Tommy Walsh (4) turned in a strong performance against Tipperary
Well-walked hurling folk will tell you that you can learn more from defeats than victories, and certainly during the period of transition that Kilkenny are in at present every loss has to bring moments of reflection.
So what better way for Kilkenny to get the show back on the road than to make the trip ‘up the road’ to face a Tipperary team who found themselves in a similar ‘where are we’ situation before Sunday, and score a stunning win?
The Premier County remain an enigma in the hurling world.
Bursting with talent, they were the only team that could stand toe to toe with the Kilkenny noughties juggernaut.
Yet they find themselves with only two All-Irelands to their name since this century began.
Since winning their last title in 2016, Michael Ryan has departed his post as manager, leaving the county at a crossroads.
Tipperary decided to go back to move forward by bringing in Liam Sheedy, who guided them to glory in 2010. He brought in a new back room team to provide fresh voices and made use of the county’s All-Ireland under-21 success to inject youth into the squad.
The National League has been a mixed bag to date in terms of results and fortune for Tipperary.
They saw off Clare in the first round, but then lost to Limerick and Wexford in the following two rounds before falling to Kilkenny.
They were mad keen to win their next game, and if it meant putting one over their arch rivals, all the better!
Kilkenny experienced similar difficult times of late. They scored a first round win over Cork, but their most recent match with Limerick did not go to plan at all at all.
In that one, Kilkenny didn't win a single individual battle as they were brushed aside by the MacCarthy Cup holders.
It was almost a case of David v Goliath.
Kilkenny looked flat-footed and listless. While that can sometimes happen in the midst of heavy spring training, management would not have wanted, in any circumstance, the flat performance that resulted.
When speaking to the media after the game, however, Brian Cody chose to focus on the positives.
“There was plenty of positives for us, I thought,” he declared. “I’m not going home thinking it was a disaster. It’s something we have to learn from and look at all the various performances from the players and also from the collective.
“In my head, very definitely I can see it was a mixture of some very, very good stuff and then there was a lot of mistakes as well.”
Cody was correct in saying there were a lot of positives. A very solid, potential full-back was unearthed last week in the form of Conor Delaney.
He was assured in everything he did, and with a bit more game time he might just be the solution to that long troubling full-back spot.
The big issue at the moment is the strength of the Kilkenny forward line. Obviously the experience of TJ Reid and Richie Hogan is missing, but the newer forwards need to be more cohesive as a unit and work together to get scores.
This will only come with playing against good defences and learning from the experiences that come with that.
The teams chosen for Sunday’s game offered a lot of surprises.
Brian Cody and his selectors avoided turning back to the seasoned veterans within the squad. Jason Cleere was chosen to play in the defence. A lot of supporters were interested to see how he would get on.
Also, his clubmate Liam Blanchfield was chosen to play at full-forward. Richie Hogan was a welcome inclusion on the subs bench too.
On the Tipperary side, both Alan Flynn and Willie Connor kept their places among a very experienced looking side that included regulars such as Padraic Maher and Seamus Callanan.
There was a point right from throw-in from Tipperary’s Robert Byrne, but despite getting in a fair number of shots at goal it was as much as the hosts got during 15 minutes of play.
Kilkenny, on the other hand, were making more noise on the scoreboard. Alan Murphy was taking the frees and he shot the opening score.
Kilkenny were finding the forwards better with their puck-outs, with the likes of Walter Walsh and Padraig Walsh getting on to a lot of ball. From general play, Kilkenny were a lot more consistent in their tackling.
A special mention has to go to Conor Delaney, who made two vital interventions when Seamus Callanan was bearing down on goal.
The Castlecomer man looks capable of growing into the role, and while it won’t always be smooth sailing, marking one of the most dangerous forwards in the country gave him invaluable experience.
Kilkenny still had a few problems with their distribution, and there were a few passes that went astray or wide.
They would have felt that they should have been a little more ahead going into half time, but overall it was a positive start.
The scoreboard read 0-9 (K) to 0-8 (T).
Kilkenny knew there would a kick back from Tipperary in the second half. They got exactly that.
There were early points from Alan Murphy and Walter Walsh, but Tipperary pushed on a lot more and applied a lot more pressure.
John O’Dwyer was really causing havoc in the forward line and he helped bring his colleagues more into the game. The Kilkenny forwards were not applying as much pressure on their markers, and as a result, they did not register a score during one 20 minute run.
Other teams would have crumbled. Not Kilkenny. Martin Keoghan broke that stalemate. Spurred on by the introduction of Richie Hogan and James Maher, a big finish was on the horizon.
Tipperary were not biting, and it was looking like they might sneak one over their rivals. But cometh the hour, cometh the man.
Goalkeeper Eoin Murphy slotted over two last points from frees to drag Kilkenny over the line. The Cats are back on track.
The effort was a marked improvement from the previous week’s performance. Kilkenny’s attitude was top class when defeat was staring them in the face.
Onwards to Wexford now. Hopes are high that Kilkenny’s League campaign can finish with a flourish!
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