As far as challenges go, Kilkenny couldn’t have asked for a tougher start to their season than a visit to home of the All-Ireland champions.
He didn’t even have to say as much, but you get the feeling that facing Clare in Sunday’s league opener is the type of task that Tommy Walsh relishes.
“To go to Ennis and play the champions in their own back yard? That’s the type of challenge you want,” the Tullaroan man said in the build-up to Sunday’s crunch clash, the plum tie of the Division 1A fixtures.
“The game will be a tough one,” he said. “Clare haven’t many injuries; they have a lot of young players, plenty of them who are playing colleges hurling behind them. It’ll be great to go down there and play them - we’re looking forward to the game.”
Walsh, one of many established members of the panel, was given the chance to get back into the hurling groove a little earlier than usual this year through his involvement in the Walsh Cup. For him, the chance to get back into the thick of things was valuable.
“No-one likes going doing the running in November and December - everyone just wants to hurl,” he said. “Getting to play the Walsh Cup so early was a bonus for us as you’re back out hurling. We have that campaign under our belts now, which has given us game preparation before Clare.”
Kilkenny mixed things up in the Walsh Cup - no two teams named in the competition were the same. It was a sign of the depth of the panel, and an indicator of what the Cats have planned for the year.
“What we’re trying to build is a strong panel for the championship,” Walsh pointed out. “Hopefully that experience the players got in the Walsh Cup, and will get in the League, will help build that strength.
“Every player has to start somewhere,” he added. “That’s how we got into the side over the years. These are the games where we got our experience.”
Talk of the younger players coming into the ranks led to a reflection on Walsh’s introduction to the panel, what is expected of the newcomers when they step into the senior dressing-room - and of the seniors to help the next generation to integrate.
“When I came in first you had players like Peter Barry and D.J. Carey, Derek Lyng and James McGarry, guys who were setting the standard for us younger players,” said, Walsh, who joined the senior set-up in 2002. “We looked at the way these guys trained and we set our standards accordingly.
“We tried to train to their high standards and emulate them. That’s what we, the current senior players, will be doing now - to try and lead by example and to show the younger players that it takes hard work to win any game. Hopefully the young players will feed off that.”
With former playing colleagues Lyng and McGarry now joining the management team, Walsh believes even the older members of the panel still have plenty to learn from their former team-mates.
“The number one thing with any management team is that people respect them,” he said. “As players we always looked up to Derek and James by the way they prepared for and performed in games, as well as the leadership and encouragement they provided.
“Things aren’t any different now they are management,” he continued. “We still look up to them, maybe that bit more as they’re trying to show you the way forward to beat the likes of the All-Ireland champions in the League and Offaly when we meet them in the championship.”
That way forward begins when Clare come into Kilkenny cross-hairs this Sunday.
“Clare are used to winning and that’s hard to break,” he said. “They’ve won Munster titles at minor and a few under-21 All-Irelands - now they’ve a senior All-Ireland under their belts.
“As we know from previous years when you’ve a winning habit stands to you,” he added. “We’ll be one of the teams trying to break that cycle for Clare this year.”