KILKENNY won’t be rushing any of their injured players back into action for the closing stages of the National Hurling League, writes John Knox.
While the Cats wouldn’t mind winning the competition, the main priority remains the Leinster championship and what is sure to be a massive challenge against Dublin or the winners of the Carlow/Laois tie in Portlaois on June 23.
The All-Ireland champions have insisted all along that they wouldn’t mind winning the League, but in terms of importance it wouldn’t be the No. 1 priority for the season. That would be the championship or championships, Leinster and All-Ireland.
“We are happy to be in the League semi-finals, it is where we wanted to be,” insisted Kilkenny manager, Brian Cody after Sunday’s comprehensive victory over a young and inexperienced Galway team in Nowlan Park.
The result meant the Cats finished top of Division 1A so their semi-final opponents on April 22 in Thurles (2pm) will be provided by the winners from Division 1B, which will be Clare or Limerick. The opponents will be known at the weekend when Clare and Limerick play the Division IB decider.
Sunday’s victory came at a cost. Star attacker, Richie Hogan, was involved in a spectacular but accidental clash with Galway goalie, Jamie Ryan and he had to be carried off the field on a stretcher. The player lay in a crouched position on the field for some minutes after the clash before attempting to walk to the sideline area.
However, he had to stop and he ended up being stretchered off. The injury was confirmed on Monday as a perforated and collapsed lung, plus two broken ribs, which could keep the Danesfort man out of action for a long time.
“Richie will be a big loss to us,” Brian Cody said. “He is in good form. He is in serious, serious conditions since the start of the League. He puts in fierce work. He is a very important player for us, and I hope the knock won’t affect him too long.”
To balance the books for the semi-final, Richie Power should be ready to return. He received a one match suspension after being sent off in questionable circumstances against Cork two weeks ago.
The Carrickshock man has been in super form, and his take in four games in the League amounted to a hard to credit 3-40. His return would help balance things with the loss of Hogan, who has stepped up his game at this level immeasurably after enjoying a top class All-Ireland final during which he scored a spectacular goal.
Hogan is now delivering on the rich promise of his under-age years. In the League games against Tipperary, Waterford, Dublin and even Cork, he got through some powerful hurling.
At his best
He was seen at his best when Kilkenny needed him most, especially when he helped turn the tide against against Waterford, when he dragged the team through against Dublin and he was very prominent against Cork too.
Meanwhile, Jackie Tyrrell is making steady progress after picking up an ankle injury recently. He could come into the picture for the semi-final, but he won’t be rushed.
Henry Shefflin is making progress after having surgery to repair a shoulder injury, but he won’t resume until championship time.
“They early goals helped us get on top,” was Mr Cody’s view on Sunday’s hurling show. “They settled the team. We benefited from a few mistakes they made and put good pressure on them right throughout the field. The performance was good.
“We made good use of the ball. The work-rate was good. The start of it was that the work-rate was good and everyone worked throughout the field. They worked for each other. They got their rewards.”
The county squad will now take a break for a few weeks and the players will return to training with their clubs until the week of the League semi-finals.
Two weeks off
“The players have two weeks off now to work their their clubs,” Mr Cody confirmed. “The club scene starts in four weeks time so we want to give clubs every opportunity make their training as meaningful as possible. They need their panellists. The players want time with their clubs as well. That is important. We have done a decent bit of work in recent weeks.”
The squad will get back together the week before the semi-final.
The Kilkenny senior and intermediate hurling leagues are due to commence on the weekend of April 28/29. The second round matches will be played on May 11/12.