KILKENNY, in name if not in absolute body, will swing into action in the first hurling game of the season on Saturday, writes John Knox.
The Cats will be represented by a Development Squad when they open the 2013 playing season in the Bord na Mona Walsh Cup quarter-final against NUI Galway in St John’s Park (2pm).
Manager Brian Cody and selectors, Michael Dempsey and Martin Fogarty, who guided the county to the 34th MacCarthy Cup success in September, will hand over the reins to under-21 boss, Richard Mulrooney and his officials.
Originally it was hoped that the under-21 squad could use this match as a break-in game to the season, but only three of the 11 players eligible from last year’s losing All-Ireland final team against Clare are available.
The rest are tied up in colleges competitions in a variety of areas. At the time of going to press Kilkenny had not finalised a team for what will be a stiff enough test against a selection littered with Galway senior stars, and who beat Westmeath at the weekend.
“As ever, Kilkenny will be up for the challenge,” insisted Mr Mulrooney, who will be joined by his team of officials, Adrian Finan (James Sepehens) and Brian Ryan (Fenians), plus under-21 squad physical coach, Niall Lacey (Dicksboro).
Jason Corcoran (John Lockes), Brian Kennedy (St Lachtain’s) and John Power (Carrickshock) are the trio of under-21 players available. Another contender, Dylon Walsh had to opt out because he will be in action with his club, Thomastown, in the All-Ireland club junior hurling semi-final the following day, while Kevin Kelly (St Patrick’s) has a fractured wrist.
The others ruled out because of commitments to college teams are Cillian Buckley and Willie Phelan (UCD), Ger Aylward and Luke Kearney (WIT), Ollie Walsh (Carlow IT) and Padraig Walsh (UL).
NUI have Galway players, Niall Burke, Darren Cunningham and Joe Cooney in a lively attack, while Brian Flaherty, who saw action during the National League last season, is at centre-back so they have the makings of a more than decent team.
Kilkenny are determined to put a strong effort into defending the first title they won in 2012, and they will put out the best team they can as the senior squad continues with preparations for the start of the National League on February 24. The attractive opening match there will feature an All-Ireland final repeat away to Galway.
Meanwhile, former Hurler of the Year Michael Fennelly will be eligible to play with UL in the Fitzgibbon Cup this season. The Ballyhale Shamrocks man has returned to college to do a Masters in Performance Sport.
The 27-year-old took advantage of a voluntary redundancy scheme in the Ulster Bank so he could return to education and follow a career path that has been appealing to him more and more in recent times. Former Munster rugby star, Gerry Flannery, was one of the people who did the Masters last year.
Mr Fennelly will team up with his UL hurling colleagues this week, when he will also meet team manager, Laim Garvery.