THE Liam MacCarthy Cup might have been put away for a while, but the Kilkenny under-21 hurlers will be hoping to step into the spotlight when they go hunting for All-Ireland honours this weekend, writes Trevor Spillane.
“We have one big hour ahead of us,” said manager Richie Mulrooney. “Hopefully we are up to the task.”
The Cats will play Clare under lights in Semple Stadium on Saturday (throw-in 7pm) knowing that they can bring that winning feeling back to the county after the seniors were held by Galway.
“We’re very focused on this game - extremely so,” the manager said. “We would really love to win this under-21 All-Ireland title for Kilkenny.”
Standing in their way is a Clare side that the Cats know all too well, having beaten them in the 2010 minor All-Ireland final.
“If there are no injuries between now and Saturday on either side it’s highly likely that nine of Clare’s starting 15 will be from their 2010 minor team and 11 of our 15 will be from the 2010 minors,” he said.
“The two teams will know an awful lot about each other’s form this year too,” Mulrooney added. “Clare will have seen our games against Wexford and Laois in Leinster, while we saw their Munster final against Tipp in Ennis. Clare also stayed on to watch our semi-final against Galway (the game was the second leg of a doubler header in Thurles) - I shook hands with the Clare management after the game!”
Having seen the Banner at both minor and under-21 levels, had they come along as expected?
“If anything they’ve progressed quicker,” he said. “The teams would have been expected to challenge for the under-21 title in 2013, so in a sense we’re a year ahead of schedule. I think the skill level of some of the Clare players is incredible; Colm Galvin, Tony Kelly, Conor McGrath, Seadna Morey are really top class hurlers. They’re as good as any players we have.
Clare booked their place in the final thanks to a facile win (4-24 to 0-8) over Antrim. That game aside, the rest of the competition has been impressive.
“The standard of the under-21 championship in 2012 has been very, very high,” the Kilkenny manager said. “A number of teams could have ended up in the final.
“An awful lot of young players involved at this level throughout the country are already making waves on their senior inter-county teams,” he continued. “Clare would similar to Galway in that regard - seven or eight of the team we’ll face on Saturday have already played league or championship with the Clare seniors.”
It is a big challenge Kilkenny have on their hands, but the Cats will relish it.
“Everyone is fit and ready,” said Mulrooney. “They’re focused and hungry for the final. Hopefully the performance we give on Saturday will match how we’ve been training.”