Kilkenny look tired but not in full bloom crisis just yet
Dublin will push the Cats but I still expect them to edge it
More players will have to drag them into the typical Kilkenny manner of hurling. Henry Shefflin and Michael Fennelly can’t do it tonight. Last Sunday they sleep walked into a fixture they brought fire and brimstone to last year.
Looking back at the match, TJ Reid and the outstanding Walter Walsh saved them when so many others failed to hurl anywhere near their high summer standards.
That’s two poor showings in two championship outings. Why is that? There are variables. Shefflin is their driving force still, clearly. Against Offaly they got a miserable start. Against Dublin the wind made it difficult to hurl. Such conditions mean you only get half the time to win the match because you are either defending it or playing with it at your back. It suits the underdog.
The Shefflin factor remains important. Not only the guarantee of ball he wins and scores he takes from play, but his calming influence on others around him in the forward line.
Fennelly also brings a power through midfield. The Kilkenny forwards didn’t come under the microscope after the league final because of Fennelly’s performance that day. Besides Walsh’s excellent 1-4 and 0-2 from Richie Hogan in the first half, no other starting forward scored from open play against Dublin.
There is the argument that Kilkenny were looking further down the line but, for me, Cody’s team always takes it one game at a time. However, maybe we are seeing the evidence of a change in their training regime from last year after their struggles in the Leinster final against Galway.
Either way, they look a fatigued team at the moment. Cody has made changes, one enforced, but Jackie Tyrrell is a bonus as he calls a lot of the shots in defence but Paul Murphy’s loss is a counter weight.
TJ Reid’s return from injury and presence from the start should guarantee more scores from play. That means Lester Ryan, having been unable to transfer his league form into the summer, gets replaced by Cillian Buckley in midfield beside Michael Rice.
A marked improvement is needed from Eoin Larkin and Richie Power because Walsh won’t be able to beat Dublin on his own.
I expect Dublin to push them again. Their fourth game in a row will be welcome as hurlers want to be playing matches. They are in a groove. I don’t expect major improvements from Kilkenny but I do expect more intensity and a greater pattern of scorers.
The hardest working 70 minute team performance will prevail. We will know a lot more about the current state of Kilkenny after tonight. No crisis yet though, I still think they’ll edge it.