Kevin Kelly had run in the team halted by injury at the weekend
The quandary now is do Kilkenny continue the experiment started on Sunday or do they tear up the blueprint and start afresh?
As you would only expect of them, Kilkenny paid All-Ireland champions, Limerick due respect for Sunday’s Allianz National Hurling League clash in Nowlan Park.
They did so by fielding, one would suggest, their strongest team to date in the League. Then it all blew up.
They were clattered to the tune of 2-18 to 0-15 by the free running Shannonsiders. At one stage they trailed by a potentially crushing 14 points.
And Limerick became the first reigning All-Ireland champions in 32 years to win in Nowlan Park the season after claiming Mac, apparently.
All grand and interesting, but where does that leave Kilkenny and their on-going battle to make the League quarter-finals?
In a very challenging positions, it has to be answered!
Currently Limerick head the table with six points, followed by Wexford on four.
Following behind, on scoring averages/difference, are Tipperary, Kilkenny, Cork and Clare, in that order, on two points each.
Can make the number
With a maximum of four points still potentially available to all, defending champions Kilkenny could make the number needed to achieve the ‘cut’, but it won’t be easy, not easy at all.
Just as teams are buoyed by good results, poor ones play little tricks with the mind and trying to break the cycle of hurt can be doubly difficult.
Back-to-back defeats suffered against Clare and Limerick, who both gave the Cats a bit of a run around during the second half with their ‘free running, keep ball game’ must have left the champions deeply wounded.
Manager Brian Cody followed the defiant line you would expect during the post match interviews on Sunday. He knows that even in this League that doesn’t end in relegation, getting a result in Thurles on Sunday or Wexford Park the following Sunday won’t be easy.
Adding to the challenge is the lengthy injury list - Cillian Buckley, Richie Hogan, Ger Aylward, Huw Lawlor, Bill Sheehan, Luke Scanlon and after Sunday, Conor Fogarty, Kevin Kelly and Enda Morrissey.
It won’t be known until the end of the week if any of that crew will be fit to face Tipp, and Cody stood back from speculating.
Just like he stood back from turning the loss of the contingent from Ballyhale, including TJ Reid, Colin Fennelly, Joey Holden and Evan Shefflin into an excuse. He accepted they must concentrate on serious club business and the chance to win an All-Ireland.
To get back to the beginning, do Kilkenny now dispense with the experiment of playing Conor Delaney at full-back and former All-Star, Padraig Walsh further out the field?
One hopes not!
For the sake of the team Delaney, who made serious statements of intent on the wing against Cork and Clare, should get more time at full-back. Huw Lawlor is a contender here too.
Hopefully there won’t be a rush to push Padraig Walsh back there. The Tullaroan man offers too much further out the field, so hopefully the Delaney or Lawlor experiment will be continued.
All the defenders were doing okay against the wind until Limerick exploded and shot 2-3 during a savage run up to half-time.
That explosion turned the match on its head. Then Limerick did a Kilkenny on Kilkenny after the turn by driving into the opposition from the off.
If the home side came out with the intention of doing the usual and ripping into the opposition with the wind behind them, Limerick came out doubly intent on doing the opposition. The visitors won the contest hands down.
You see, for all their troubles, small things can help turn things for Kilkenny.
Despite Sunday’s result, it has to be admitted that the return and addition of the physical strength, muscle and hurling of Padraig and Walter Walsh boosted Kilkenny’s stock hugely.
Think what a difference the addition of three or four more ‘first teamers’, if we could refer to anyone as such, would make?
Right now that is the realm of hope because of injuries and so on. The longer Kilkenny can hang on in the League the better chance the younger brigade have of learning the trade and being ready to bring more to the table for summer hurling.
We expressed concern in the match reports on how Kilkenny coped with the running game employed by Clare and Limerick.
The Noresiders coped admirably and had a plan to neutralise this in the past, in the era of the Newtownshandrum and Cork running game.
Someone needs to dig out that old plan because it is needed.
Of course, there were very different men in the stripey jerseys then. But the players of today appear to need direction in this area.
If the unease in this regard continues against Tipperary and Wexford, then the danger is it will become a problem rather than the difficulty it is now.
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