He was wearing the No 13 jersey on his back last Sunday, and only registered 0-1, but the positioning of Ger Aylward at centre-forward for Kilkenny against Cork was extremely eye-catching, writes Peter McNamara.
The GAA interest was put on the back-burner last weekend, admittedly, as a trip to Cheltenham for Festival Trials Day was taken in, however, when looking through the line-ups for the Cats-Rebels clash, Aylward’s berth caught our attention with a view to the future.
Aylward’s career has been hampered with injuries. Yet, were he to get a clear run at this campaign, his presence would represent a massive boost to Brian Cody as he has the potential to be virtually unmarkable.
Given injuries have curtailed his involvement with Kilkenny in the last few seasons, he has scope to improve and improve in 2019 and his availability should lead to Cody’s outfit edging considerably closer to the Liam MacCarthy Cup again.
At present, Cork and Tipp are the two taken against the field to be crowned All-Ireland champions this year.
However, in what will surely prove to be another ridiculously open race for ultimate honours, the Cats, victory last Sunday aside, will be on the heels of those two counties if Aylward can remain injury-free.
People will talk of Galway, Wexford, Clare and Limerick all being in with chances of winning the All-Ireland.
And yes, arguments can be made for each of those four counties as well.
However, the pecking order, currently, for my money, is Cork, Tipp and Kilkenny.
Cody, though, will be quietly confident Kilkenny can regain the title if the likes of Aylward are around to reduce the scoring burden off TJ Reid’s shoulders.
Reid, as the dog on the street knows, has been carrying Kilkenny in terms of keeping the scoreboard ticking over for the last two campaigns.
A major factor in that was Aylward’s absence. With that in mind, you would imagine Reid will also hope Aylward can stay off the treatment table.
Some might make the case that Cody playing him at centre-forward reduces his goalscoring threat.
However, Aylward is the type of player that can wriggle his way through crowded areas and create, as well as execute goalscoring opportunities.
Therefore, repositioning him in the centre-forward role might prove a masterstroke by the managerial master.
In fact, when operating as an inside forward, Aylward can drift out of matches.
This way, he is likely to be even more focused throughout games, thus making him an even greater weapon in their attacking arsenal.
Reid did not start last Sunday. Therefore, it bodes well for Kilkenny that they still managed to post 2-18 on the board without him, against John Meyler’s charges.
Richie Hogan was also unavailable.
“He pulled up on Friday night with a bit of tightness in the back,” said Cody, explaining Hogan’s situation after the 2-18 to 0-17 win. “Nothing major, but no point in risking it in January as he’s a history of injury obviously. Walter (Walsh) is probably ready to come back into the reckoning himself and Padraig Walsh.”
Cody also stated that he would love to see the Cats go on to retain their Allianz NHL crown.
“For me, I’d always want to win the league if at all possible. I’m sure other teams would be the same, it’s always about trying to win and to give as much exposure as possible to as many players as you can.
“What you’d be hoping to get out of it is the same, but the threat of relegation is gone (for this year).”
How could you not appreciate that relentless attitude from Cody? Any manager worth their salt, in every code, wants to win every competition.
Actually, it tends to be what separates the managerial men from the boys.
And as was pointed out here last Wednesday, Cork, Tipp and Kilkenny would benefit enormously from winning the competition.
Cody understands that because he has lost so many experienced and medal-laden generals in the past number of years, he must instil that same ruthless approach to the fresher brigade that are now in his squad.
By wanting to win the league again this year he sets, for his side, a brilliant precedent.
And, let us be quite real here, what players do not want to win every competition they participate in anyway? Frankly, if any player did not fancy giving their all for every tournament, then I wouldn’t have them in my way.
That, certainly, would be Cody’s take on it.
But Aylward’s availability and form could be central to their season.
It will be the knock-on impact of having him around, as much as it would be having him around in the first place, that could be most telling, though.
Aylward in the side means others, like Reid, have a little less responsibility and are likely to play even better because of having that extra psychological freedom.
And Kilkenny will be right there with Cork and Tipp next July if the boy Aylward produces what we all know he can, on a regular basis.
Following that particular player’s fortunes throughout the league will be particularly interesting.
He has the potential to be an explosive operator for Kilkenny in 2019.