Thursday 22 February 2018

Wounded Kilkenny can cope with loss of Hogan

All-Ireland champions launch title defence with 12 of last September's starting team

Kieran Joyce will line out at centre half-back for Kilkenny. Photo: Brendan Moran / Sportsfile
Kieran Joyce will line out at centre half-back for Kilkenny. Photo: Brendan Moran / Sportsfile
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

If you were to take events in the latter stages of the Allianz League as a definitive guide to the Championship, this evening's Leinster semi-final is not all that relevant.

Kilkenny endured a thumping nine-point defeat by Clare in the semi-final, conceding the highest total in the 17-year Brian Cody era, while Dublin lost to Limerick in the quarter-final. Limerick were later well beaten by Waterford in the semi-final.

The Waterford v Clare trilogy had the progressive Munster pair to the forefront of public consciousness over the last six weeks but how important was it in the greater scheme of things?

Only time will tell but for now it's back to the Leinster Championship and a semi-final that comes with a whole lot of intrigue.

And despite the setback against Clare, Kilkenny are overwhelming favourites to not only beat Dublin but to power on to yet another provincial title.

However, it's no longer quite that straightforward since Clare's 4-22 to 2-19 demolition of the Cats brought a different complexion to the hurling scene.

Was it a one-off mishap or a sign of a new and serious fault-line in the Kilkenny landscape?

The former is by far the more likely scenario but, at the same time, the sight of Clare forwards rampaging through a chaotic resistance can't be totally ignored.

It wasn't an experimental defence either as it featured four of the six who played in last year's All-Ireland final, plus Jackie Tyrrell.

For all that, Clare scored four goals in the first 50 minutes, yet managed only one in 230 minutes over three games (one with extra-time) against Waterford.


The manner in which Kilkenny's security system was breached so easily will have been analysed in great detail on the training ground, although the ultimate conclusion has to be that it was a day of individual indifference, rather than a serious systems crash.

Paul Murphy's tidying instincts were badly missed close to goal, while further afield the balance was distorted by the absence of Michael and Colin Fennelly, Conor Fogarty and Eoin Larkin.

There's no doubt that the Kilkenny subs' bench is not as strong as it used to be, which inevitably leads to the question: what happens when the long-term front-liners wane?

They are not being put under the same degree of pressure as was the case in the past, which eventually has to have an impact. Still, there's no convincing evidence to suggest that Kilkenny's number is up.

After all, they are the reigning All-Ireland champions and, other than the setback against Clare, they had a very good League campaign, topping 1A with four wins from five games.

Their only defeat came against Waterford in the opening game on a miserably cold day in Walsh Park.

Dublin did better in 1A than most observers anticipated at the start of the season, winning three (v Galway, Cork and Waterford) and losing two (v Tipperary and Kilkenny) before being eliminated by Limerick in the quarter-final.

They have had one outing since then, a virtual non-event Leinster quarter-final win over Wexford, who were totally outclassed.

Nonetheless, it got Dublin into the Championship mood, which is always helpful, especially when Kilkenny are next up.

Dublin will have good memories of their last jousts with the Cats in O'Moore Park where they drew and won the 2013 Leinster semi-final to end the long wait for a Championship win over Kilkenny.

And last year, Dublin beat Kilkenny in a League game in Nowlan Park for the first time in 51 years.

Those types of breakthroughs are psychologically important as it shows players what can actually be done, rather than what might be achieved.

So if Dublin get into their stride this evening and open up an early lead, they won't be looking over their shoulders, as might have been the case in the past.

Ger Cunningham has done a lot of individual coaching work with the Dublin players this year and will be hoping that it shows in what is the ultimate test of any squad.

Dublin will need to start well to give themselves real chance but even then, this could be beyond them.

Kilkenny have had eight weeks to re-evaluate since the League defeat by Clare, a period that will, no doubt, have been used productively on the training ground.

So despite the considerable handicap of being without Richie Hogan, they are still good enough to check in for a Leinster final clash with Galway or Offaly on July 3.

Irish Independent

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