January is no time for making sweeping statements or silly assumptions, so we will keep it simple. So far, so good for Kilkenny.
The Cats booked a place in the first hurling final of the season in the province in some style when they proved too good for determined Galway in the Walsh Cup semi-final in weather beaten Freshford on Sunday.
The result gave Kilkenny exactly what they wanted at this stage of the season, another game; and even better, another testing one, this time against Dublin in Croke Park on Saturday (5pm).
“This is what we want, as much hurling as possible before the start of the National League,” offered manager Brian Cody after what was a satisfying showing in many respects.
The return of Henry Shefflin proved too much of a draw for many a curious fans, but the 2,500 or so who made the journey left the St Lachtain’s grounds happy that the great Ballyhale Shamrocks man was ready to motor again. All going well, he could be a huge player again this season.
“We are happy enough.....definitely,” admitted Kilkenny manager, Brian Cody. “The fellows who are new are doing fine and we are very, very happy with them.”
And what about the lad Shefflin, who on Sunday took the first step into what will be his 16th season on the senior inter-county stage?
“He is mad to play,” was the frank reply from Mr Cody. “He is bursting to get out there.”
Yet, there would be no concession to age or profile as Kilkenny set about building a team with a September date in mind.
“In reality, the lads want to get into the team for the League,” the boss explained. “If you get in, you have a good chance of staying there. If you don’t, you have to fight your way into it.
And then there was the dose of reality: “The same rules apply to everyone.”
Shefflin looked good, as a 13 point take might suggest. Every time the ball came into his sector in the first half he managed to edge it forward; maybe not far every time, but it never - not once - went back towards the Kilkenny goal. He has three points in the bag at the break; plus two assists, including one for the goal his team scored. Afterwards he added 10 points; threw around some super passes and he was still going strong at the finish.
Eoin Larkin didn’t make the finish. He was felled by a nasty smack from a hurley almost on time and was stretchered off. Initially it was thought he had a broken elbow. Later this was, thankfully, downgraded to bad bruising. Larkin was powerful during the second half as a link man, a top class maker of plays and scores.
Colin Fennelly, in a new, free running role at centre-forward, played very well also. Likewise Jonjo Farrell, who has a natural knack for scoring. He registered three times. Nice going for a new arrival, and especially so against good opposition. Remember, he scored 2-3 last week.
Of the other newcomers, Joey Holden looked very assured. This guy appears to have something, and it will be interesting to see how time and work with the panel helps him develop. Paraic Phelan too looks to be finding the rhythm of the inter-county game, but we won’t burden him with expectations. Allow him to be a free spirit to develop as he will!
The ‘regulars’, if we might refer to them as such, added richly to a strong performance in terms of work and effort, with Aidan Fogarty, again in a new role, Paul Murphy - he was top class - and Brian Hogan turning in big showings. Conor Fogarty again added to his credits.
The strong wind whistled down field from the town end. Kilkenny enjoyed a good opening when Colin Fennelly blasted to the Galway net in the fourth minute after Shefflin and Larkin worked the ball to him.
Nearly 30 minutes passed before Galway threatened the home goal. ’Keeper Eoin Murphy did well when defying Jonathan Glynn. A minute after that save Galway’s Conor Cooney won a 65. This was converted by the sure striking Niall Healy.
The visitors drove on, and by the break they showed 0-12 to 1-5 in front.
Within eight minutes of the restart the Cats had caught up. Scores from Colin Fennelly, after stealing the ball from an opponent, Jonjo Farrell (2), Brian Hogan and Shefflin, from a 65 metre free (0-13 to 1-10).
This time it was the Cats who drove on. Mark Kelly was upended. Shefflin pointed from 25 metres on the left. A foul on Fennelly gifted him the next score before a peach of a pass created a scoring chance for Fennelly. All of a sudden Kilkenny were in control and ahead by 1-13 to 0-13.
Shefflin added the next two scores to extend the Kilkenny run to six on the trot. In an attacking sense, Galway weren’t in the game. By the end of the half, Shefflin had pocketed 10 scores.
Galway’s best were Gearoid McInerney, Ronan Burke, Johnny Coen and Niall Healy.
For Kilkenny, this was a most encouraging effort. In real terms, the Walsh Cup is a mere trinket in the overall scheme of things, but with the start of the NHL looming, involvement in it is priceless.
Scorers: Kilkenny - Henry Shefflin (0-13, 11 frees); Colin Fennelly (1-3); Jonjo Farrell (0-3); Brian Hogan, Aidan Fogarty, Eoin Larkin, Mark Kelly, Padraig Walsh (0-1 each). Galway - Niall Healy (0-8, five frees, one 65); Niall Burke, Cathal Mannion (0-2 each); Colm Callanan (0-1, free); Darragh Burke, Davy Glennon (0-1 each).
Kilkenny - Eoin Murphy; Shane Prendergast, Michael Walsh, Conor Fogarty; Joey Holden, Brian Hogan, Paul Murphy; Aidan Fogarty, Paraic Phelan; Henry Shefflin, Colin Fennelly, Eoin Larkin; Jonjo Farrell, Mark Kelly, Liam Ryan. Subs - Thomas Breen for Ryan 40th min; Padraig Walsh for Fogarty 51st min; David Langton for P. Murphy 51st min; Tomas Keogh for Prendergast; Tommy Walsh for Larkin (inj) 71st min.
Galway - Colm Callanan; Fergal Moore, Ronan Burke, Johnny Coen; Gearoid McInerney, Darragh Burke, Sylvie Og Linnane; Aidan Harte, Niall Burke; Conor Cooney, Jonathan Glynn, Cathal Mannion; Padraig Landers, Niall Healy, Davy Glennon. Subs - David Collins for Linnane 45th min; Brian Flaherty for Harte 56th min; Richie Cummins for Glennon 56th min; Jason Flynn for P. Landers; Dara Dolan for N. Burke 64th min.
Referee - Brian Gavin (Offaly).