng and James McGarry were concerned.

“That was the start of our championship preparations,” Mr Cody insisted after a contest that was played out in constant rain on an expansive pitch that made the players work to earn their keep.

“It was great to get the match,” Mr Cody added. “The championship is coming up quickly now, so that was a huge part of our preparations for it. It was a very different test.

“Clare play a different game, surely. They test you. It was a great game to get. It was a fine open pitch. There is a lot of ground to be covered. The match went well for us. I was very pleased.

“Now we just train,” he said when he looked ahead. “We haven’t an awful lot of time for training. We will get in a few quality training sessions and that is all we can do.”

However, he admitted that Kilkenny weren’t in a “bad place” after the League final win as they head into a championship that will bring huge challenges.

Last year the Cats failed to quality for the Leinster final. They didn’t play in Croke Park at all, and they missed out on the All-Ireland series for the first time in 16 years.

By Kilkenny standards of recent times, it was a poor championship.

Cody made no bold predictions. He admitted that Kilkenny were in a better place than they were this time 12 months ago.

“The championship is only starting,” he said. “What we have done, we are happy with. Now we push on and prepare properly for everything else.”

The new James Stephens facilities were opened officially by GAA President, Liam O’Neill and the blessing was by St Patrick’s PP, Fr Dan Carroll. A plaque marking the occasion was unveiled to a fanfare provided by St Patrick’s brass band.

“We cannot thank enough those who led the wonderful fund-raising efforts, often during dark financial times,” said club chairman, Tommy Lanigan. “We appreciate the hard work and generosity of so many people who love The Village, their parish and the GAA.”