Walter Walsh is enjoying a good season
As hurling fans everywhere turned their calendars to the month of May, they found that most of their weekends were booked solid.
It is championship time, with the Leinster and Munster senior hurling championships run on a Round Robin system. Fixtures, fixtures from next weekend onwards.
Kilkenny will take their summer bow on Sunday against Dublin in Parnell Park. This was a game that might have been approached by Kilkenny fans with dread back in early February.
Very different now
It is now seen as a very different and exciting prospect.
A National League title win was just the tonic that manager, Brian Cody and his squad needed.
It not only buried the suggestions that Kilkenny were in decline, it also showcased the impressive ability of the new generation of hurlers who want to be big winners.
However, the county is now a month and a half on from that success. Kilkenny now find themselves facing four very demanding games in the space of a month or so.
The stakes are higher now. One loss could mean that the summer might not be as bright as we would all hope.
If there is one thing we know about Kilkenny, and Brian Cody, it is that ambition will go beyond surviving to play in Leinster in 2019.
The county will be intent on playing in Croke Park on Leinster final day!
Steps to success
So, bearing that in mind, what would Kilkenny have to do to make the Leinster title a possibility?
Based on what we saw from Kilkenny in the League, and from what we have heard from Mr Cody and a couple of his players, here are few suggestions;
1 - Keep the faith with the younger players.
While the Kilkenny panel has been significantly boosted by the return of Richie Hogan, Paul Murphy, and Colin Fennelly, it is vital the county continues to mix the old with the new. The freshness and hunger that the likes of Paddy Deegan, Richie Leahy, James Maher, and John Donnelly bring to every game really complements the experience of the older players around them.
The blend of the team
The blend of experience and youth is something that could take Kilkenny all the way to Leinster final.
The more games the younger lads play in the Leinster championship, the better they can become.
2 - Win the home games.
This new provincial format means that each team has two away games and two home games.
Getting a win away from home would be massive, and it would be hugely beneficial. Getting a win on your own patch is vital.
Kilkenny have already proven that they are very, very hard to beat in Nowlan Park. The goal of two home wins is achievable.
Believe they can win
Wexford and Offaly will come to the Marble City believing they can win. Kilkenny will have to be ready for the storm.
3 - Defeat Galway in Pearse stadium.
Now wouldn't that be mighty?
Casting an eye over all the Kilkenny fixtures, the clash against All-Ireland champions, Galway has been earmarked as one of the most hotly anticipated.
Kilkenny will be making the long trip across the Shannon. Of course that match deserves star billing.
From a Kilkenny perspective, it is a terrific chance to test themselves against the very best.
Because Galway were not in Division 1A of the League, they are one of the few teams this new look Kilkenny team has not tested themselves against.
Win in Salthill
If Kilkenny were to get a win in Salthill, not only will they prove that they can cope with the physical intensity Galway always bring to the table, but they will also have a big psychological advantage should the counties meet again later in the summer.
4 - Get more out of the forward line.
As much as Kilkenny supporters loved to watch T.J. Reid rack up big scores in the League, in hurling terms it takes six to tango and management will want more from the attacking unit.
The forwards will be coming up against some of the strongest forces in the country and they will have to be ruthless.
We saw in the latter stages of the League how dangerous Walter Walsh can be when he runs at defences. His impressive work-rate and ability to create scores for others was huge, and we need others to follow his example.
Up to four of the six places could be up for grabs. Whoever is most capable to breaking down defences will nail down a place on the team.
5 - Make full use of their panel
In other years, at the height of their powers, Kilkenny would have had to play two games, three at most, in the Leinster championship. Now, they will have to play four, and in a shorter time frame.
The tight schedule does not leave much room for recovery. That means that injuries could really hurt.
Every panel will have to have a couple of options for each position. Cody and his selectors know this.
What was most satisfying about how Kilkenny fared in the League was how much the panel was strengthened. It will need to be strong for what is to come.
Take the full back line, for example. While it is encouraging to see Joey Holden and Paddy Deegan play so effectively, should one of them get injured, the selectors know they can slot in the seasoned Paul Murphy, who knows what is expected of him.
Likewise in midfield, where Conor Fogarty can be interchanged with either Richie Leahy or James Maher. Brian Cody will need all the options he has to navigate the challenging waters of Leinster.
As a wise man once said: Challenge accepted!
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