Kilkenny signed off in the Walsh Cup with a nice win over Leinster champs, Dublin. However, the next 70 minutes should be really informative.
On Sunday week, February 16 the Cats travel to Ennis to face All-Ireland kings, Clare, in the opening defence of the National Hurling League.
That clash of champions, and the four preliminary round outings that will follow in the Allianz competition, will tell Kilkenny much, much more about where they stand in the hurling order of things this season.
“Playing in Ennis against the All-Ireland champions is a huge step up from the Walsh Cup,” insisted selector/trainer, Michael Dempsey, when he looked to the immediate future following Saturday’s confidence building victory over Dublin in Croke Park.
“We couldn’t have got much more out of the Walsh Cup, but we will have to be able to take a step up in class or we will be blown away by some of the teams in the League.”
Clare, he insisted, were the current market leaders in hurling, and playing them was the ultimate challenge.
“We find ourselves in the chasing pack,” he said of Kilkenny’s situation at the moment. “It is a great challenge, and a great opportunity.”
The 2013 seasons fell apart during the Summer after a most promising League campaign that ended with the Cats 16th success.
Manager Brian Cody and fellow selectors, Michael Dempsey, James McGarry and Derek Lyng are building a new squad. The Walsh Cup campaign went very well and produced encouraging performances and good wins over Dublin and Galway, the Leinster champions of the past two season.
The selectors gave youths its fling, and newcomers or relative newcomers like Shane Prendergast, Michael Walsh, Joey Holden, Conor Fogarty, Jonjo Farrell, Mark Kelly, Liam Ryan, Brian Kennedy, Paraic Phelan, David Langton and Joe Brennan put themselves into the frame to be part of panel 2014.
Mr Dempsey said the strong showing by so many players during the Walsh Cup didn’t make it easy for the selectors to finalise the panel, but “it is a good headache to have”.
“All the players used acquitted themselves well,” he insisted.