The National Hurling League is turning out to be very interesting for Kilkenny. With the team showing many changes from week to week, supporters are on a journey they have not experienced for ages, writes Nickey Brennan.
Places are up for grabs on the panel, and on the team, so now is a very good time for aspiring players to show their mettle. All this is happening against a background in which some of the longer established players are struggling to impose their considerable presence on the team.
On Sunday it Nowlan Park the clash with Waterford is like a championship tie, with the winners taking all. What a challenge for the players!
While it is understandable that the selectors want to try out players, it does take time for new guys to adapt to the pace and physicality of the inter-county game. One of Kilkenny’s great strengths during the most dominant period was limiting opponents scores. Before Saturday’s game Kilkenny had conceded 7-46 in three games. That is an area which needs to be addressed.
Kilkenny looked to be holding its own in the opening quarter against Dublin. The team completely lost its way in the second quarter. Such was the dominance of the Metropolitans then that it was no surprise that they led by 10 points at the interval.
Kilkenny had problems in many areas, but especially around the middle of the pitch where a succession of Dublin players picked up numerous loose balls to score long-range points. Padraig Walsh replaced his brother Tommy for the second half and brought Kilkenny much more into the game in midfield.
We then saw shades of what happened in Nowlan Park recently when Kilkenny, grabbed two early second half goals from Colin Fennelly and a T.J. Reid penalty. The fight-back was on but it could not be sustained.
Maybe it was the swirling wind in Parnell Park, but some of Kilkenny’s shooting was erratic. So too was some of the striking which was most untypical of the players.
Kilkenny badly need to settle on a central defensive formation. A number of players have been tried and we appear to be no clearer as to our best duo. We have yet to see J.J. Delaney this year. He is sorely missed at full-back. Kieran Joyce has had limited action due to his involvement with his club and he needs to come back on board.
The experimental sides are delivering many positives. Brian Kennedy, Padraig Walsh, Mark Kelly (he was badly missed on Saturday), Joey Holden and Jonjo Farrell have impressed and have done enough to nail down at least a panel spot for the championship.
When Kilkenny got the margin back to three points against Dublin one expected them to push on and win. However, after a shaky start to the second half, Dublin got to grips with their visitors with some tenacious tackling which was the key reason why they picked up the two points.
Both teams experienced periods of frustration with the match referee. At times, and especially in the first half, he let the game flow ignoring a number of blatant fouls. There were other occasions when he blew for incidents which clearly frustrated the players.
Bringing consistency to refereeing remains a big challenge.
This League was always one in which Kilkenny would experiment. The process will continue. Saturday’s loss means Kilkenny must defeat Waterford on Sunday to be sure of reaching the quarter-finals. The Déise will be anxious to atone for Sunday’s trouncing in Ennis against Clare.
The new Kilkenny players will benefit from a prolonged run. It will help the mentors to finalise their squad. With successive home League wins against Clare and Kilkenny, Dublin’s confidence is restored.
They will travel to Semple Stadium on Sunday knowing a win will secure them a quarter-final spot. Anthony Daly, though, has a job on his hands to sort out a number of positions.