THE very serious momentum built up by Wexford in recent times, plus the unknown Wexford Park factor, are the twin imponderables that could trip up Kilkenny as they set out on the Leinster hurling championship road on Saturday, writes John Knox.
The Cats will enter what is sure to be a throbbing Wexford Park with a new look team and they can expect fireworks when they put their Leinster championship title on the line.
“Wexford are on a bit of a roll at the moment and they will take stopping,” insisted former Kilkenny great, Eddie Keher, who has always been a keen student of the ancient game.
“Wexford finished well in the League by beating Cork and then drawing with All-Ireland champions, Tipperary,” he continued. “They build on that by scoring a good win over Antrim when the championship began.
“In terms of momentum, things are very much in Wexford’s favour at the moment. As well, the injuries in the Kilkenny camp have to be a concern. Saturday’s clash is shaping up to be a severe test for Kilkenny.”
Eddie Keher, a virtual scoring machine in his day, won six senior All-Irelands between 1963 and 1975, including one as captain in 1968. He is a regular at Kilkenny training sessions and he has seen what could be termed ‘the championship mood’ take hold in recent weeks.
“Wexford’s current good form and our run of injuries are things that can have a bearing on Saturday’s game,” he felt. “The way Wexford finished in the National League was impressive.
“They finished strongly and started well in the championship then. Now they have their tails up, if you like. They have Kilkenny in Wexford Park and the momentum is with them.
“Kilkenny finished on a downer in the League, if you like, having been beaten in the final by Dublin. They have to pick themselves up from that, and then face a team that is improving rapidly. That won’t be easy.”
Mr Keher was sure the visitors faced “a tough battle in Wexford Park”.
“Having a championship game under your belt, like Wexford have, is a big advantage,” he added. “We all know the championship is a world apart from the League.
“As far as Kilkenny are concerned they are starting cold in a new competition. They will have to hit the ground running because Wexford are already up and running, and strongly at that.
Seen their form
“Wexford have seen their form against Antrim, and they know where they are. Kilkenny are starting fresh, with a team that will have new faces involved and following a defeat in the League final at that.
“It will take an almighty effort from Kilkenny to win. The Wexford Park roar could be an important factor because everyone is fairly close to the pitch. I would expect a huge crowd.
“Hopefully Kilkenny fans will travel in force to try and counteract that because I think it could be an issue. Kilkenny are in transition.
“The view from the championship starting line is different this season than it has been in recent times. As I said, you have to be concerned about the injuries. We have seen in the not too distant past how injuries can hurt a team.
“There are a lot of ifs and buts. For the last five years or so most observers could take a stab at the team and name 13 or so of the Kilkenny players. You couldn’t do that now.”
However, he was sure Kilkenny would be true to tradition. The Cats always step up in form when it comes to the championship.
“Watching the training you can see the step up in things,” he said. “You would know the championship was in the air. There is a new mood there and as always that will serve the county well. No matter what, Kilkenny will step up to the mark.
“Interesting times like ahead,” he said. “If Kilkenny get a good start in the championship, one thing is for sure, they will improve.”
Overall Eddie felt that “a wonderful championship” was in prospect. Kilkenny and Wexford were big again in Leinster. Dublin and Galway will be genuine contenders too.
“To win this Leinster championship would be a huge boost for any team,” he insisted. “Then you have Munster. I think that will probably be between Waterford and Tipperary. That is a fantastic prospect.
“Then you have the Qualifiers. Cork are involved there and they are not far off the mark.
There is a terrific championship in prospect.”