KILKENNY have named five players new to championship fare for their Leinster semi-final against Dublin in Croke Park on Sunday. In addition, Adrian Ronan, ordinarily a forward, will play in goal as Joe Darmody has failed to recover from injury.
Ronan's only previous inter-county experience in goal came when he was introduced as a substitute for Michael Walsh in a National League match in 1991. He has, however, played in goal for his club.
The five new players are: Dan O'Neill, who comes into the side in the crucial centre back position; Andy Comerford, who formerly played his hurling in London, at centrefield; Brian McEvoy, at right half forward; Peter Barry, on the left wing of the attack; and Niall Moloney, who plays in the right corner.
In an interesting move, former All Star centre half back Pat O'Neill lines out at full back. He replaces Padraig Farrell a victim of Michael Cleary's recent good form in the county's league defeat by Tipperary three weeks ago and is flanked by the O'Connor brothers, Eddie and Willie. John Power and Denis Byrne are both ruled out due to suspension.
Manager Nicky Brennan admits that most hurling followers, including those from Kilkenny, would be delighted to see Dublin emerge as a hurling power but, like St Augustine, he hopes "not just yet".
Brennan is deeply conscious of the fact that Dublin have troubled Kilkenny in the past, including a narrow shave in the 1991 Leinster final when Kilkenny edged it by 1-13 to 1-11.
Brennan is also conscious that when Kilkenny beat Dublin in 1995 a certain Eamon Morrissey scored 3-3 for Kilkenny, the same Eamon Morrissey who lines out for Dublin on Sunday. In fact, two ex-patriot Kilkenny men will be in the Dublin colours 0fl Sunday Morrissey and Jamesie Brennan, and both have won All-Ireland medals with their native county.
"Make no mistake about it, Dublin are on a roll," says Brennan. "We are well aware of their fine run in the National League which included a win over Cork. We are always most vulnerable in the early stages of the championship and we will have a number of young players who will be playing in the senior championship for the first time. This is, by no means, an easy match for us.
"I am quite sincere when I say that ala hurling followers would love to see Dublin emerge as a hurling power. It would be great for hurling if they made a breakthrough. Look at what the revival of Dublin did for football back in the seventies.
"This is a big challenge for us and we are all conscious of the fact that matches like this can go either way. Teams like Clare and Wexford have helped to change the scene in hurling in the past few years and I believe that Dublin are on the right road. They will put tremendous pressure on us and we would be stupid to take our eye off the ball at this stage.
"To take a relaxed attitude to this match would be asking for trouble. They have a well balanced team and they have two former Kilkenny All-Ireland medal winners. Jamesie (Brennan) and Eamon (Morrissey) were in the Kilkenny teams which beat Cork and Galway in 1992 and `93. Jamesie actually captained the side in 1991 (lost to Tipperary in final). They will obviously be all out to beat us. Both are fine hurlers and they will add greatly to Dublin's effort.
"Naturally their presence in the Dublin side is an added incentive for us. It adds a bit of spice to the match and we are well aware of the dangers. We could have five or six comparatively young players in the team and it will be a big test for them," he says.
Of the new players, Brennan says: "They have come through the minor and under-21 ranks with a certain amount of success and they represent the future of Kilkenny hurling. We have several vastly experienced people as well and the team is fairly well balanced and we are confident of the right result.
"As for taking a look at the Wexford and Offaly teams, we are hoping that by the time they take the field on Sunday we will have disposed of Dublin and be able to relax and take a close look at our rivals in the Leinster final.
"For the moment, however, our minds are fully focussed on Dublin. They have had a good National League and have qualified for the quarter-finals. We will be cautious, but we will try to put early pressure on Dublin and try to get a grip on the game from the start," he says.