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Buckley: Retiring Kilkenny stars will continue to inspire

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Cillian Buckley, Kilkenny

Cillian Buckley, Kilkenny

SPORTSFILE

Cillian Buckley, Kilkenny

Champions find inspiration in the most unlikely places. When Cillian Buckley thinks of the Kilkenny dressing room now, he doesn't see idle pegs under which familiar faces used to reside.

Instead he sees a challenge that must be met and a tradition that has to be honoured.

That's not to say he isn't aware of what they will miss this year. The numbers are there in black and white and they are intimidating.

Five players with 37 All-Ireland medals between them have moved on to pursue other things. Not all five could claim to be regulars last year. In fact, just JJ Delaney was assured of his starting place but nonetheless, their mark on the dressing room they leave behind is indelible.

David Herity's departure means someone else must step up to challenge Eoin Murphy for the No 1 shirt while Richie Reid is on club duty with Ballyhale Shamrocks.

Aidan 'Taggy' Fogarty is also gone while the departures of Tommy Walsh and Brian Hogan means Buckley will attain a new level of seniority among the half-back cohort and in the squad as a whole.

"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," Buckley agreed.

"I suppose 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 miss that.

"But 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."

The 2014 panel recently returned from a trip to Miami where they ran into former Manchester United goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar.

The Dutch man joined a north Kilkenny team in a game of volleyball and helped them beat their southern counterparts. It was the last official get-together of the Kilkenny panel as we know it.

Now it's on to new things. Buckley has been with UCD for January but believes Kilkenny will build on the legacy of those that have gone before.

"We definitely are not fearing it without the lads, 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.

Holiday

"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."

There could be an even bigger hole if Henry Shefflin decides to move on but that is for another day. Regardless of what happens there, Kilkenny's march for success will remain relentless.

"More than anything we are hurlers on the field but you do make very close friendships. Going out there training it was a bit of a change but I suppose over the next few weeks, I won't say they will be forgotten, but things will move on without them. There's a Kilkenny panel of 30 again, so we're looking forward to it.

"You'd definitely be hopeful for the future as well, we don't want to stop there, it never has been done in Kilkenny as regards being happy with one."

Irish Independent