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Buckley: Cats relish the challenge of life after 'Famous Five'

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Cillian Buckley

Cillian Buckley

Cillian Buckley

AS a New Year dawns, the Kilkenny dressing-room carries a familiar ring - the home of Liam MacCarthy - and yet it's a changed world too.

The place is still laden with multiple All-Ireland winners, but it has lost a veritable sackful of Celtic Crosses following the retirements of Tommy Walsh, David Herity, Brian Hogan, Aidan Fogarty and - last but not least - JJ Delaney.

Henry Shefflin? Let's just watch this space ...

Whatever decision Shefflin eventually reaches when the dust settles on Ballyhale Shamrocks' latest All-Ireland club assault, those five confirmed departures have left a sizeable experience void.

Here's the thing, though: according to Cillian Buckley, all the talk of these absent Cats is actually driving on the players who remain, to prove they can carry the mantle of All-Ireland holders and favourites without them.

"There is no turning a blind eye to it, definitely you'd have to say that the five lads gone have been huge to the panel over the years," says Buckley.

"Last year, apart from JJ who managed to play in most of the games, the boys played a different role in terms of leadership ... so we will be missing that.

"I suppose it gives a chance to the group behind that - lads in their late twenties who have been there for ten years at this stage - to step forward.

"And we'll find new leaders, no doubt.

"The younger lads coming in will get the chance to push on, and even the talk of these fellas leaving is driving us on. So we're really looking forward to the new challenge without them."

It's almost like an extra motivation.

"We definitely are not fearing it without the lads," says Buckley. "They have left behind as much advice as they could and had a word with us over the last few weeks. They have been nothing but support over the last few weeks.

"We are only back from a team holiday over the Christmas and we were with the boys. They wished us the best of luck for the year and I think they deserve for us to give them something to look at up in the stands, from a different point of view, after all the work they have given."

TRAUMAS

Given all the traumas endured in the summer of 2013, last year's return to the summit was seen as something of a mild surprise. But with Brian Cody juggling his troops in ultimately masterful fashion, the twentysomething generation delivered in spades ... among them the versatile Buckley who, at 22, really came of age in a wing-back role.

He was the only Kilkenny half-back who retained his place for the All-Ireland final replay against Tipperary. Cue a second Celtic Cross for the Dicksboro man who, a few weeks later, was collecting his maiden All Star at left half-back.

Looking forward to 2015, Buckley was "hopeful for the future" and promised: "We don't want to stop there. It never has been done in Kilkenny as regards being happy with one."


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