The Kilkenny fans could be the all important 16th man in Saturday’s make-or-break championship Qualifiers shoot-out with Tipperary in Nowlan Park.
For the winners there will be the joy and hope of tomorrow in the senior hurling championship 2013. For the losers there will be nothing……until 2014. This wasn’t part of the championship scenario at the beginning, for either county, but now they find themselves fighting for their lives.
The day Kilkenny supporters have feared, even dreaded, that the end to the great run enjoyed by the senior hurlers over the past decade or so, could be near at hand is part of the mix. The fans know it. The ripping, roof lifting cheer that greeted the equalising point by T.J. Reid against Dublin in Portlaoise on Sunday week was as much an expression of relief as a gesture to celebrate a score.
The Cats escaped. Fans knew it.
Bigger numbers of supporters attended last Saturday’s replay, most as ‘must be present’ fans; others drawn by the prospect of a rattling good game, and others again drawn back into the fold fearing that time is running out for the team.
The cheer which greeted Kilkenny’s arrival on the pitch on Saturday was warmer and louder than for a long time. The message from the stand and terraces was ‘we are behind you boys’.
Tipperary visit in robust good health with a near fully fit panel of players, whereas Kilkenny are beset by a bad run of injuries that just won’t let up. Before the championship Henry Shefflin was a non-starter. Then Michael Fennelly and Michael Rice joined the absentees.
On the misfortune rolled, with Jackie Tyrrell and Paul Murphy missing action, while Brian Hogan, Colin Fennelly and Eoin Larkin have all been nursing knocks. It hasn’t been easy.
Now Nowlan Park, the venue that rocked to the beat of celebration during the county’s 16th National League success a few weeks ago, could turn out to be the graveyard for the championship dream. The place will be bursting at the seams. No one will want to miss this one.
Tipperary were rocked by defeat by Division IB side, Limerick, in the Munster championship. No more than Kilkenny, a championship season that was full of high hopes is now in danger of going up in flames.
Maybe this Division IB place is not such a bad environment, seeing that Dublin inhabited it too this season.
Home support and home venue could swing this one. A win would buy time to get players back from injury, and who knows what might happen then.
The passion stakes will be switched to full blast. Pride, and the season, are at stake.