Mulrooney's minors on alert for Banner underdogs
IT is, we are told, a foregone conclusion. The ESB All-Ireland minor hurling final against Clare tomorrow is Kilkenny's to lose.
Winning margins of 10, 12, 13 and 19 points in four championship outings tell their own story. The bookmakers' odds of 1/12 show that they agree that the curtain-raiser will be the ideal fillip for Kilkenny fans before they get down to the real business in the 'Drive for Five'.
That leaves Kilkenny minor manager Richie Mulrooney in a difficult spot. With those stats, it's difficult for him to play down his team's chances but he, for one, believes that the match will be far from one-sided.
"Both ourselves and Clare have played Dublin in the championship, so they are the obvious line of form to go on. We had 35 shots on goal against Dublin in the Leinster final and that was the same number as Clare had in the All-Ireland semi-final. And Clare actually fared better defensively than us, keeping Dublin to 19 shots, whereas Dublin had 22 on us.
"We won by a lot more than a point, but sometimes the scoreboard doesn't tell the full story. There isn't going to be much in it. Those odds are ridiculous in a two-horse race."
Mulrooney has named the same starting 15 for the fourth match in succession. They had an injury worry this week regarding Willie Phelan, the Dunamaggin full-back who is in the mould of his club-mate Noel Hickey, but he is expected to be fit for action.
Lightning almost struck twice for Phelan, who missed last year's final defeat to Galway after breaking a collarbone in the run-up to the match.
In total, nine of last year's extended panel returned for duty this term, so Mulrooney's squad are an experienced bunch by minor standards.
They boast seven of the St Kieran's College side which captured the Croke Cup earlier this year and another three from Kilkenny CBS, who were beaten in the Leinster final by their city rivals. Ger Aylward also played in last year's All-Ireland colleges final for Good Counsel, New Ross.
"Obviously we're delighted with how the lads have been performing but there is a worry as to how they will perform in a tight situation," said Mulrooney. "We haven't had that yet. We played Clare a few times in challenge matches over the years and there wasn't a puck of a ball in it."
There are strong connections to the history-chasing Kilkenny senior team. Padraig Walsh, a brother of Tommy, lines out at centre-forward. Wing-forward John Power will watch his brother Richie in action later in the day. Another Richie, Richie Reid from Ballyhale, is senior captain TJ's brother, while midfielder Ollie Walsh is a son of U-21 manager Michael and a grandson of the legendary Ollie Walsh.
On every level, the signs point to a Kilkenny win. However, there is a warning for Kilkenny from the minor football semi-final. Tyrone were similarly unbackable favourites at 2/7 to beat a Mayo side that had reached the previous two All-Ireland deciders. The Connacht side found themselves eight points up in the closing stages only to be caught late on and Mulrooney knows that writing off a side that has won the Munster championship is a dangerous exercise.
"We know Clare are a lot better than people are giving them credit for. Against Dublin they were seven points up after a few minutes and they were very impressive," he said.
"I saw them in the Munster final too and they were very good against Waterford. They've built up a head of steam coming into this and that can be difficult to stop."