Kilkenny senior hurling manager Brian Cody has named a number of new faces in his extended winter training panel – including three players who won All-Ireland intermediate medals this year, writes Jackie Cahill.
Mullinavat’s John Walsh scored 2-2 in the final victory over Clare at Semple Stadium in August and his form has been rewarded with a call-up to the senior ranks.
Luke Scanlon from Cody’s club James Stephens scored 1-2 against the Banner County and another player who tasted intermediate glory, Rower-Inistioge’s Richie Leahy, is also included.
Leahy’s clubmate Pat Lyng is also named on a panel of over 40 players drawn up Cody.
Along with Scanlon and Walsh, Lyng was a member of Kilkenny’s 2014 All-Ireland minor winning crop. All three lined out in the final against Limerick – with Leahy listed among the subs.
Speaking after September’s senior final defeat against Tipperary, Cody vowed that he would infuse his squad with fresh talent, and sooner rather than later.
He’s been true to his word as Ollie Walsh from Dicksboro, a 2010 All-Ireland minor medallist in a team captained by Cillian Buckley, has also progressed to the senior panel.
Walsh is the son of former Kilkenny goalkeeper Michael, and grandson of the late Ollie Walsh.
Lyng and John Walsh were both members of the Kilkenny U21 team shocked by Westmeath during the summer but now have the chance to stake their claim in the top grade.
Meanwhile, Mark Bergin’s excellent recent form for county champions O’Loughlin Gaels has propelled him into contention to captain Cody’s county team in 2017.
Bergin scored 11 points, all from placed balls, as O’Loughlin Gaels beat Ballyhale Shamrocks in the Kilkenny decider before adding 1-8, including 1-4 from play, in the Leinster semi-final victory over Wexford’s Oulart-the-Ballagh.
There had been speculation in Kilkenny that O’Loughlin Gaels were set to nominate Dicksboro’s Cillian Buckley to lead the Cats next year but Bergin has put his hand up with a string of consistent performances and club officials are anxious to nominate one of their own men for the prestigious role.
Cody and his backroom staff met with players last weekend to outline their pre-season plans.
The O’Loughlin Gaels contingent will swell Cody’s numbers when their interest in the club championship comes to an end.
Cody will run the rule over prospective candidates during the Walsh Cup campaign before cutting his squad ahead of the Allianz League start in February.
Some of the new players have previous experience of the senior set-up, having been drafted in to make up the numbers in training matches.