Michael Fennelly is not expected to figure for Ballyhale Shamrocks during the League
Now that’s how you deliver a cracking start to the county senior hurling league!
One sunny Saturday in April. Three matches. Thirteen goals. Two outcomes – Bennettsbridge beating James Stephens and St Patrick’s squeezing out Rower-Inistioge - that weren’t surprises but were no gimmes either. And one massive shock.
Clara 2-22 All-Ireland club champions 3-15. Who saw that coming? Nobody. Not even in Clara. Probably especially not in Clara.
Wisdom after the event tells us that this was the perfect time for the men in maroon to be taking on Ballyhale Shamrocks. Common sense after the event tells us that the outcome says less than nothing about the holders’ prospects of retaining the Walsh Cup.
To repeat, it’s April. In more ways than one, the contestants have only begun the first circuit at Aintree.
A response will be forthcoming from Shamrocks in due course when they inevitably take out their irritation on some unfortunate opponents. This was a reminder that will do them no harm in the long run. Chances are it will do their manager no harm either.
To describe the loss to Clara as a setback for Henry Shefflin would be overdoing it. It was nothing of the sort and will, in contrast, turn out to be a useful wake-up call for him.
Shefflin may have begun his managerial career with a bullet but he’s still learning the trade. Now he knows – he truly knows – what it’s been like for his old boss with Kilkenny all these years.
Having to live with the tag of champions. Having to guard against complacency. Having to turn a deaf ear to the word on the street and the assumptions in the pub. Having to try and flush the enzymes of the most recent victory out of the system and reset.
You’re only as good as your last performance? Under Brian Cody for the past 17 years you’re only as good as your next performance. Henry will understand this now. Eaten medals and AIB Team of the Championship awards must soon be forgotten.
If Clara produced the performance of the weekend, another team in the same colours pulled out a humdinger too. Despite finishing with 14 men and being down to the bare bones, St Patrick’s saw off Rower-Inistioge by a point.
It’ll have come as a surprise to precisely nobody that the winning score was registered by Kevin Kelly. Kelly is one of those players who manages to be consistently effective for his club without succeeding in making the leap to doing the same at intercounty level. He’s not the first of the species and he won’t be the last.
Here’s a thought, however. Given that he’s not a full-forward, doesn’t have the pace to leave corner-backs for dead and lacks the power game that a modern wing-forward must bring to the table, is there a possibility Kelly could be recast by Kilkenny as a third midfielder? A kind of floating voter who’d use his intelligence to find space and use his wristiness to channel clean ball to the forwards?
Maybe not. But the championship clock is ticking and, as things stand, the stripey men will be one of the most predictable and formulaic teams on show come the big throw-in next month. Some lateral thinking is desperately called for.
Meanwhile Ballyhale Shamrocks, Rower-Inistioge, James Stephens, Mullinavat, Danesfort and Graigue-Ballycallan head into the second round of the league needing to get points on the board sooner rather than later. One suspects Ballyhale will realise this objective more quickly than some of the others.
Even in early April it’s better to be winning matches than losing them.
For more on Kilkenny People sport read here.