The likes of Brian Hogan, Tommy Walsh, Eoin Larkin and Richie Power too were all in the frame, but for sheer consistency and mastery of his trade over the 70 minutes Kieran Joyce was the ’People man of the match in Sunday’s sizzling championship opener.
The Rower-Inistioge man didn’t only defend well, his use of the ball in offensive situations served the team well too. Joyce is developing into a real powerhouse defender, with physical strength, good use of possession and neat stick work all vital componements in his game.
The 26-year-old is progressing nicely after breaking into the team last season. He has been part of the panel since 2011, so his progress has been reasonably fast, even by Kilkenny standards.
Indeed, but for a few simple errors during the closing half of the National League final against Tipperary last month he would have taken the top player award there too. That day he was tremendous during the opening half, but afterwards he surrendered possession on a few occasions driving into tackles when a sharp clearance might have served him and the team better.
Joyce was on fire this time on a tough day for hurling when the temperatures soared into the mid-twenties. He made a couple of spectacular catches that sent an ‘oooh’ around the grounds. He kept the game simple, and delivered his hurling lines word, or strike to be more precise, perfect. Consistency won him the honours.
Eoin Larkin appears to like the Templemore grounds. Remember in 2009 in the championship against Galway there?
He took the game by the scruff of the neck in the second half that evening and was the difference between the teams. This time he helped himself to 11 points, eight of which were badly needed during an iffy first half by the champs.
Tommy Walsh’s best moment arrived in the 13th minute of the second half. Colin Fennelly dug out possession on the 50 metre line, almost on the right sideline.
The Tullaroan man charged up on the outside like an express train. Fennelly popped a quick pass. Walsh took the ball in full stride, and galloped away on a Bolt-like sprint before shooting a long range point.
Lovely hurling, as they say!
That was the one decorative piece in his game. The rest was solid, assured, hugely effective work.
Brian Hogan was seen at his best during the opening half when a number around him were a bit off colour. Managers will tell you that the players who are at their best when others are struggling are you match savers.
The O’Loughlin Gaels man is always a huge player for Kilkenny.
Richie Power got through some great work during the closing half, but his striking didn’t always match promising approach play. Still, the threat was there.
Attendance - 8,337.