BLAME the clubs, not the players, said Kilkenny's football manager after their U-21s' mortifying 50-point slaughter by Louth in the Leinster championship.
The Cats were short 11 players and had to call up a local teenager at the last minute just to help them make up the full 15 in Ballyragget on Wednesday night when they suffered a 6-34 to 0-2 bruising by the Wee County.
But John McGrath, who manages both the county seniors and U-21s, said most of their absentees had good reasons for not making it and had excused themselves beforehand and he stressed that the players shouldn't bear the brunt of the blame.
"We had to submit a team for the programme last Monday, but we knew there would be changes," he said.
"We lost a few lads to colleges (third-level) hurling, another four of them were doing exams. We had one player who was ruled out late because he was still suffering from concussion and another got injured on Tuesday night.
"Two more of them were caught in work in Dublin, they rang me to tell me they would be late. Of the panel of 21 we were working off, only two lads didn't notify us that they wouldn't be there."
McGrath conceded that such a soul-destroying defeat was disastrous for those who did turn out, but insisted that Kilkenny's efforts to develop their football will continue unabated.
"It's a real struggle, but we are trying hard and the real problem is the clubs," he said. "If I sent out a message to every club in Kilkenny today asking them to nominate three players to come to county football training, I would be lucky if 10 turned up.
"If Brian Cody did the same he'd need the guards for crowd control. There wouldn't be room for all the players who would want to try out for the hurlers. That's just the reality."
He added: "Our problem is that if you have a fairly good hurler, who is also a good footballer, his club will actively discourage him from playing with us. They don't want him playing football with us because they want him available for club hurling at all times."
McGrath said efforts to develop football in the county are also not helped by the amount of underage club football games that get cancelled.
"We have a development squad now at underage level thanks to Bord na nOg and they are also working hard to ensure that walkovers aren't being given and that all minor and U-21 football games go ahead, which hasn't been the case.
"The reality is that we are fit to compete at junior inter-county level, but, in the last three years we've developed a core group of lads and are adding three young lads every year to try to give some depth.
"We rejoined the National League a few years ago because we feel that will eventually bring us on, but it will take time and it's going to be another few years before we are competitive."
The county seniors have already conceded 3-46 and scored only 1-3 in their first two National League Division 4 games this year and they face Peter Canavan's Fermanagh in Freshford this weekend.