Cats now aim sights towards the championship

THE National Hurling League campaign in general was a very good one for Kilkenny. It was rounded off with a powerful performance in the final, and now it is full steam ahead towards the Leinster championship.

THE National Hurling League campaign in general was a very good one for Kilkenny. It was rounded off with a powerful performance in the final, and now it is full steam ahead towards the Leinster championship.

Within an hour of the comfortable 15th success in the Allianz sponsored competition the Cats thoughts had already turned towards June 23 and the opening defence of the Leinster and All-Ireland titles.

“That is it, the League is over now,” was the matter of fact way satisfied Kilkenny manager, Brian Cody dealt with things after what he described as a “very, very good win and performance” in the League final against Cork on Sunday.

The Norsiders played seven matches in the competition, won six and lost one. They scored 17 goals and 136 points while conceding 8-99.

New talent

And perhaps even more important on top of those impressive figures, they also unearthed plenty of new talent that will heighten the competition for places within the squad.

On Sunday the Cats were without the injured Henry Shefflin (shoulder), Michael Rice (knee), Noel Hickey (hamstring) and Aidan Fogarty (broken wrist).

On top of that they lost J.J. Delaney (dead leg) through injury at half-time and Hurler of the Year, Michael Fennelly (ankle) early in the second half.

Yet they thundered to a comprehensive 14-point success. In fact, the game was over long before referee, James McGrath (Westmeath) blew the final whistle.

New kids on the block Richie Doyle, Paddy Hogan, Cillian Buckley, Matt Ruth and Kieran Joyce too played a huge part in whipping up the storm that blew away Cork, all of which augurs well for the deadly serious challenges that lie ahead.

“We will get on with the rest of the season now,” Mr Cody continued. “I said that if we won or lost the League final it wouldn’t decide what way the championship would work out for us.

“We lost the League final last year and had a good win in the championship later, but that meant absolutely nothing at the start of this season. We move on again now. We will be ready to take on the next challenge when it comes along.”

Immensely proud

The James Stephens clubman was immensely proud of the achievement, and how the players went about their business.

“You go out to try and play at your best in the League,” he went on. “That is what we did. We played very well. We got into the game early and got scores that helped us settle.

“We were competitive and strong throughout the field. We were very, very good. The players went out really serious about trying to win.

“That is what you expect from hurlers at any level. This was a National League final and it was worth winning.”

The players certainly showed massive drive, it was suggested.

“We have players who were not available to us, but you have to deal with that. We have other players who see themselves as trying to get into a situation in which they are really serious contenders for championship places.

“That sort of attitude and hunger helps to drive things on. That was a very, very satisfying win from a number of aspects.”

The panel was tested to the full during the campaign. Twenty-four players were used, and no one was found wanting, it was suggested to him.

It’s all about the panel

“We are always talking about the panel,” Mr Cody said when he took up the story. “Our philosophy has always been that the panel matters more than 15 players. We started without the players we started without. We lost J.J. Delaney at half-time and Michael Fennelly shortly into the second half.

“Such things open up opportunities for others. The players who come in have to be ready. That is what they train for, that is what it is all about. The championship is the next challenge, and again we will be doing our best to try and win it.”