Former Kilkenny star, Kieran Joyce
The Kilkenny hurling team may be in the throes of huge change at the moment, but the players got the thumbs up for their efforts from former star, Kieran Joyce.
“They have the bite back that makes Kilkenny deadly dangerous,” insisted the Rower-Inistioge clubman who stepped off the inter-county stage late last year.
The AIB bank official admitted he hadn’t missed the game since he brought his six year stint with the seniors to an end towards the latter end of 2017, but when he attended the recent Kilkenny versus Tipperary National League clash in Nowlan Park he felt a hint, if not a complete sense of loss.
“A lot of people have been asking do I miss it,” he said of his decision to retire when we got together for a chat at the weekend. “I don’t miss pre-season.
“This time of year it is tough. You are going training at night. It is dark. The conditions are generally awful. When you come home it is dark. It is a tough time.
“Once you get out and start hurling in April or May you find your real love for it springs into life. Saying that, I am training a bit with the club now.
“I have to admit I did miss it when I went to watch Kilkenny against Tipperary. That was my first Kilkenny match since I retired. I watched a few online, but I went to that one which was a great game.”
He admitted it was hard not to think about the great matches Kilkenny had with Tipp in the past in Nowlan Park; about the championship clashes they had; about the great team and individual battles that were fought.
“That was the first time I missed it,” he revealed.
The former minor and under-21 star said the way his life was now he would find it tough to give the commitment that the inter-county game demanded. He was getting on with his life, and he felt Kilkenny were in a decent place.
“I know people were down and everyone was talking down Kilkenny after they lost the opening two League games, but they impressed me,” was Kieran’s assessment of things to date with ‘new Kilkenny’. “They look like they have the bite again. They are fighting hard.
“Some of the lads didn’t have stand out games, but they were working hard. They dogged it out. Kilkenny are showing that dogged nature again.
“I think that doggedness might have slipped a bit. There have been games down through the years when we didn’t have that bite or fight in us. Some days it can happen, and it can be very easily shown up.
“When a team is completely on top of its game and has that bite and fight, then if the other team is that bit off, say 5% or 10%, they will pay a price. In a hurling match that difference will show quickly on the scoreboard.
“When Kilkenny are on their day and have that real bite they would stand up to anyone,” he said. “Against Tipp I thought Kilkenny fielded the weaker of the two teams, but they still dogged out a win. They looked like they wanted to win more than Tipp did.”
He suggested that if any of the young players wanted to impress manager, Brian Cody, they could do so through their work-rate and attitude.
“Work-rate is massive,” insisted the four times senior All-Ireland medal winner. “Attitude comes through too. You can see it in a 50/50 challenge if a man is really committed. The fully committed one won’t hold back.
“Kilkenny are not holding back. You can read commitment in how a man chases an opponent. You can chase, track back, but there is a difference in someone chasing to get in a hook, block or tackle and someone merely chasing.
“Kilkenny were working to get in the tackles against Tipp. I liked what I saw. I saw Kilkenny full blooded, full on.
“The players know themselves when they have that bite about them; they have that snarl in them that no matter what happens, if they don’t win the ball, their opponent won’t either. I could see that full on commitment against Tipp. That is what you need.”
He recalled in his time Padraig Walsh was that type of player, just as his brother, Tommy was before him. He hated losing a ball. He was competitive. He just wanted to win every ball.
“I could see Kilkenny getting that deadly attitude back,” Kieran enthused. “That is a good place to be.”
The way the championship was structured now, he continued, every county needed a large panel, a lot more than 22 or 23 players. If a lad got a dead leg this week, for example, it would be hard for him to be back for a championship game the following week.
The championship action will be coming thick and fast, week after week.
“You need to have a versatile player who can cover the half-back line, for example, another for the full-back line and all along,” Kieran said when he threw his eye towards the Round Robin series in Leinster.
“You need five of six players on the bench who have to be ready for the championship straight off.
“There would appear to be very little room for lads to find their way. We will see all counties with large championship panels.”
He felt there was a level of experimentation with every county this season. No one has it all worked out because of the new championship structures, he felt.
He gave Tipperary as an example. They played Ronan Maher in midfield. He, Kieran reminded, was an All-Star centre-back and a fantastic wing-back.
“Tipp are trying lads in different positions,” he continued. “Obviously every team, and Kilkenny as well, are bringing in a lot of new faces. We are in transition and we have to find new players.
“When the stats come out at the end of the League and we see how many players counties have used, I would reckon the number will be high for every county.
“I would be reasonably optimistic about Kilkenny’s chances. Obviously it will be important that our key players like T.J. (Reid) and Cillian (Buckley) remain fit. Look at the difference T.J. has made since he returned to the team? He is the focal point for a lot of our best efforts in attack. Likewise Cillian in defence.
“When we are not winning ball T.J. is our go to man. He can win ball and bring others into the game. Keeping the likes of him and a couple of the main players fit all the time will be hugely important.”
Every team has a few main players, he said. Tipp have Padraig Maher, Seamus Callanan and so on.
“If they lost them they could suffer,” he felt. “Right now Kilkenny are in a decent place. It is early in the year. It is too early to be suggesting this or that place might be sorted.
“Kilkenny are moving in the right direction, and I am hugely impressed by the attitude being shown by the players,” he assured.