TABLE TOPPERS Kilkenny will entertain Dublin in the ‘Clash of Champions’, National Hurling League and All-Ireland, at Nowlan Park on Sunday, writes John Knox.
The Cats are flying, with maximum points from two matches following comfortable victories over Munster pair, Tipperary and Waterford. They share top spot in Divisison IA with Cork.
The Dubs are experiencing more trying times in the Allianz sponsored competition following defeats against Galway in the first round and Cork on Sunday in their own Croke Park.
Trying to arrest the slide against a team in the dominant form Kilkenny are in at the moment won’t be easy, but Anthony Daly’s men will be going all out because a third consecutive defeat could leave them scrambling in the relegation zone with only two rounds of the preliminaries remaining after this weekend’s action.
“Having lost two matches Dublin are down four points. They will be really chasing the win. It has the makings of a great game,” was the way Kilkenny manager, Brian Cody put things when looking ahead to Sunday’s big clash.
“Dublin are a good team, as their victory in the League and subsequent strong run in the championship last year proved,” Mr Cody added.
‘Second year syndrome’
That League success, beating Kilkenny by 0-22 to 1-7 in the final, was Dublin’s first victory in the competition since 1938/39. The Dubs drove on strongly after that, and while injuries robbed them of a few top line players during the summer, they powered through to the All-Ireland semi-final when an early goal against Tipperary proved their undoing.
Dublin are now experience what some would class as ‘second year syndrome’ whereby a team struggles to match the subsequent year what they achieved the season before. That is only a temporary thing.
While defeat may have been their lot in the matches to date, Dublin’s hurling hasn’t been bad and they were most unlucky to lose against Cork.
Kilkenny, according to Mr Cody, will continue to use the League as a testing ground for the entire panel, with the players hoping to make the breakthrough getting their chance.
While he said he was happy with the form of the players and how things were going generally, Mr Cody said people could expect changes from game to game.
“We want to try and look at players to see how things go,” Mr Cody explained. “That is what we will be doing in all the games.”
The ‘give lads a chance’ agenda will be followed in a measured way. A couple of the so called fringe players will get a run in each match rather than throwing in too many new faces all at once.
“You don’t want to expose too many new players together,” Mr Cody said. “We want to get the mix right between experience and lads who are trying to force their way into the team.”
The players must be enjoying things at the moment, one prompted?
No one wants a rest
“Of course they are,” he replied. “Why wouldn’t they?”
None of the senior players want a rest or anything like that, we asked?
“No,” he smiled.
“No. No. They don’t want a rest,” he chuckled, almost in wonder at the suggestion. “They are not interested in a rest.”
What are people to make of two good wins, two strong performances?
“Things can go like that,” he answered. “A couple of years ago we had a couple of good wins early as well. It is match to match. This is part of the process we go through. Who knows what is waiting for us around the corner.”
However, he admitted that the selectors were happy with the way the season was unfolding, even if Kilkenny’s form was “very, very average” in the first half in Walsh Park.
“In the second half we picked up things a bit,” he continued. “I was very happy to get the win. I expected a tough game from Waterford. We pulled away a small bit in the second half, but in the first half they were probably the better team.”
The hurling generally has been better this year, and fans have turned out in big number for games. Was the League suddenly taking off?
“The difference this year is that the weather is beautiful,” he said when expanding on the point. “It is mild and it is really hurling weather. That is contributing to things.
“Often the weather is freezing cold and it can be wet at this time of the year. In this weather it is like playing in the summer, and the players are enjoying it that bit more.”
The drive for a place in the League semi-finals will continue at Nowlan Park on Sunday. Be there if you want to see the team of the moment!