KILKENNY may have all but wiped the floor with Dublin and looked like a million dollar team, but they will have to improve if they are to progress in the championship.
Each new day in the championship brings a new and greater challenge, and the Cats will have to up their game again if they are to beat Galway in the Leinster senior hurling final in Croke Park on July 8.
“That is the way of sport,” suggested satisfied Kilkenny manager, Brian Cody, when he looked up the road following the commanding 2-21 to 0-9 demolition of Dublin in Portlaois. “Every day you go out you try and improve on the one before. That is what we will have to do.”
How do you step up on that performance, one asked.
“You work hard in training,” came the swift reply. “We will need to.
“We will need to,” he repeated. “It is as simple as that. That is the reality of sport. There is always the next level. That was miles from perfect.”
“Absolutely, yes,” said the manager of 14 years. “It was decent, but we will have to be competitive again the next day. We were competitive. We were strong. We were very good at times.
Aim is to improve
“Normally the more preparations you put into something the better you become. We will go back into training for the Leinster final, and the aim will be to improve the overall performance in the next match.”
A relaxed Mr Cody admitted that Saturday was a very good day for Kilkenny. The attitude within the team was very good. Dublin were viewed as a big threat, a huge challenge.
“Obviously we were ready for it,” he smiled in reference to the good result and strong performance that shaped it.
“We took on the challenge,” he continued. “We opened against the wind. The challenge was to stay as close to Dublin as we could all the time. The two goals during the first half were the key to it all. They were excellent.
“There is no point in pretending any of that was part of the plan. In terms of those scores, that was just hurlers’ instincts taking over. Hurlers know instinctively what to do and when to do it. The combination between Richie Power and T.J. Reid for one of the goals was deadly serious.
“The ability is there. We all know that. If we work hard enough, we give ourselves a chance to do that every day we go out.”
Kilkenny take on the challenge every day, he insisted. No game is ever taken lightly. They are all viewed as a challenge, individually and in a collective sense.
“We approach things in a serious way and prepare well,” Mr Cody insisted. “Before a game that is all you can do, prepare well.
“We don’t talk ourselves up or anything like that. We like the whole challenge of the thing. When I say we, I mean the players. Today was a good day.”
Performances like Saturday’s, he admitted, were what the whole thing was about.
“You can never anticipate what is going to happen,” he said. “All you can hope for is that the team will go out and play to its potential. When Kilkenny do that they are difficult to beat.
“Playing like that is habit forming. It is an important habit. It is a good habit to get into.”
When pressed, he agreed that the game was more or less decided at half-time when Dublin trailed by 0-6 to 2-10 after playing with the wind.
“It was going to be difficult for Dublin to come back with the conditions that were there, a difficult wind and so on,” he suggested. “We gave ourselves a great chance to win after a strong first half performance.”
Expectations surrounding Kilkenny were already high following the good win in the National League, but now they would soar again. Some were suggesting Kilkenny just couldn’t be beaten.
“That is silly stuff,” Mr Cody said in reply. “We don’t even think about that. We are in the Leinster final against Galway and we will prepare as well as we can for it.
“That is a great game to be looking forward to. Had we lost, we would be going a different route and we would have to prepare for that. We are in a situation that we know where we are going for the next game and we will simply settle down and prepare for it.”
The good news from Portlaois didn’t end with the exciting performance and victory. The return of Henry Shefflin after a nine month absence from the inter-county stage was another plus, as was the action enjoyed by Noel Hickey, who has been dogged by injury, and John Tennyson too.
“It was an ideal comeback for him,” he said of the return of eight times All-Ireland medal winner Shefflin after surgery to repair a shoulder injury. “It is great for him to have a game behind him. It was the same last year against Wexford when he played his first game after a long lay off. The performance from him was terrific in tough conditions.”
The story on the rest of the injured players was mixed. No one was sure about the situation with Michael Rice in terms of when he might be fit to return after a knee injury.
“He has made progress over the last few weeks,” Mr Cody revealed. “He is back in the field doing a bit of work with us. He is at the stage that we hope he will get back into full training.”
Michael Fennelly worked very hard and was actually listed at midfield on Saturday’s team. He broke a bone in his foot in the League final, and the initial diagnosis was that he wouldn’t be back until after the Leinster final, if Kilkenny got there.
“He was close to getting back for this game,” the manager assured. “We would be hopeful that another week would bring a huge improvement.”
“Yes. A good day! A good day,” he smiled.