Power surge lights up show of force from young Cats
In the overall context of the 2012 season, this was scarcely even a tiny spring that will inevitably make way to that great September deluge when the confluence of Kilkenny's hurling might converges on Croke Park.
It was officially the All-Ireland champions' first competitive game of the season -- a Walsh Cup quarter-final in the quiet backwater of Freshford and a far cry from the black and amber streamers that could shoot into the skies above Dublin 3 in just over seven months' time.
However, every journey must have a start regardless of how inauspicious it is and in front of about 200 souls cowering beneath a small stand on such an inclement day, Kilkenny's 2012 campaign took flight. Brian Cody wasn't to be seen around the place, having ceded control for the afternoon to U-21 manager Richie Mulrooney with what was technically a senior development squad.
Apparently, the core of the Kilkenny squad were back in the city, putting themselves through a training session at around the same time as their understudies were taking care of the visiting NUI Galway team who have a Fitzgibbon Cup date early next week.
The defeat must register as a setback for Johnny Kelly's side, given the proximity of that game and the relative strength of opponents. Admittedly, Kilkenny were All-Ireland minor champions three years ago so their U-21s are of a high standard and optimism is high. But for Kilkenny there were little pointers suggesting that the taps are continuing to flow with sufficient pressure.
With three retirements in the off-season -- James 'Cha' Fitzpatrick, PJ Ryan and Eddie Brennan -- the senior squad is not as set in stone as it was even 12 months ago. John Power, young brother of Richie, was the star turn on a treacherous day for forwards. Power looks even more a chip off the old block -- his father Richie -- than his older brother and despite some concerns about mobility he showed enough resourcefulness here to ensure that the household will be twice as busy on Kilkenny training nights this year. He finished with nine points and, from the seven converted frees he knocked over, at least three were as a result of fouls on him.
Around him, James Cassin put his hand up with two points, while Dicksboro midfielder Cillian Buckley, already part of Cody's extended squad, worked tirelessly. Full-back Willie Phelan from Dunamaggin is already part of the senior squad, while Jason Corcoran also made his mark for inclusion, a rarity for the John Lockes club since John Power's days.
The conditions were almost impossible by the end. Rarely did the players have the luxury of tracking a white ball and, against a greying sky, that put pressure on lines of vision and striking. Yet Pairc Lachtain was able to absorb what the day threw at it better than any other venue around.
NUIG had David Kenny in commanding form at centre-back and Niall Burke, from Galway's 2011 All-Ireland U-21-winning side, scoring at will at one stage in the first half. Clare's Caimin Morey also chipped in with three points. The sight of black and amber jerseys being shunted around in a senior inter-county hurling match was another anomaly as the more physical third-level side enforced themselves for a 0-8 to 0-7 lead. But Kilkenny grew into this game. "The more the game progressed, the more we got into it," said Mulrooney afterwards.
Power put them in front on 50 minutes, 0-11 to 0-10, and he reserved the best until last when he fielded a clearance from Padraig Walsh, younger brother of Tommy, and turned to push the home side 0-13 to 0-10 clear. NUIG closed to a minimum but Kilkenny held on.
Scorers -- Kilkenny: J Power 0-9 (7f), J Cassin, M Gaffney 0-2 each. NUIG: N Burke 0-6 (2f), C Morey 0-3, JP O'Connell, P Kelly, D Higgins 0-1 each.
Kilkenny -- D Breathnach; J Corcoran, W Phelan, B Kennedy; P Walsh, C Tobin, P O'Carroll; C Buckley, P Butler; J Power, L Harney, J Cassin; J Nolan, G Aylward, M Gaffney. Subs: C Walsh for Nolan (h-t), R Reid for Cassin (61), P Gahan for Butler (68), S Kearns for Aylward (68).
NUIG -- D Tuohy; D Magner, E Fahy, S McCormack; M Kelly, D Kenny, P Kelly; JP O'Connell, C Diviney; P Murphy, N Burke, D Higgins; R Shanahan, E O'Farrell, C Morey. Subs: A Armstrong for O'Farrell (59), C Hynes for Murphy (65).
Ref -- D Hughes (Carlow)