Derek Lyng marches to a different beat these days, but Kilkenny’s player turned selector still relishes the challenge of the All-Ireland.
“I’m enjoying it so far,” he said of his role as part of Brian Cody’s management team. “I’m very lucky to have experienced winning the All-Ireland last year and to be back again is great.
“There’s a great buzz in training,” he added. “When you get to this time of year there’s always a skip in everyone’s step.”
The experience the six-time All-Ireland winner brings to the Kilkenny camp is invaluable, but that desire to learn is something that has been long established in the panel.
“There are always things you’re picking up on as you go along,” he said. “There is a culture in the panel that when the younger players come in they see how the older players carry themselves, both on the field and what they’re doing in the gym, and they feed off that.
“The older players lead by example, which is the most important thing,” he added. “The players are very ambitious; they’re a focused bunch. We (the management) play a small role in trying to facilitate that, but generally it’s about the players and how they go about their business.
Now to finish job
“They’ve done well so far,” he said of the panel. “Croke Park in September is exactly where you want to be. Now it’s finishing the job.”
Much was written at the start of the championship on the players who departed the senior scene after Kilkenny’s 2014 triumph. Lyng hurled with all of them, but their absence hasn’t brought the collapse many anticipated.
“The number of players who left after last year’s All-Ireland win was unprecedented,” he said. “To have so many players of that calibre leaving at the same time, after what they brought to the game, was phenomenal.
“However, we’re looking forward - not back. For the players in the dressing-room it’s an opportunity to kick on. It’s a challenge to step up - some have become leaders, others have raised their game - and to see where they can improve.
“They’ve done that,” he added. “Now it’s all about getting themselves physically and mentally right for the final.”
Coming in as a selector to a side in which so many of your former colleagues still remained might be seen as a tough task.
“When the hard decisions are made everyone wants to be in the starting 15 and the panel,” he said. “As a player I experienced all those emotions, from starting to being left off panels. You want to always play, and that’s it.
“When you’ve played with players and they’re not picked it can be tough,” he admitted. “There’s a different dynamic there, but at the same time all those players, and the guys who are there now, appreciate how competitive the environment is in making the team and the panel.
“I don’t think anyone gets too dramatic about the whole thing,” he said. “You have to perform in training. That’s it. That culture was there long before I was involved. It’s very much a case of getting on with it and looking at how you can improve for the next day in order to make that team.”
So while there have been many changes regarding the panel, the competitive nature still there. It has shone through in some of this year’s results, but that doesn’t surprise Lyng.
“These players want to be as successful as they can be,” was his reasoning behind it all. “They are going to drive on and try to win those games and to make sure they’re in the starting 15 for the next day.
“They are as ambitious as any player who has gone before them. They’ll want to emulate those guys and win. There’s no question of their application or dedication.That’s been top class.”
Ambition isn’t one-sided. Galway have shown their hunger for the MacCarthy Cup is just as strong as Kilkenny’s. Since losing the Leinster final they have been flying.
“Galway have been very focused and, since that match, they’ve performed exceptionally well,” Lyng said. “They’ve put up big scores and their work-rate has been exceptional.
“They’re a top team. The lads who take to the field will have to be at the best of their abilities to win,” he concluded.