The front line troops were working elsewhere, but part of the next generation of Kilkenny hurlers were handed auditions in this new season opener at Freshford and some of them were singing in the rain as they left the venue.
It was a hard day’s work, a decent day’s work, as defiant NUI Galway were sent packing from the Walsh Cup senior hurling tournament by a young Kilkenny string daubed with the unusual title of Senior Development Squad.
On a very wet day – the rain didn’t stop until early in the second half – and pitch that cut up badly during the last quarter, the young bloods showed craft and grit and oodles of promise as they secured a home game against Westmeath next weekend.
“That was a good work-out for both sides,” suggested Kilkenny manager for the day, Richie Mulrooney, the under-21 team boss, who, with his backroom team, stood in for Messrs Cody, Fogarty and Dempsey who were training the senior squad proper elsewhere.
So, who would lead the charge in the next round?
“Whatever we are asked to do we will do. We were delighted to look after the team today,” was the message from Mr Mulrooney.
It is not, apparently, that Kilkenny deem themselves above the Walsh Cup. No! Physically the seniors would be way too powerful for any colleges’ side, so the decision was made to concentrate on training for the opening of the upcoming National League campaign.
Two of Sunday’s participants, Cillian Buckley and Willie Phelan, have already been enrolled in the senior squad proper. Strong performances here underlined the reasons why that should be the case.
Of the rest, Jason Corcoran, picked at midfield but operating at corner-back because of the loss of Sean Phelan (Lisdowney) through injury, auditioned very well. Sustained showings like this could lead to him being elevated very quickly. The same could be said of the gifted John Power, brother of current star, Richie, and Padraig Walsh, who finished very strongly.
Overall it was a good day’s work for Kilkenny against a willing and battling team who had an edge in game time and team play. NUI weren’t headed until John Power popped over a point from a free in the 53rd minute, 0-11 to 0-10.
Both sides shot two more scores before the finish. Crucially, NUI missed a chance when the divide was two in the 68th minute. That left them going for broke with their last chance, a 20-metre free in front of goal by their star performer, Niall Burke. Alas the Galway man’s shot was aimed high and over the bar.
It might have been a close call for the Cats at the finish, but to their credit they worked very, very hard and with limited hurling behind them, a win was a fine result.
NUI looked the better team during most of the opening half. It was obvious they had a fair bit of hurling behind them, and this manifested itself in good combination play. From the off the likes of Niall Burke, Mark Kelly, Patrick Kelly, a very good David Kenny and Caimin Morey coped with the best Kilkenny could throw at them.
The losers were helped by a decent start, which saw them mine four points per Niall Burke (2), Caimin Morey and Patrick Kelly, a mighty score from the half-back line, during the opening seven minutes. The home side’s lone point was from a free by John Power.
The Carrickshock lad’s accurate free taking was vital during the opening 20 minutes or so. You see, NUI had the edge, but Power’s free taking kept Kilkenny in touch (0-4 each), and undid a lot of excellent work by the opposition.
The losers won back the lead through Dean Higgins in the 18th minute, but the Cats kept chasing. Passing 26 minutes the score was 0-6 each. John Paul O’Connell and Burke put points together subsequently before a late free from John Power left the divide at 0-8 to 0-7 at the break with the visitors ahead.
There was one goal chance created during that half. It fell to Kilkenny in the 29th minute. Luke Harney shot left and wide at the town end goal from no more than 12 metres after Jack Nolan engineered the opening.
The rain eased from the start of the new half, but by now the playing surface was saturated and it began to break up. The teams just got on with the job, and produced decent fare for the good size crowd.
The Kilkenny approach was more thoughtful this time. They made better use of the ball by directing it with a forwarding address when on the attack. Within two minutes they were level thanks to John Power.
It was score for score during the following 10 minutes, with NUI the pace setters all the time. After John Power levelled in the 46th minute, he won Kilkenny the lead for the firfst time when he punished a push in the back on Paddy Butler by lofting the ball over the bar (0-11 to 0-10).
The puck-out was claimed on the right at midfield by Martin Gaffney. The Dicksboro man arrowed the ball back over the bar. Power then pinched a terrific score from the right wing when under severe pressure (0-13 to 0-10).
NUI piled forward. Burke pulled back a very good score. Then he missed a reasonable chance, which was to prove crucial in the end, because he finished off with a blasted 20-metre free that earned a point. Had the missed chance been ‘in’ the tie would have gone to extra-time.
The hurling season is up and running. Kilkenny started as they finished in last year’s All-Ireland final, with a win. We look forward to many more them!
Scorers: Kilkenny – John Power (0-9, seven frees); Martin Gaffney, James Cassin (0-2 each). NUI – N. Burke (0-6, two frees); C. Morey (0-3); P. Kelly, J.P. O’Connell, D. Higgins (0-1 each).
Kilkenny – Dylan Breathnach (Thomastown); Jason Corcoran (John Lockes), Willie Phelan (Dunnamaggin), Brian Kennedy (St Lachtain’s); Padraig Walsh (Tullaroan), Conor Tobin (Fenians), Pat O’Carroll (Lisdowney); Cillian Buckley (Dicksboro), Paddy Butler (O’Loughlin Gaels); John Power (Carrickshock), Liam Harney (Kilmacow), James Cassin (Rower-Inistioge); Jack Nolan (O’Loughlin Gaels), Ger Aylward (Glenmore), Martin Gaffney (Dicksboro). Subs – Conor Walsh (Ballyhale Shamrocks) for J. Nolan ht; Richie Reid (Ballyhale Shamrocks) for J. Cassin 48th min; Pauric Gahan (Mullinavat) for P. Butler 56th min; Seamus Kearns (Mooncoin) for G. Aylward 56th min.
NUI Galway – D. Tuohy; D. Magner, E. Fahy, S. McCormack; M. Kelly, D. Kenny, P. Kelly; J.P. O’Connell, C. Diviney; D. Murphy, N. Burke, D. Higgins; R. Shanahan, E. O’Farrell, C. Morey. Subs – A. Armstrong for E. O’Farrell 43rd min; C. Hynes for D. Murphy 53rd min.
Referee – D. Hughes (Carlow).