The Kilkenny minor hurlers are all set to hit the championship road once more.
Having tasted provincial success last year, Pat Hoban’s Cats will put their Leinster silverware on the line when they host Dublin this weekend.
And while the manager is relishing the challenge, he can’t believe the last 12 months have flown by.
“The last year has gone very quickly,” he said in the build-up to Saturday’s game in Nowlan Park (throw-in 3pm).
“Some of that was down to the schools teams,” he added, by way of explanation. “The run of success enjoyed by St Kieran’s College and Kilkenny CBS lengthened their season and shortened ours. After that we went from the schools to the club games, so last Wednesday was the first time we had our full panel together in about a month.”
It might sound as if the success of the Kilkenny schools hampered the side, but Hoban saw it in another light.
“The schools campaign served us well,” he said. “There were younger players there who matured a lot in the campaign and did very well. It gave us a chance to see how these players reacted in big games.”
While the Kilkenny panel is now together again, injuries will force some changes for Saturday’s game. “We’ve sustained quite a few injuries,” the manager said. “From the lads who played last year Liam Hennessy will feature as he’s broken his collarbone. Luke Scanlon is out with a hamstring strain, Cathal McGrath will also be missing while Darragh Joyce hasn’t played hurling this year.”
It hasn’t been all bad news though, as Sean Morrissey has fully recovered from glandular fever to boost the panel.
“We’d watched Sean in a lot of games and was a big player for Kieran’s throughout the league,” said Hoban. “It was great to see him play in the final and make such an impact.”
Having everyone on song will be key to Kilkenny’s aspirations for 2014 - chief among those is retaining the title, but first they must face Dublin.
“We were lucky enough to see Dublin play Wexford in the championship this year,” he said (the Dubs beat Wexford by 0-16 to 0-11 in the opening round of games).
“They have a big, strong physical team, with many of last year’s side still eligible. They’ll be up there at the top challenging for honours,” he said.
“The reality of hurling in Dublin means that they are going to have a very good minor side every year from now on, which is good for the game.
“It’ll be a big, big challenge for us, but if we can get things right on the field it’ll take a good team to beat us as well,” he added. “We have a core of good players - as the schools final proved, there are guys there who are capable of winning at the highest level.
“We have a number of players in the panel from last year, so hopefully that bit of experience will help them push on,” the manager finished. “We’ll have every chance of winning this game.”