WHATEVER happens with the rest of the championship, nobody can say that the Kilkenny minor hurlers aren’t well travelled.
Having surrendered their Leinster title, the Cats will be back in action this weekend, bidding to get their All-Ireland trek back on track in a meeting with Waterford at Walsh Park on Saturday (throw-in 7pm).
“We’ve been on the road all year – we’ve travelled to Westmeath, Wexford, Dublin and now Waterford,” said manager Adrian Ronan. “We’re keeping Kavanagh’s busses busy!”
Joking aside, the quarter-final has also dealt some Ronan with some serious problems.
Conor O’Shea is out of the weekend’s match after dislocating his shoulder, while Enda Morrissey hasn’t recovered from a calf injury he suffered in the Leinster final.
On top of that the manager has some other doubts to contend with, as Diarmuid Cody and Peter Keanelly are carrying knocks, but you won’t hear Ronan making any excuses.
“Owing to the backdoor route it’s gone against us with injuries, but that’s why we have a panel,” he said. “Some players’ loss means that someone else has the opportunity to get on the team – that’s why we have a panel of 30 lads all year round.
“Losing the Leinster final means this is the route we’ve had to take,” Ronan continued. “It was more dangerous in terms of who you get, when you play and accommodating games around training and club matches. After all that, it was hard luck on the lads to suffer these injuries.
“Conor is especially unfortunate, as he missed out on last year through injury and almost missed the colleges All-Ireland final this year,” Ronan said of the Clara man, who dislocated his shoulder for the third time while training with the minors last week.
“He also missed our first game against Westmeath, and had decided in the middle of the year that he wouldn’t go for surgery, but continue hurling until his shoulder went again which just happened to be in training.
“Strangely enough he could be alright in a few weeks,” he added, “but he won’t make this weekend’s match.”
The Kilkenny panel have had a few weeks to digest that defeat to Dublin. Although disappointed, the panel had some consolation from their quarter-final safety net.
“The fact that we have a second chance is huge,” agreed Ronan. “Many’s a minor team, even in my own time, never got that chance. The injuries we’ve picked up are unfortunate, but we’ve got to get on with things.
“Having watched the DVD of the final, and using the time since the game to analyse things we know we didn’t do ourselves justice,” he continued. “The lads didn’t hurl like they can and they know it. They’re hurting, and I can see they want to redeem themselves.
“That’s not taking away from Dublin’s performance – they were the better side on the day – but we didn’t take our chances when they were presented to us. However, we still have that second chance; we’re still in it.”
That said, they will be going up against a Waterford side who will be feeling the same way after losing their Munster final by five points (1-20 to 3-9) to Clare.
“Both of us would have had similar expectations at the start of the championship,” he said. “They would have mapped out a route to take and that would have involved winning a Munster final – it would have been well within their compass, just as winning a Leinster title was within ours.
“When you get to finals you expect to win them; neither of us did. We’re going into this game with similar baggage – whichever side handles it best on the day will prevail.”
The fact that’s Waterford versus Kilkenny will also add some spice to the evening – so too will the fact that the Deise are managed by a former James Stephens hurler, Liam ‘Chuck’ O’Connor.
“‘Chuck’ and myself would be good friends,” said Ronan. “We know each other very well. The fact that he lives in Kilkenny, and that he’s an adopted Village man, means he will know plenty about our players.”
In contrast to Kilkenny, Waterford have also been given the boost of home advantage for a third time this term.
“Waterford beat a very fancied Tipp in Walsh Park in May and Limerick in the semi-final,” said Ronan. “Except for the Munster final, which was in Cork, Waterford have played all their games in Walsh Park. They are used to playing at home and winning there – they’ll be well used to the home crowd and the pressure.”
With that in mind, the Kilkenny boss appealed to locals to do their best to even up the numbers come game time.
“It’s a little ask from us, but I’d hope the Kilkenny support would make that journey on Saturday evening to give our lads a lift,” he said. “As we have played away in all three games we haven’t had the support other teams have – we’ve played in the back yard of all three teams we’ve faced so far, and it’ll be the same in Waterford. That’s not going to be the winning and losing of the game, but that extra bit of support would be great for our lads.”
The team will now be winding down on the training field before Saturday’s game, but owing to the injury worries will put off naming a team until late in the week.
“We would have hoped to name a team Wednesday, but owing to the two injuries and the two doubtfuls on top of that we’ll leave it to the last minute,” he said. “We have genuine injuries and doubts, but there’s no point being sorry for ourselves. There was a particular route we should have taken, we didn’t; we’ll have to take what’s thrown at us. We’ll have no excuses and no regrets.”
The Kilkenny minor team to play Waterford on Saturday will be selected from the following panel: Richie Reid (Ballyhale Shamrocks); Ciaran Doyle (Barrow Rangers); Enda Morrissey, Hugh O’Neill (Bennettsbridge); Conor O’Shea, Chris Bolger (Clara); Peter Vickery (Conahy Shamrocks); Aaron Duggan (Dicksboro); Peter Keneally (Dunnamaggin); Conor Martin, Brian Troy, Eoin Moriarty (Emeralds); Robert Moran (Erin’s Own); Willie Brennan (Fenians); Darragh Egan (Graigue-Ballycallan); Diarmuid Cody, Luke Hickey, Jack McGrath (James Stephens); Jack McDowell, Owen McGrath (John Lockes); Shay Dempsey, Johnny Hayes (Kilmacow); Mark Mansfield (Mullinavat); David Kearns, J.P. Purcell (Mooncoin); Danny Lenihan, David Burke (O’Loughlin Gaels); Kevin Walsh (Piltown); Liam Hickey, James Maher (St Lachtain’s); Kevin Kelly (St Patrick’s); Thomas O’Hanrahan, Robert O’Hanrahan, Michael Donnelly (Thomastown).