Going to Qualifiers not ideal, but Kilkenny can get better

By former Kilkenny star, Michael Rice

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By former Kilkenny star, Michael Rice

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@KKPeopleSport

Going to Qualifiers not ideal, but Kilkenny can get better

Cillian Buckley was Kilkenny's best player

The Leinster championship defeat leaves Kilkenny in the same awkward position they were in 2013 having to go into the Qualifiers.
The best route is the direct route into the Leinster final. The back door option is not what people want.
At least if you get to a Leinster final and you lose, the consequences are you play just one extra game.
The qualifiers can be more demanding. Kilkenny at the moment have a number of injury concerns, like Michael Fennelly and probably Padraig Walsh even if he did play for half an hour on Saturday, so it is not ideal to be facing into playing extra matches.
The players will get over the disappointment and will drive on. The positive for them is that the ratio of games to training, which can be crazy, will be more balanced and they will get more matches.
If they can get going, which I think they will, and gain a bit of momentum the whole scenario will change. Players have to be positive, but overall the straight forward option would be the preferred route to take.
The rate of attrition can be serious in the qualifiers, and losing to Wexford will have been a bit of a knock to the confidence as well.
In making any assessment of Kilkenny, we have to give credit to Wexford for the way they are playing and how quickly they have progress to the high level they are at now.
What Wexford brought to the table on Saturday was amazing. There were a number of periods in the second half when they did what Kilkenny used to do to team when at their best.
The strong, positive way they reacted to setbacks, be it the concession of a point or a goal, showed them to have massive belief in themselves and the system they are playing.
Straight away after some concessions they hit back for a score, in some cases almost immediately following the puck-outs. That is a sign of real character.
I remember at one stage in the first half Conor McDonald got on to a breaking ball and he whipped it over the bar almost before people knew it had been pucked out.
As well, they had big men like Jack Guiney or Lee Chin - he made one amazing catch near the end - catching ball at vital times to lift all around them.
They have that physicality and the big men up the middle, Liam Ryan, Matthew O’Hanlon, Guiney and Chin all stood out to want to lead when the pressure was at its greatest.
They all won key possession at critical times. Small wins, if you put enough of them together, can be huge and the Wexford players had the ability to do that.
I was reading Anthony Cunningham (the former Galway manager) last week and he said Galway would probably prefer to meet Kilkenny in the Leinster final.
That sums up how highly this Wexford team is rated. People recognise they are starting to fulfil the potential shown at under-21 level in recent years.
The way they kept the ball away from Conor Fogarty in the second half and were able to work it man to man up the field was something.
I was looking for Kilkenny to bounce back after the League quarter-final defeat, to have a bit of fire, a bit of anger, an edge to their game. They did, but Wexford had that little bit more.
I am not faulting Kilkenny. I was looking to see were they attacking ball, were they fighting hard, were they chasing. That was all there, but no matter how high they took their game, Wexford raised theirs even higher.
Kilkenny can look at cold facts for inspiration. After 20 minutes they had converted a mere four out of 14 chances.
They were creating chances early on, and they looked very dangerous, but the finishing was off. They were delivering in good ball to Colin Fennelly and Ger Aylward, and they looked really dangerous.
On another day Ger Aylward could have had three points to his name after 15 to 20 minutes.
Padraig Walsh could have had two as well. The wind played havoc with their shooting in this half. You could see the players trying to adjust. Padraig hit one wide to the left, and then he tried to correct by going right the next time.
But the wind still took the ball away. Perhaps Ger was a bit over anxious after being out for so long, and he wanted to get on the scoreboard.
For me, disappointing as it was on the night, that has to be an encouragement going forward. If you have a 100% fit Padraig Walsh, Ger Aylward and Michael Fennelly going well you could be very well off.
The Leinster champ- ionship is finished for Kilkenny now, but the All-Ireland is still there to be chased. They have to go for it, and knowing the players and seeing the effort they put in on Saturday, I would be far from deflated.
The next few weeks will be about building confidence and getting the heads right. There is class there.
I thought Cillian Buckley was excellent; indeed the two midfielders grafted and worked really well. Up front Colin Fennelly and T.J. Reid went very well.
There is more in Walter Walsh, Richie Hogan and so on. If they come with more Kilkenny can be very, very competitive. I wouldn’t be writing an obituary yet.
We can’t finish without offering hearty congratulations to my old colleague, P.J. Ryan (Fenians) who is part of the Wexford backroom team.
The whole experience of working with Davy Fitzgerald and his crew cannot but be a positive thing for P.J. He will learn a lot.
He is heading into the Leinster final with a team that would have been considered outsiders at the start of the season. He saw at first hand the work that was done to change things around.
The whole thing has to be a huge learning experience for him. The buzz at every training session must be uplifting.
He knows the scene in Kilkenny. Now he is seeing a different manager doing different things in Wexford. Great! We wish him well.