The longing has been so strong among the faithful that you would be forgiven for thinking it was decades since they enjoyed a day out.
To be honest, one has rarely felt the enthusiasm for the start of the new hurling season as prevails in Kilkenny these times. It is almost as if the inter-county season finished six years ago or so, rather than six months when the championship dream came crashing down in Thurles.
Defeat that day by Cork ended Kilkenny’s unique run of 16 successive appearances in the All-Ireland semi-finals - nothing like the run has been achieved in football - and if anything the shared disappointment strengthened the bond between the current crop of distinguished servers and loyal followers.
The season 2013 turned into a real trial for the Cats come championship time when one injury after another hampered their progress.
There was no luck in the Leinster championship after the National League finished with a 16th win for the county and a dynamic performance in the final against Tipperary that promised much, much more before the championship silverware was handed out.
Alas, things didn’t work out in terms of winning a title subsequently, but boy did the hurlers give supporters memories - the near thing against Waterford; the experience of a lifetime when Tipperary came to Nowlan Park for a do-or-die Qualifier game. The old house was all but packed for hours before the start that day as the honour of the ‘tribes’ was put on the line.
Sport was the real winner that day. Two counties with massive respect for each other produced an occasion few in the GAA ever experienced. All will carry the memory of ‘that day in Nowlan Park’ with them forever.
And now Freshford is where it will all begin again in 2014. The stakes in Sunday’s (2pm) Walsh Cup senior hurling quarter-final against DIT may be base metal compared to the gold of the championship, but the story of every season has to have a starting point somewhere.
Trip to Mulllingar
Most would probably have been expecting a trip to Mullingar to face Westmeath, but the DIT students showed they have something substantial to offer - watch out all others in the Fitzgibbon Cup - when scoring a 3-17 to 4-12 win in the midlands venue.
The students must travel again. They are invited guests in the competition and are not allowed home matches. The curiosity concerning the make-up of Kilkenny 2014 will definitely swell the attendance, so it will be no bad thing that the game is on the Noreside.
The winners of Sunday’s match play Offaly or Galway in the semi-final, and if that is the Cats, they will enjoy home advantage again. With a small bit of luck they could end up in the final, which would be the ideal in the run up to the start of the National League and a February 15 clash with Clare in Ennis.
After all, that is what the Walsh Cup is all about......getting ready for the new season.
And you know, hurling followers here and all over are expecting big things from Kilkenny, again. I was away with a group of journalists last week and the story from one and all was “oh, Kilkenny are very quiet, they must be planning something”.
Never over plays hand
And everywhere we go the talk is that “Cody has something up his sleeve this year”.
Manager Brian Cody never over plays his hand in terms of setting the agenda for a match or season, but still things just take off. It is a great compliment really to the players, management and the county so people might as well just go with the flow rather than try to fight things.
Mr Cody and his new Selection Committee of Michael Dempsey (St Joseph’s), Derek Lyng (Emeralds) and James McGarry (Bennettsbridge) have been finalising the new panel over the past number of weeks.
The long servers, Henry Shefflin, Tommy Walsh, Brian Hogan and so on worked away in the gym mainly, while the younger set and new kids on the block went through some tough outdoor work as they fought for the remaining places in the squad.
The training sessions were very good, and the young hopefuls were left in no doubt about how difficult and demanding it can be to be part of ‘Team Kilkenny’. Still, we were told, the youngsters are mad for it; mad to be part of the reality of being a Kilkenny player, no matter what the demands.
There was a useful work-out again WIT - another Fitzgibbon hopeful - last week for a team made up mainly by the younger set. David Herity was in goal and he brought off a couple of good saves.
The No. 1 ’keeper last season, Eoin Murphy, played very well out field with WIT, but he and his mates had to give best to the likes of Shane Prendergast, Joey Holden, who looked good at corner-back, Jonjo Farrell and so on.
T.J, Tommy played
T.J. Reid, Tommy Walsh and Colin Fennelly were sprung for the second half and got a chance to experience some hurling with the new helmets on show by all and the now compulsory gum shields. Michael Rice looked very strong after the awful 2013 season he endured.
The return to the squad of Richie Power after an extended break was also confirmed, which was great news.
The curiosity now is what way will Mr Cody and the selectors unfold the panel during the next few weeks. It is very unlikely that the long servers will all be unleashed together. Expect mix and match teams over the next few weeks. The focus will be on having everyone ready for the Clare clash.
One would include Henry Shefflin in that. The great Ballyhale Shamrocks man has enjoyed his first Winter in three free of injury. He didn’t put his feet up. He was working, working, working.
Will want action
Shefflin will have to, no, he will want to, make an appearance, and things might be better served if it is sooner rather than later, as much for strategic reasons as to avoid unnecessary and prolonged speculation about will he, won’t he. One doesn’t see him being used in every match he is available for in early season, but he will have to see some action if he is to be considered for the Clare match.
Kieran Joyce won’t be a part of things until the Rower-Inistioge finish in the All-Ireland club intermediate hurling championship. Michael Fennelly is still in Australia and will remain there until early next month. Apart from that, it should be all hands on deck.
With the draws for the local leagues made, and Kilkenny now ready for action, sure the season is rolling up quickly. Let’s all hope for a good one!