The hurler on the ditch still ready to hit every ball


He may be sitting in the stand this time but Michael Rice knows that Kilkenny have it all to do in the replay, writes MALACHY CLERKIN

THEY HAVEN’T found a job for Michael Rice yet. Kilkenny selector Martin Fogarty had him out picking up cones one night but the labour was cheap and Rice himself admits he was just about value for money. As for being a hurley- or water-carrier during games, his recovery from the desperate hand injury picked up in the All Ireland semi-final against Tipperary just isn’t worth risking.

“No, we have lads doing that all year and it would be a case of one of them making way for me. I wouldn’t have been great at the running in anyway – I wouldn’t like to have taken a fall because it was still very unstable. Me running in could have taken the guts of a minute. I was up in the stand and I never got into that.

“They allowed me on the bus, which was nice, and they still gave me the dinner in Langton’s. It’s still great to be involved and in fairness, the boys are all great to me. I still chat to them about the match and they’d be chatting to me, though I don’t know do they care what I think.”

Rice’s knockabout nature makes him a light weight to carry for the rest of the squad. Not to mention a handy bone to throw to the press to save one of the on-the-day participants having to submit to questioning. In Kilkenny last week, he was engaging and witty as he held court, all the while faithfully holding the party line.

(Oddly, for a player who had no final to prepare for and whose doctor won’t let him go back to work for another couple of months, he said he hadn’t seen Joe Canning’s comments on Henry Shefflin in the papers because he had “enough to be doing” ahead of the replay.

Actually, maybe it’s not so odd. Michael Fennelly said more or less the same thing. It’s as if they guessed it might come up.)

Nonetheless, he was good company. Better, in fact, than he was sitting in the stand during the drawn game. It’s one thing to be nervous on the pitch where you can shake yourself into doing something about it. It’s another altogether when you’re in Row Such-And-Such, Seat So-And-So. Not much you can do up there.

“I’m the hurler on the ditch now and I annoy everyone,” he says. “It’s the place to be because I would have probably made 100 mistakes out there, but when you’re looking on you’re thinking, ‘Get that ball, get that ball’. But you realise it’s absolutely pure fury for 70 minutes and there’s no let-up. You can’t even call them silly mistakes because everyone is under so much pressure.

“Probably the most impressive thing for Kilkenny was that the lads could be having a bad day and they turned it around. That’s what I was impressed with most. Lads came out and had storming second halves having not had a brilliant first half. Probably no one from Kilkenny had a brilliant first half that day, but they stuck at it and it was great to see.

“I think afterwards for the first week everyone was looking back the way at the drawn match and now things are starting to turn and everyone is looking forward to it. Lads were tired after the match, no doubt, and everyone was tired. I was wrecked and I hadn’t played a minute!”

As for the replay, it’s suggested to him Kilkenny might have the upper hand because they carry momentum in with them. He waves the notion away.

“I don’t think it matters where you come from, if you’re ten points up or down you still have to play for the 70 minutes.

“We’re just looking forward to another 70 minutes.”

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