Kilkenny hurling fans are facing into a packed and exciting weekend full of intriguing possibilities, writes John Knox.
With the county’s hold on the National Hurling League title precarious after a defeat by Dublin at the weekend, Brian Cody’s men must beat Waterford in Nowlan Park on Sunday or else their reign is over.
On Saturday, Leinster champions, Kilkenny CBS and St Kieran’s College contest All-Ireland colleges senior hurling semi-finals, and if both are successful it would set up the first ever all-Kilkenny decider.
Now or never
The possibility was there twice in recent times, but it didn’t happen. However, some observers reckon it could be now or never.
Neither schoool wanted to be drawn on the ‘might happen issue’, but players and team handlers are acutely aware of the magical possibility as they prepare for a doubled header semi-final programme in Templemore.
St Kieran’s open the programme (12 noon). They face a daunting task against Ardscoil Ris (Limerick), who blasted all before them in the Munster championship.
Powerful Leinster champions, Kilkenny CBS then face beaten Munster finalists, Doon (Limerick) at 1.45pm.
“Thirteen of the Ardscoil players are right up to the age limit, which is a huge advantage at this level,” explained St Kieran’s team official, Liam Smith. “They are very strong, but we are looking forward to the challenge.”
The CBS soared beyond all previous form when scoring a comfortable win over Kieran’s in the Leinster final, but after defeats in the previous two All-Ireland finals they are really gunning for glory this time.
“The Leinster final is over, but we want more,” was the tell it as it is story from CBS selector, Ger Morrissey, who some weeks ago guided the Rower-Inistioge to victory in the All-Ireland club intermediate final.
Kieran’s will be without the versatile Sean Morrissey (Bennettsbridge), who was struck down by glandular fever days before the provincial final. His championship is over, but the good news is that he should be back playing in a few weeks.
Otherwise St Kieran’s have a full squad available.
No bad team
“We regrouped well after the disappointment of the Leinster final and scored a good win in the All-Ireland quarter-final at the weekend,” Mr Smith explained. “We had a good Leinster league and championship, and we didn’t become a bad team just because of one defeat.
“Bad performances can happen. There can’t be any lapses against Ardscoil. They walked through Munster. They are a very, very good side.
“We have a good panel - they used 29 players in the championship to date - and on our day we could match anyone.”
The CBS never had it so good at this level. Since 2006 they have contested seven Leinster finals.
Their most recent win was their eight in the province and was the first time victories were put back-to-back.
“This is the third successive year we are trying to get into the final, which is a fair achievement in itself,” Mr Morrissey explained.
“The work ethic within the panel has always been good, and with the same determined approach we can make things happen. Some of the lads have been playing with the team for the past three years, so they have a wealth of experience.”
Meanwhile, scoring differences look set to come into play to decide the quarter-final qualifiers as the Hurling League comes down to the last preliminary round with little decided.
All-Ireland champions, Clare, have made the knock-out stages, but the remaining five counties in Division 1A can get there too......or end up facing a battle against relegation.
To date results have gone with the home teams in League matches. Kilkenny won their previous two matches at Nowlan Park, against Tipperary and Galway.
All the results at the weekend went in favour of the home teams.
After Saturday’s loss to Dublin, manager Brian Cody suggested that J.J. Delaney (Fenians) could be ready for a return. He hasn’t played with the county since the exit from the championship last July.
Delaney was late rejoining the squad after the Christmas break, but he has attained match fitness and has enjoyed a bit of hurling in recent weeks.
He could feature when the team is announced on Friday night, as might Michael Fennelly and a couple of other long servers as the Noresiders step up the drive to remain contenders in the League.
A win over Waterford would catapult the champions into the quarter-finals.
A win for the visitors would give them the place in the last eight.
The top four teams in Division 1A qualify for the quarter-finals. The bottom two fight out a relegation battle with the losers dropping back to Division 1B.
Scoring difference decide places in the league table if counties finish level on point.
To date Kilkenny have scored 10-67 in the League, which is the leading tally.