'Their season is on the line on Saturday evening' - Understrength Kilkenny facing big challenge in Leinster opener
The Leinster Hurling Championship starts with a bang this Saturday, with Kilkenny weakened by a number of injuries to key men ahead of their opening game against Dublin at Nowlan Park.
The Irish Independent’s Michael Verney believes that a win against the Dubs is crucial for Brian Cody’s men’s Leinster and All-Ireland ambitions.
"I think Kilkenny’s season is on the line Saturday evening with all the injuries, they’re missing the best goalie, and they’re missing one of the better centre backs as well,” said Verney on The Throw-In podcast.
Both two-time All-Stars, Verney believes goalie Eoin Murphy and centre back Cillian Buckley will be missed in their first Championship outing.
"I’m not sure how you plug those holes; Eoin Murphy is only gone three weeks ago… I believe Richie Reid has been converted into a goalkeeper, and looks like he could start.
"Full back Conor Delaney has been looking good there throughout the League… now he’s gone. Cillian Buckley has been missing the whole way through. I’m not sure how you plug those holes," he added.
Verney highlighted TJ Reid as key for the understrength Cats, saying his battle with Eoghan O’Donnell as key for Dublin to scrape a crucial two points.
"If Dublin can stop TJ, and I’d expect Eoghan O’Donnell to be on him… and [to] tie him down, then they’ve an outstanding chance," he said.
However, Verney was reluctant to write off the Cats given their warrior spirit and belief in their ability to win.
"Kilkenny, when they take a team into the trenches, they’re so good at winning those really tight games, and they’ll still fancy themselves winning by a point or two, but you could easily see it going the other way," he added.
The Independent’s Vincent Hogan agreed with Verney’s assessment of the weakened Kilkenny "central spine", concluding that if they win the All-Ireland this season it would be Brian Cody’s best tactical victory.
"We’ve doubted Brian Cody so many times and he’s come up with the answers. But, if he comes up with the answer to this he’s a genius because the heart and soul has been taken out of the team," said Hogan.
Hogan agreed with Verney that Murphy is the best goal keeper in the country saying he was key to all Kilkenny’s successes over the past few seasons.
"Any time Kilkenny have done something well, Eoin Murphy has made unbelievable saves. Really, spectacular saves. You can’t replace him," he added.