Mulrooney to take charge of young Cats in Walsh Cup
ALL-IRELAND champions Kilkenny will field a 'senior development side', overseen by their U-21 management, when they open their season against NUI Galway in the Walsh Cup next Saturday.
It is unlikely even to include the young ace that Brian Cody so spectacularly produced from his sleeve for last year's All-Ireland final replay victory.
Towering 6ft 4ins Walter Walsh (below), who scored 1-3 against Galway in what was his senior inter-county debut, was immediately linked to the Cats' pre-season opener given his hilarious response when asked what the Kilkenny manager had said after calling him ashore.
"He just said well done and asked was I okay to play Walsh Cup next year, and I said I was!" said 'Wally'.
But Walsh, like several more of Kilkenny's rising underage stars, is expected to give his first allegiance to his college (UCD) for Leinster's pre-season tournament.
Two more of his U-21 and senior team-mates last year – Cillian Buckley and Willie Phelan – are also students at UCD, who play Wexford on Friday night.
Two more of last year's beaten All-Ireland U-21 finalists – Ger Aylward and Luke Harney – are also college-tied with Waterford IT in the Waterford Crystal tournament, in which Padraig Walsh (Tommy's brother) has already lined out for UL.
U-21 boss Richie Mulrooney will take charge of Kilkenny for the early stages of the Walsh Cup, but Cody will be watching.
The senior panel are not long back from Jamaica but, traditionally, if Kilkenny get through to the final, then the senior management will take over and a stronger side will be wheeled out. Kilkenny are the defending champions, beating Galway 2-20 to 1-14 in last year's final.
A year earlier they were pipped by Dublin in the final and in another recent final they beat Galway in extra-time.
Midfielder Buckley and wing-back Richie Doyle were two of last year's U-21s who managed to break into the senior squad.
Both are currently rebuilding their fitness after recent hip surgeries and their absences, like those of Henry Shefflin (injured) and Noel Hickey (retired), open up opportunities to be grabbed.
The problem for young Cats wishing to make a breakthrough is that Kilkenny never operate a widescale clean-out but have the luxury of introducing just one or two new faces every year.
Two years ago it was Paul Murphy and Colin Fennelly. Last season it was Buckley and Doyle, with Walsh, who starred in Kilkenny's run to the All-Ireland U-21 final (lost to Clare), coming out of left-field in Cody's All-Ireland masterstroke. Unlike most of last year's U-21s, Walsh is not underage this year, which is in his favour because Kilkenny rarely rush through their top U-21s.
Apart from Buckley, Doyle and Phelan, two more of last year's U-21s regarded as future seniors are Aylward and Harney.
Aylward (Glenmore) is a versatile forward. Harney is a wing-back but coming from a junior club (Kilmacow) means senior inter-county is another big step-up.
Ollie Walsh, Michael's son, impressed with Dicksboro also last autumn. Geoffrey Brennan, Ballyragget's U-21 midfielder, is another expected to put his hand up this season and corner-back Brian Kennedy has been in great form recently while leading Freshford to the county U-21 title.