Kilkenny U21 manager Eddie Brennan believes early -season competitions may have run their course and stresses the number of games for 18 to 21-year-olds needs to be reduced.
Brennan, who has been overseeing the Cats in Brian Cody’s stead in the Walsh Cup, yesterday saw his experimental side made up of U21s and a handful of senior panel members lose in what was Offaly’s first competitive game in Birr in nine years.
A brace of goals from James Gorman in the final five minutes of action saw Eamonn Kelly’s side qualify for a Walsh Cup semi-final against Wexford next weekend.
Brennan admitted the game, along with the midweek outing against DIT, was useful for his young players but wonders what usefulness January competitions have for leading counties considering Tipperary and most of Kilkenny’s best players didn’t compete this month.
“I’ve won a few Walsh Cups but I would question whether its run its course. There is a lot going on in the season and maybe leave this time of year free for the third level colleges and then get into the league.
"I think we’re seeing a lot more county teams getting more benefit from gym work and running.”
With moves being made to change the U21 All-Ireland football championship into a U20 development competition involving players who haven’t played senior, Brennan suggested a similar move might be worth trying in hurling if it would help relieve the burden on young players.
“I was aware of the demands put on guys who are 19 to 21 and this year has definitely opened up my eyes even further between colleges and freshers.
"You’re getting a feel for what fellas are doing regards freshers programmes and some of it is just off-the-wall. There is far too much hurling.
“As regards the U21s (changing to U20s), yeah I think it might take some of the pressure off because I know 19-year-old lads we’re looking at and there is a lot of demands on them.
"If it is something that’s debated and in the best interests of the players, there is merit in reducing the number of games for players between the ages of 18 and 21.”
Even if it was a Kilkenny team only in name, Offaly boss Eamonn Kelly took satisfaction from this six-point win on an incredibly heavy St Brendan’s Park on which the first point from play wasn’t registered until the 32nd minute. Indeed, just six points were scored from play.
“Anytime you beat Kilkenny is a good day,” said the former Kerry manager.
“No matter what 15 guys have Kilkenny jerseys, they give everything. But I thought we matched them for intensity and we showed great character and we pushed on near the end when it was tight.
Backed by a wind, Offaly led 1-5 to 1-2 at half-time and never went behind as Shane Dooley kept Kilkenny pinned back for large swathes with some fine free-taking.
However, Kilkenny, with three unanswered points in quick succession, levelled matters in the 63rd minute only for Gannon to poach for his first goal three minutes later.
Set up by Dooley, he finished to the net once more in injury-time to crown Offaly’s return to Birr in style.
Kelly afterwards was happy to wade into the venue debate for Offaly’s hurlers even if he was decidedly diplomatic.
“The lads got a huge lift from the crowd. Every time there was a tackle or a score there was a great cheer and lads feed off that and it was great to see it. We’ve two fantastic facilities in Offaly and it would be great if games were divided out between them.”
Brennan wasn’t too worried about the result although he acknowledged it had been “a reality check”: “The pitch was soft, it’s not exactly the time of year for fancy hurling but I have to say I was thrilled with the graft and the enthusiasm of the boys today.
"We got a couple of the senior squad back, they gave us a good impetus but the few lads I’ve been looking at for our crew were excellent in fairness to them. You couldn’t ask for more from them.
“The ultimate difference was probably Offaly’s two months of fitness work more than us.
"They kept probing and running and they got the breaks at the end when our lads got tired. Look, it’s a useful work-out this time of the year. It’s not about the skills or fancy hurling but the general attitude.”
J Gorman (2-0); J Mulrooney (1-0); S Dooley (0-7, 6 frees, 1 65); J O’Connor, C Doughan (0-1 each).
B Ryan (1-0); M Kenny, B Kennedy (both 0-2, frees); C Ryan, M Kelly, JJ Farrell (free), N Mullins, M Malone (0-1 each).
J Dempsey; N Wynne, B Leonard, P Rigney; D Mooney, C Doughan, P Camon; S Kinsella, J O’Connor; P Murphy, C Egan, J Sampson; S Cleary, S Dooley, J Mulrooney.
B Murphy for S Cleary, J Gorman for J Sampson (both 35+1); S Quirke for P Murphy (58); G Connelly for J O’Connor (66); J Bergin for J Mulrooney (69).
A Duggan; C Delaney, S Prendergast, C Wallace; B Kennedy, L Ryan, O Walsh; J Hayes, M Kenny; L Scanlon, M Malone, M Kelly; JJ Farrell, M Kenny, B Ryan.
C Ryan for M Kenny (h-t); C Browne for L Scanlon (44); N Mullins for J Hayes (57); JP Treacy for O Walsh (66).
A Devine (Westmeath)