Interest in Walsh Cup soars as Cats fans ponder about what direction and shape their team will take

The Walsh Cup hurling tournament could prove to be a most interesting and helpful path into the new season for defending National League champions, Kilkenny.

The Walsh Cup hurling tournament could prove to be a most interesting and helpful path into the new season for defending National League champions, Kilkenny.

The Cats have indicted that they will use the senior squad, rather than the under-21 panel as was the case over the past two seasons, during an event that runs close to the start of the Allianz League.

The Bord na Mona sponsored Walsh Cup final has been scheduled for February 2, two weeks before the Cats are due to open in the League with a hugely attractive away clash against All-Ireland champions, Clare.

Best run

The best run Kilkenny could get in the Walsh Cup would give them three matches, and decent ones at that, which would be ideal preparation for the League.

You would expect that the Noresiders would have the beatings of Westmeath or DIT, who provide the opposition in their first match on January 19. After that things appear more difficult, with Galway, Offaly or Antrim the options in the semi-final.

A place in the final is not beyond the bounds of possibililties for Kilkenny. At worst, they look set to get two matches at least in the Walsh Cup.

Dublin, Wexford and Carlow, if they have the Mount Leinster Rangers players, would be the main contenders, it would appear, in the other half of the draw.

Certainly, from a Kilkenny point of view, the Walsh Cup will generate more interest than normal this season. There is great curiosity out there about the direction Kilkenny will take, and what will be the shape of the team in 2014.

The place is already buzzing with talk, and if early indications are anything to go by, then the Cats will be among the best supported teams in the country from the off.

Bord na Mona Walsh Cup draw

January 12 - 1 Laois v NUIG in Rathdowney (2pm); 2 Carlow v UCD in Carlow (2pm); 3 Westmeath v DIT in Mullingar (2pm); 4 Offaly v Antrim in Tullamore (12.30pm).

January 19 - 5 1 v Wexford in Portlaois/Wexford; 6 2 v Dublin in Carlow/Parnell Park; 7 3 v Kilkenny in Mullingar/Kilkenny; 8 4 v Galway in Tullamore/Antrim.

January 26 - 9 5 v 6; 10 7 v 8.

February 2 - Walsh Cup final, home venue 9.

Extra-time will be played in all matches in the event of the teams being level at the end of normal time.