GOOD job, but the challenges ahead will get tougher and tougher so Kilkenny will have to improve.
That was the summary from satisfied Kilkenny manager, Brian Cody when the Leinster senior hurling champions got the championship show on the road with a confident win that earned them the right to defend their title against either Galway or Dublin in two weeks time.
“Playing Wexford in Wexford Park was never going to be easy,” admitted the James Stephens man following a sure footed 11-point victory.
“The Kilkenny under-21 team was beaten here the previous Tuesday night. The Wexford footballers had just won before our match, so a number of factors appeared to be adding to the feel good factor for the home side.
“That was a serious advantage to Wexford. Teams can thrive on that sort of thing. But then again, that is championship hurling. We wanted to get off to a winning start.
“We played some great hurling and got some good scores. It was a very decent score to get, so we are happy.”
A lot of things clicked nicely into place for Kilkenny, with the return of cruciate ligament victim, Henry Shefflin and Richie Power (hip) adding a real cutting edge to the attack. On top of that, the four players who made their championship debut all came through with flying colours.
The approach of new look Kilkenny was to settle into their stride early. They did exactly that.
“We played very well for each other,” was the way Mr Cody put it. “We edged ahead early enough and we were going well. Then Wexford scored a goal just before half-time. That was a big lift for them.
“Wexford were very strong for the opening 15 minutes or so of the second half. They came at us and at us. We stood our ground well and then drove them back. We are happy. That was a decent performance.
“Both teams are still in the championship. The preferred option for us was to get to the Leinster final. We are in the final now and that is a whole new challenge.
“We will concentrate all our efforts on preparing for that the best way we can.”
Nothing will be taken for granted, and there will be no comfort zone for anyone, he insisted.
“We will be looking for continued improvement and we will work towards that,” was the story on the road ahead from the boss. “This was only the beginning. Our sights are, as every, aimed high in the championship.”
The injuries suffered by Wexford, who lost two centre-backs early on, didn’t help the Slaney cause, Mr Cody admitted. Kilkenny had their own injury worries prior to the game, but they didn’t allow them cloud the focus.
“I was confident that we would produce a decent performance, and we did,” said the man who is in his 14th season at the helm.
So the downer that was the comprehensive National League final defeat against Dublin is well and truly behind Kilkenny, one asked.
“We got to the League final and played very poorly,” he replied. “We were well beaten. But what happened then was never an issue in the slightest for this match. Once you get into training for the championship things are very different.
“If we had won the League final it wouldn’t have made a difference either from the point of view of our mind-set. This is the championship. We are over the first hurdle and that is important. Our intention would be to drive on from here.”
To be honest, few expected that midfielder Michael Fennelly would be fit to play, seeing that he hasn’t played any hurling since injuring his hand in the National League clash against Offaly in mid-April.
The Ballyhale Shamrocks man didn’t get in much hurling practice, Mr Cody revealed.
“He did a phenomenal amount of physical training,” he revealed. “That aspect of his game was never curtailed. He is a very, very fit, athletic fellow. That aspect of his game was huge.”
Essentially, Fennelly only got back hurling on the Tuesday evening prior to the match. He crammed on ball work since.
Attitude the key
“His attitude was the key to it all,” the manager insisted. “He wanted to play. He gave himself every chance of playing. He is a great player.”
While the Kilkenny performance was surprisingly good, it didn’t out-strip what the manager expected, he said.
“Not particularly, no,” he mused when asked. “It was a decent performance but we will need an immense improvement again to progress the next day. By its very nature the challenge gets stronger and stronger.
“I was always happy we were going to give a good performance. It was a matter of going out and taking on Wexford. The players delivered as I expected they would,” he concluded.