The Erin’s Own man defended his players in the wake of the embarrassing defeat in Ballyragget where they failed to score. However, he attested to the debilitating factor of the close season rule on his struggling team, which before meeting up last month had trained together eight months previous.
“With so little preparation done and coming from a low skill base, we were always going to find it difficult,” said Mullins.
“But what has hurt us was the training ban and not being able to train or stage matches before the O’Byrne Cup. The biggest killer is had we started on January 2nd and had Sunday been our first game we could have had five or six weeks of decent, hard training but we weren’t able to do that.’’
Down by 1-9 to 0-0 at half-time, Kilkenny only conceded a further three points in the opening 15 minutes of the second-half before Leitrim piled on the scores as they looked to maximise their scoring advantage, which could prove crucial in the promotional race for Division 3.
“In fairness, we didn’t get just reward for the effort that was put in by our players on Sunday. For the first 35 minutes and then the first 15 minutes against the wind and rain in the second-half, we competed but after that the energy was sapped from the boys. They had nothing left and Leitrim had a free run at us for the last 20 minutes.”
With Sunday’s trip to Longford in mind, Kilkenny will train tonight but few close to the camp are expecting much better as other teams with designs on getting out of Division 4 hope to emulate or better Leitrim’s winning margin.
Former GAA president Nickey Brennan has said his native county’s defeat to Leitrim has brought the idea of Kilkenny fielding a football team in the Allianz League into question. It was in 2008 during the office of Brennan, a former Kilkenny football manager, that the Cats’ footballers were re-introduced to the competition.
However, even he admits what happened in Ballyragget has raised the legitimacy of the county competing in it.
“There’s no point in being silly here,’’ stated Brennan. “When you send out a team and they’re not capable of a score it has to bring the process into question. There’s no point in saying otherwise.
“I would say the same were I GAA President. I know the county board have done a lot of things to dig this out of a hole but it’s certainly at the bottom of the well at the moment.”
Locally, a lot is being made of county champions Muckalee having no representatives on the county panel.
Two of their best players, John Mulhall and Colin McGrath, are in the hurling panel while others have quit the football squad, citing a lack of interest. Brennan doesn’t know of the situation with Muckalee but is adamant Kilkenny would make a better fist of it in Division 4 had more of the best club footballers accepted call-ups.
“If Kilkenny had their best players available from the top clubs and were training hard I think they would be competitive in Division 4. I’m not saying they would win matches but they would be competitive.
“Ultimately, if a club or players within a club won’t answer the county’s call the county board are damned if they can get anything done with it and the management can only work with the players that make themselves available. When that happens, unfortunately results like Sunday will happen.”
However, he acknowledges similar defeats could see several players making themselves unavailable for next year’s competition. “There’s always that danger but to be fair to the Kilkenny mentors over the last year or two they have managed to get a group of players to give a commitment for the duration of the league irrespective of what has happened. Sunday was a setback of serious proportions but I’d believe they will see out their commitment to the league and they wouldn’t be the sort of people who would pull the plug on Kilkenny and leave the county in the embarrassing situation of not being able to field a team.”