THE Kilkenny lightweights may be going in to defend the title against Clare heavyweights in Saturday’s intermediate hurling All-Ireland final in Thurles (7pm), but Cats boss Pat Hoban and his charges are in defiant mood.
Because of the mixed up rules of the championship, the Noresiders will be fielding a team made up by players from intermediate and junior clubs, while Clare will send their second senior side into action.
“All counties except Cork and ourselves are able to pick from senior clubs,” explained Mr Hoban, who guided Kilkenny to success in last year’s final against Cork. “That doesn’t seem very fair, but they are rules we work with.
“There will be no excuses. This is an All-Ireland final. We will give it our best shot. If you were a bookie, Clare would be favourites by a country mile, but we will be there doing our very best to win. We are not going to hand over the title.”
The background about how teams are made up and the fact that a number of players in this county just weren’t interested in being part of the squad didn’t matter.
Down six players
“When you take on this job you take the restraints and restrictions that go with it,” the manager replied when it was suggested it wasn’t easy pulled all the pieces together.
For example, from the Leinster final squad, the Cats are down six players – Ian Duggan and Walter Walsh, who have since gone to the US; Darragh Wafer, who broke a thumb while three senior panellists are unavailable for selection, namely Kieran Joyce, Richie Doyle and Eoin Murphy.
“To be fair to the guys who have committed, they have been absolutely committed,” added Mr Hoban. “The training and everything about the panel has been enjoyable. The lads are putting in the work. The lack of games is an issue, but if the games are not there they are not there.”
Mr Hoban and fellow selectors Paschal Connolly (Clara), P.J. Kenny (Lisdowney), Donal Carroll (Dicksboro) and trainer Pat O’Grady (Blacks and Whites) simply put the heads down and got on with the job.
There was an All-Ireland title on the line. Kilkenny want it.
“We have done a nice bit of work,” the manager assured. “The way it worked out we were straight into the Leinster final and then straight into the All-Ireland final. That is not ideal. We would like to have played another game or two.
Played challenge matches
“But we have played a good number of challenge matches to fill in the gaps. We have been training away and with the club games in between things have moved along nicely. I am happy enough with the preparations.”
The Noresiders had to build a whole new squad because they won the All-Ireland last season. The net was thrown far and wide. D.J. Carey, who returned to action at junior level recently with Young Irelands (Gowran), was looked at as a potential candidate for the squad. So too was club colleague, Charlie Carter.
“The good thing, and this will benefit the county for the next couple of years, is that a number of minor and under-21 players of recent years are involved,” explained Mr Hoban.
“This is a very important grade for Kilkenny going forward. If you look at the minor teams of the last few years, a huge number of junior and intermediate club players were involved.
“Once those guys go past the under-21 grade they could be forgotten in terms of inter-county hurling. The intermediate grade can be an important outlet for them.”
Former Kilkenny senior players’ Richie O’Neill (the goalkeeper) and Willie O’Dwyer answered the call when asked. Younger lads from the under-21 grade like Michael Walsh from Gowran and Willie Phelan (Dunnamaggin) are also involved.
So, what about opponents Clare?
“They had some run in the championship,” Mr Hoban said. “We saw them a few times. They beat Cork, who beat a much fancied Tipperary team. They beat Limerick in the Munster final and Galway, again a very strong team, in the All-Ireland semi-final.
“They are a very good side with senior club players, a sprinkling of lads from the successful under-21 team of a few years ago. They are good. They are a team with a very good attitude and loads of confidence after a testing championship run.
“We know we are up against it,” the manager admitted. “Teams have beaten the odds in the past. We are ready to have a right go.”