LAST into action, but first to grab some silverware?
That’s the tempting prospect for the Kilkenny intermediate hurlers who will put their Leinster championship title on the line this evening (Wednesday), writes Trevor Spillane.
The Cats can retain their crown - and become the county’s first provincial winners - should they beat Wexford, but it won’t be easy. First of all, they must go into a veritable lion’s den, facing off against the Model County in Wexford Park (7.30pm).
“We’re travelling to Wexford to play them in a Leinster final,” said manager Pat O’Grady. “There’s no need to motivate anyone!”
Leinster glory aside, O’Grady knows that some good performances could lead to more than silverware - maybe a shot at the big stage.
“We have a number of debutants in our side, including Shane Norton, Padraig Phelan and Paul Murphy,” he said. “They have never pulled on an inter-county jersey before so they have a great chance to stake a claim in the future.”
O’Grady was quick to back up his claim, listing off a dozen members of Brian Cody’s senior squad who cut their teeth at intermediate level.
“Of the panel who played Dublin on Saturday 12 played for the Kilkenny intermediates before turning senior,” he said. “That group included the likes of Henry Shefflin, Paul Murphy, John Tennyson and Aidan Fogarty.
“Playing at intermediate is a great chance of putting yourself in the shop window,” he said. “Play hard and try to stake a claim in the senior panel - this could be a great stepping stone to the top level.”
Currently there is just one senior panelist in the intermediate ranks - Joe Brennan - but there is still a huge level of experience in the squad. Six of the panel were involved in the 2011 intermediate squad that lost the All-Ireland final to Clare while seven more played on the winning 2010 team.
Coupled with eight members of Richie Mulrooney’s under-21 group, Kilkenny will not be short on big game experience.
“The intermediate and under-21 panels have complemented each other well,” said O’Grady. “We have had three tough practice matches between us - the under-21s needed them for the physical side of the game, while we used them for the speed aspect.
“We will be fully prepared going to Wexford,” he added. “The only place we may be lacking is support. I know it’s a midweek game, but I’d appeal to people from the border clubs to come down and support us - after all, it’s a chance to win the first Leinster title of the year.”
For O’Grady the role of manager has been nothing but enjoyable since taking over the reins from Pat Hoban, the county’s most successful manager at this grade.
“I’ve really enjoyed the job,” he said. “Coming from a junior club it was a huge honour to be asked to manage a Kilkenny team.”
O’Grady was quick to praise his predecessor, as well as the team around him.
“Pat (Hoban) left a great structure behind,” he said. “Pat O’Neill, who has taken on the training, has a wealth of experience while when you have men like P.J. Kenny and Tom Murphy there it makes it so easy.”
Kilkenny - Richie O’Neill (Kilmacow), Mark Phelan (Glenmore), Alan Walsh (Mooncoin), Shane Norton (Emeralds), Brian Kennedy (St Lachtain’s), Pat Hartley (Tullogher-Rosbercon), Padraig Phelan (Emeralds), Paul Murphy (Blacks & Whites), Joe Lyng (Rower-Inistioge), Niall Walsh (Slieverue), Rory Hickey (Lisdowney), Joe Brennan (St Patrick’s), Robbie Walsh (Danesfort, capt), Walter Walsh (Tullogher-Rosbercon), Ger Aylward (Glenmore). Subs: James Maher (St Lachtain’s), Jason Corcoran (John Lockes), Luke Harney (Kilmacow), Cathal Kenny (Barrow Rangers), Geoff Brennan (St Patrick’s), Peter Cleere (Blacks & Whites), Niall Doherty (Galmoy), Bill Staunton (St Patrick’s), Simon Burke (John Lockes), Keith Nolan (Ballyhale Shamrocks), Noel Doherty (Galmoy), Niall Kennedy (Blacks & Whites), Ger Shelly (John Lockes), Brian Murphy (Thomastown), John Cody (Glenmore), Nicky Cleere (Bennettsbridge), Sean Keogh (Young Irelands), Martin Phelan (Lisdowney).
Manager: Pat O’Grady. Trainer: Pat O’Neill. Selectors: Tom Murphy and P.J. Kenny.