BELIEVE and be brave because anything is possible in sport!
That was the rallying call to the long suffering Kilkenny footballers as they go into battle at Nowlan Park this evening (Wednesday) hoping to quality for what would be the county’s first final in 40 years.
“This game can be won. We have to believe that,” was the challenging call to the troops from Kilkenny manager, Dick Mullins. “We can’t be afraid to have a go.”
The Cats pulled what was possibly the shock of the GAA season thus far when a late, late goal from midfielder Michael Malone gave them a thrilling 3-5 to 0-13 win over Wexford in the last round of the Leinster junior championship.
That daring effort earned a home semi-final against Cavan. Because they are ‘guests’ in the Leinster championship, Cavan play all their matches away.
The visitors come to Nowlan Park having beaten Longford by 1-12 to 2-6, which was a fair result bearing in mind that the vanquished had defeated Meath earlier.
“Cavan are good,” Mr Mullins assured. “They have a number of the players who featured in the under-21 All-Ireland final earlier in the season and they are backed up by a core of experienced former seniors.”
Kilkenny have qualified for only four Leinster junior football finals. The last one was in 1971 when they were beaten by 2-9 to 0-5 by Dublin.
They contested finals earlier in 1914 (v Dublin, 2-2 to 0-3), 1953 (v Longford, 3-5 to 1-5) and 1957 (v Louth, 2-6 to 0-5) but they lost them all.
Now Cavan stand between them and a place in the decider on June 29 against Dublin or Kildare, who contest the second semi-final this evening.
“This is a big opportunity for the players. They are going to have a right go,” Mr Mullins assured. “Hopefully a bit of a crowd will turn up to give them encouragement and support.”
The manager said the players took the win over Wexford in their stride, even if it had been a surprise. The squad has been training well.
The final session was at Nowlan Park on Monday evening, and there were no worries about injuries.
“The run into the game has been good, and the mood is very positive,” Mr Mullins said. “The players are looking forward to the challenge. The win instilled a bit of confidence in them and gave them the belief that they can win games.
“We haven’t been in any sort of final for a long number of years. We can only think about this match. Cavan are good. Then again, Wexford were good and we beat them. Anything is possible.”
The Wexford tie was over and done with, he continued. All thoughts and efforts were now geared towards Cavan.
“It is all about going for this one,” said the Erin’s Own (Castlecomer) clubman, who has stuck with the Kilkenny football cause through some of the darkest hours.
“Actually, there are expectations that we can do well,” Mr Mullins conceded. “That is a nice turn around, but without the basics, hard work, focus and so on it will mean nothing. We believe we will do well.”
He said he was more than happy with the reaction of the players to the victory over Wexford. While all were pleased with the result, even stretching as far as being delighted, the attitude at the next training session was that the game over and it was time to move on.
“The players have trained well since,” the manager said. “We have 30 players in the panel. For us to have that sort of number consistently is great.
“But the players are not satisfied with one win. We are going out to win again. The players have to believe anything is possible.
“They know they are there or thereabout in this grade. It is a question of going for it now and not being afraid.
“I will tell them to go for it and not be afraid. It if happens it happens, but don’t lose because of the fear of losing. We have some pretty handy footballers.
“It is all about application and doing the job on the day. I feel we are capable of doing something big. I have great confidence in the players.
“They have been very dedicated and they stuck to the job through thick and thin in the National League. They have shown great improvement.
“Okay, some of the results in the League wouldn’t suggest that, but in an individual sense and as a team they have improved. No one ran or hid after some bad results in the League. The players won’t hide now either.”
In one League tie Kilkenny failed to register a score, and that prompted a rash of negative comment in the national press and on the radio.
“The players got on with life and simply kept on working,” Mr Mullins said of the reaction in the camp to such things.
“We are getting familiar with playing summer footballer, if you like,” he continued. “With good weather since March we are practically playing summer football since then with fast ground and fast ball.
“No matter what happens at Nowlan Park the players are going to be able to look back on this season as one of progress. Hopefully that progress can be taken a step further.”
Kilkenny panel – J.J. O’Sullivan (St Patrick’s), Declan Grennan (Tullogher), Tomas Kehoe (James Stephens), Paddy Raftice (Mullinavat), Seoirse Kenny (St Patrick’s), James Mackey (Windgap), Darren Fitzpatrick (Kilmoganny), Michael Malone (Mullinavat), Michael Mahony (Thomastown), Emmet Vereker (Glenmore), Michael Duggan (Mullinavat), J.J. Grace (Grange Nolvin), David Prendergast (Thomastown), J.J. Dunphy (Kilmoganny), Robert Shore (Muckalee), David Garvey (Glenmore), Paul Donnelly (Railyard), John Cullinane (Thomastown), Graham Lawlor (Railyard), Bill Kehoe (James Stephens), Joe Fennelly (Mullinavat), Michael Saunders (Danesfort), Sean Mooney (St Patrick’s), Fintan McEnroe (Railyard), Tom Maher (Kilmoganny), James Culleton (Mullinavat), Martin Dowling (Muckalee), Ciaran Foran (Glenmore), Ray O’Keeffe (James Stephens).