Offaly stand between snarling Cats and League final place

FORMER All-Star Jackie Tyrrell and James ‘Cha’ Fitzpatrick should be back to help Kilkenny during the rest of the National Hurling League campaign, but a bevy of high achievers will be missing, writes John Knox.

FORMER All-Star Jackie Tyrrell and James ‘Cha’ Fitzpatrick should be back to help Kilkenny during the rest of the National Hurling League campaign, but a bevy of high achievers will be missing, writes John Knox.

There will be no Henry Shefflin and John Tennyson as people known and expect at this stage. But the League is over for Tommy Walsh, J.J. Delaney and Richie Power too.

All in all the Cats will be without a third of last year’s All-Ireland team as they bid to beat Offaly in the last round on Sunday week at Nowlan Park to snatch the ticket into the final on May 1. By the way, the weekend before that a full round of local senior and intermediate league matches will be played, so it will be a busy, busy and demanding time for players.

Tyrrell picked up a thigh muscle injury against Galway nearly a month ago, but he should be fit for action against Offaly. ‘Cha’ is getting over a recent illness and all going well he should be ready for duty.

Kilkenny manager, Brian Cody and selectors, Martin Fogarty and Michael Dempsey are pressing on regardless, more or less adopting the attitude that ‘what we have, we have’.

Never concerned about injuries

“We will keep on going and working hard,” was Mr Cody’s response when asked for his views on the glut of injuries. “People talk about injuries, but we never put anyone on the field who is injured.

“I am never concerned about injuries on the day of a game. Sure, we would love to have everyone fit and available, but once a player is let out on the field he is not injured. He is ready to play, to perform.”

The panel has been stretched to near breaking point. On top of the seven injured listed above, Kilkenny delved as far as their third sub on Saturday against Dublin. You could therefore argue that the selectors have gone as deep as the 25th player in the panel by now.

“With players out an opportunity is being given to others,” Brian Cody continued. “Different players have done different things in different ways on different days so far. Before every match we look at the overall thing and pick the best team. It doesn’t matter really we are still looking at good players.”

He said the last game was now hugely important.

“We have to win to get to the League final,” he said. “It is championship style stuff. You lose and you are gone. What could be better to get players going at this important stage of the season?”

The James Stephens man described Dublin as a very, very good team. He has been saying that for years, he reminded, but few appeared to believe him.

“I thought the game was championship style,” he said of Saturday’s exciting draw in Croke Park. “There was intensity. The conditions became very difficult, from the point of holding your feet, striking and so on. That made it difficult. There was some excellent hurling from both sides.”

When it was suggested that Dublin really stretched Kilkenny in defence during the opening half he said it was hard to be absolutely definitive about what had happened straight away after any game.

“We will have a look at it again,” was his observation.

There has been talk that Kilkenny have been doing a lot of heavy training of late. Were they doing heavy work, and was it impacting in any way on the players?

Want to win every match

“We are working towards the same things we always worked towards, and our physical trainer is the best in the world,” he said in reply. “Our training is geared towards the ambitions we have for the year. The ambitions are the same as every year. We want to win every match.”

Apart from the one blip and one defeat, and what he described earlier as a very disappointing performance against Galway, Mr Cody said Kilkenny had been very competitive in every game.

“We are pleased with the way things are going,” he continued. “The panel is being tested to the full. There is no point in talking about injuries. I wasn’t thinking about injuries coming into the game.

“It is 15 against 15 when the game is on and when the players are out there they have to be good enough to do the job,” he said. “Am I surprised we are in the position we are? No. That was the target, the ambition.

“You have to believe you can get into this sort of position. Why shouldn’t we be in this position? I would love to win the League again, and we will be trying hard to win it.”