Wednesday 13 December 2017

Rice wants hurt of Galway defeat to fuel Kilkenny hunger

Colm Keys

Colm Keys

Michael Rice follows the tennis career of Rafael Nadal quite closely, so he appreciates that the stay of execution he currently has from tendonitis in one of his knees may not last long.

Nadal has been troubled by the same complaint over the last number of seasons. He missed the defence of his first Wimbledon title in 2009 and may also miss the defence of his Olympic title in London over the next few weeks.

Rice, however, is back on course to regain his Kilkenny place in next week's All-Ireland quarter-final against Limerick after coming through a club game with Carrickshock and, on Monday night, Kilkenny's first training session since their defeat to Galway.

The injury interrupted his league campaign and forced him out of the league semi-final against Clare, the final against Cork and the Leinster semi-final against Dublin.

All three games were won with such ease, it suggested that Kilkenny could absorb the losses of players like Rice and Fennelly, two of their most influential players over the last three years.

But after 26 minutes of the Leinster final, that false sense of security had been exposed as Rice replaced Paddy Hogan and provided a steady hand around the middle third that had been badly missing.

"Lads were saying to me that I must have been delighted to get on to the field after the injury. I was delighted with that, but that's where my delight ended. Whether I played well or not doesn't matter -- we got a serious hammering. I was happy to get back, but that's where it stopped."

He admits that the game came too soon for him after his battle to get on top of the injury lasted longer than expected. It had been coming for a long time.

"In 2009 it started a small bit. I said I can't go to the physio with this or I'll look like an awful soft lad altogether. I stayed going and it just got worse and worse progressively. I could get through matches, though, so I was happy enough," he recalled.

"Most lads keep going to a certain level and that is the way I was going. It just flared up and I had to sort it out.

"I could have stepped back earlier, but it just wasn't that bad. I just didn't want to be on the sideline and saying, 'I can't hurl.' I was able to run, I was able to hurl. It wasn't that I was playing through massive pain. It was only this year and at the end of last year that it really flared up. I wasn't being a martyr.

"Nadal had it. He seems to be okay. He rested it in recent years. He was resting for Wimbledon. I said: 'Ah no,' I thought you had got rid of it.

"I was reading his book -- he only had to take a six-week break. It's not that I was looking specifically for something on the injury. I'm just interested in tennis, interested in the lives of sportsmen."

Rice doesn't believe that the defeat to Galway will impact negatively on Kilkenny for what remains of their championship campaign.

"I hope there's hurt there," he said. "No player likes to lose, no matter what match it is. So I hope there will be a bit of hurt."

He thinks too much has been made of what went wrong with the Kilkenny performance and the underlying reasons for it.

"I've heard that before, but that does a disservice to Galway. How many times have we gone well and you hear lads saying, 'jaysus, ye played great'. Galway played great.

"That was the reality. We didn't win ball, they won ball and they scored goals and points. That's what went wrong. That's hurling.

"I said it before, Galway have brilliant hurlers. You have seen it before, they've all won medals. It wasn't as if they had lost their skill. They just needed to get it right on the day and they did."

Irish Independent

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