Michael Fennelly and Michael Rice back in the frame for Kilkenny
Brian Cody set to rejig his line-up again as he prepares for Wexford challenge
Kilkenny’s Mark Kelly battles with Shane Fives of Waterford at Nowlan Park last Sunday. Photo: Tommy Grealy/Inpho
It may or may not come as some relief for Wexford to hear that Kilkenny are still “settling on a team”. Manager Brian Cody has already used 31 different players in their five league games so far, and he’s not even done yet.
Sunday’s quarter-final of the Allianz Hurling League definitely offers Wexford one advantage in that they are at home, in Wexford Park – an automatic entitlement given they only played two rounds there so far, in Division One B. However, they haven’t beaten Kilkenny in league or championships since their dramatic injury-time winner in the Leinster semi-final back in 2004.
What surely won’t come as any relief to Wexford is the fact that Michael Rice and Michael Fennelly are among the few players that Cody hasn’t yet used in 2014, and both are now in line to play some part in Sunday’s game. They are the last of the headline players who haven’t featured at some point during Kilkenny’s league campaign so far, and Cody is eager to give them a run.
“They’re pretty much ready to come back in now, have a nice bit of training behind them,” said Cody. “Especially Michael Rice, who does have a good bit done at this stage. It’s hard to say for sure . . . But there won’t be anyone in there on Sunday who isn’t ready.”
Last Sunday’s ultimately facile 20-point win over Waterford was notable, amongst other things, for the first appearance this season of JJ Delaney, who delivered a typically steady and unfussy performance at full back. After juggling his starting line-up, yet again, after the defeat to Dublin, the team that played against Waterford also reduced to two the number of players who have now started in all of Kilkenny’s five league games: Walter Walsh, and Jonjo Farrell.
Walsh has certainly been one of their in-form forwards, and Farrell, while a little less conspicuous, finished off the first-half goal against Waterford, before later being replaced by Richie Power – another player not long back from a lay-off. “He (Power) is in decent shape, has worked hard, and it’s good to get him back into the action,” conceded Cody.
What Cody has also being demonstrating is that reputations count for little, if not nothing. Both Tommy Walsh and Brian Hogan were substituted at half-time against Tipperary, in the second round. Walsh and Hogan were then dropped for the following game against Galway and last Sunday again they played no part, despite being named among the replacements.
Instead, the fresher faces have been given time to shine, such as midfielder Pádraig Walsh (brother of Tommy), defender Brian Kennedy, and full forward Mark Kelly – who helped himself to two goals against Waterford on Sunday.
Cody is deliberately deepening the pool of players from which to select a starting 15: he’s already surpassed the 29 players used during their eight league games, in 2009, which ended in their most convincing league title win in years. By now, however, Cody can’t be too far off knowing the players who will be his settled starters.
“Well like everyone else we will start settling on a team soon enough now,” he said, “but we’ll continue to look at various players, who can do different jobs on different days. We certainly have looked at a lot of players, and intended using it that way. A lot of players have sampled some action now, and we’d be satisfied there is a good depth in the panel.”
It’s easily forgotten too Kilkenny are defending Allianz Hurling League champions, and won’t be surrendering that title easily. With their strength in depth, every player, come the championship, will certainly have earned their starting place.
The GAA have confirmed admission prices for this weekend’s quarter-finals and relegation play-offs. For the quarter-finals adult pre-purchase tickets cost €15; Adult match day entry is priced at €20; Tickets for students/senior citizens €15. Entry for children to all quarter-finals is free. Adult tickets for the relegation play-offs remain at €10 in advance (and for students/senior citizens) and €15 on match day.