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Kilkenny’s Paul Murphy battles with Damien Hayes of Galway during their game
in Thurles

Kilkenny’s Paul Murphy battles with Damien Hayes of Galway during their game in Thurles

Kilkenny’s Paul Murphy battles with Damien Hayes of Galway during their game in Thurles

BRIAN Cody watched the game at home, Henry Shefflin and Michael Fennelly enjoyed it from the dug-out in Semple Stadium, while the rest of the hurling world looked on and wondered: does anything rattle Kilkenny's enduring empire?

There was a chilling certainty in how they went about inflicting heavy pre-championship punishment on Galway in Sunday's Allianz Hurling League semi-final, calmly recovering from an uneasy opening before establishing a powerful routine that had the game all but secured by the 50th minute.

While Cody's absence was always going to be a motivational extra for Kilkenny, it is the intense battle for places which ensured that nobody dared drop below the incredibly high standards set within the most powerful regime in hurling history.

"We prepared as normal," corner-back Paul Murphy said. "There was no change in the training. Mick (Dempsey) and Martin (Fogarty) know the routine and got on with it, but there might have been that bit more motivation, knowing that Brian was going to be at home.

"It can't have been easy for him, so we were determined to put in a good effort and show that the training had gone well and that we were in the situation he had left us in. We wanted to make sure that it was a good day and that he could relax at home."

Scramble

Last year's All Star right-corner-back marked his return after injury with a fine performance, which came at the ideal time as the scramble for places on the championship team intensifies. That has been a major factor in Kilkenny's consistency over many years and the signs are that the supply lines are continuing to produce top-class performers.

Conor Fogarty played well in Murphy's absence, while goalkeeper Eoin Murphy and midfielder Lester Ryan have made a big impression this season. Cillian Buckley, also back after injury, came on for the final eight minutes and did enough to suggest that he too will be driving hard for a place.

"We're getting close to the championship – lads are really pushing for places all over the field. There are players always waiting in the wings and, thankfully, they're playing great. That puts pressure on everyone. It's unfortunate when lads are out injured but it gives others a chance. A lot of players got a chance in the league, which is good," said Murphy.

Ryan (25) has had an exceptional season so far, improving with every outing at midfield. He gave his best display of all on Sunday when he was man of the match in an energetic performance where, as well as getting the basics right, he also made a three-point contribution to Kilkenny's yield.

With Fennelly, the 2011 Hurler of the Year, out through injury, Michael Rice joined Ryan in a midfield partnership that generally held sway over various Galway combinations.

With TJ Reid and Shefflin targeting championship returns, the midfield/ half-forward area will be hugely competitive and since so many of the Kilkenny players are interchangeable, that will put pressure on the inside forwards too.

Sunday's game would have made for pleasant viewing – not to mention providing a major boost along the convalescence path – for Cody, who has always championed the need for players to be challenged vigorously for their places.

Attempting to win the league title is always high on Kilkenny's priority list at this time of year but with the final being played in Nowlan Park, there's an added incentive this year.

"It's great to get a chance to play for a cup in your own stadium. Tipperary got that chance a few years ago, so we're really looking forward to having the same chance at home in Nowlan Park. There will be a great atmosphere," said Murphy.

Irish Independent