Kilkenny goalie Dean Mason in action
Kilkenny face an Everest type challenge as they bid to get back to winning ways on the hurling scene.
The Cats were KO’d by Wexford in the senior and minor Leinster finals at the weekend, and now they face Galway, the kings of ‘strength and conditioning’ at under-age level, in the next big shoot-out.
Former great and Kilkenny manager, DJ Carey, will send his under-20 squad into action against Galway in the Leinster semi-final in O’Connor Park, Tullamore on Thursday (7.30pm) in what will be a do-or-die battle.
The Westerners squad is based around the minor All-Ireland winning group of 2017, and they are reckoned to be hot property.
“This is it for us. We perform or we leave,” was the way Carey put the daunting challenge ahead.
“Everyone is fit. We have prepared well. We are rarin’ to go.”
This time 12 months ago the Tribesmen dumped Kilkenny out of the championship, and while they stormed Leinster afterwards, they didn’t land the All-Ireland title.
With a decent win over Laois behind them, Kilkenny feel they have ironed out a few issues and they made minor adjustments to their team.
“Galway are the power at under-age level,” Carey insisted.
“I don’t think a team like Kilkenny or any other county would be questioned about their hurling ability, but I believe Galway are ahead when it comes to strength and conditioning at under-age level.
“They just seem to have the edge; the physique,” he added. “We played well against them last year, but were still beaten.”
The Cats have four members of the senior squad available, Adrian Mullen, Evan Shefflin, Niall Brassil and Carey’s son, Michael.
They are well stocked with talent besides, with Conor Flynn and Eoin Cody two more big players so they can pack a punch.
Galway will be taking a step into the dark because they have not played a game yet.
They know they can shape something strong around under-age All-Ireland winners Darach Fahy, Cillian Killeen, Daniel Loftus, Conor Walsh, Darren Morrissey, Ronan Glennon and Mark Kennedy.
And manager, Jeffrey Lynskey, who has stepped up from minor level with the group, knows the pool of players very well.
“We have a good panel, and the lads are very dedicated,” Carey assured.
Nine of the squad sat the Leaving Certificate this year, so with that tough assignment behind them the players are fully focussed on another one now.
“We have a good team with good hurlers,” Carey assured. “The best has come out of us on Thursday or that will be it.”
Meanwhile, the Kilkenny minor hurlers will try and bounce back following the provincial final defeat by Wexford when they play Clare in the All-Ireland quarter-final in Thurles on Saturday (3pm).
This could be a winner take all clash. Defending champions, Galway, are the third team involved in this play-off situation and they are expected to take one of the semi-final places up for grabs.
For more on Kilkenny People sport read here.