WITH the Cork hurlers chasing the treble and their game against Waterford fresh in the mind, supporters in Clare and Kilkenny will have one eye on next Sunday’s Guinness All-Ireland semi-final in Croke Park and the other on the final.
But that’s not the way it is for either team. That’s not the way it could ever be for Brian Cody or Anthony Daly.
It’s certainly not how the astute Cody is approaching the game, especially bearing in mind that — just like the Banner — his team failed to get beyond the semi-final last year. The memories of that defeat by Galway haven’t gone away.
“The prize for Sunday’s winners is to get to the All-Ireland final. Cork are there and everybody knows how good they are. But we’re not even remotely concerned about Cork,” he said. “Ourselves and Clare were in semi-finals last year and lost.
“Both of us remember the pain of those defeats. Clare especially would consider themselves very unlucky last year, more so than we were. We weren’t unlucky in our semi-final — we weren’t good enough. Clare on the day were probably good enough in the way the game went and it was taken from them very late. It was a very raw defeat for Clare. Both of us are trying to rectify that situation. The prize is huge. The prize is to get to the All-Ireland final.”
Barring a draw, not at all beyond the bounds of possibility, one of them will be able to look forward to that on Sunday evening. Only then will their thoughts turn to the final.
“As of now, everything is geared towards Sunday,” adds Cody. “And all our thoughts are geared towards Clare.”
Cody got a bit of a grilling from the media after their quarter-final win over Galway: they went 17 points clear ten minutes into the second half but won by a mere five after going a man down.
Reflecting on that game, he says it was pleasing as he felt in its immediate aftermath: “Galway had been too good for us last year, definitely. There was only a goal in it at the end, but they really outhurled us. It was a huge game for us when we met them in Thurles three weeks ago.
“Obviously, we played very well for 40-45 minutes and then they came into the game strongly.
“I thought it was a decent game, with a lot of good hurling.”
Kilkenny will pick from an injury-free squad this evening. Like in Cork, the Kilkenny Board runs off a certain amount of their club games in tandem with the early rounds of the championship.
Cody has regularly said Kilkenny are “in transition” — but compare the teams which played against Galway last year and this year and there are only three main changes due to the retirement of Peter Barry, DJ Carey and John Hoyne.
Cody points out that these three players, Carey and Barry in particular, represent the loss of a considerable amount of experience and that bedding in players in their places is more difficult than it might appear.
“I’m not trying to pretend that we don’t decent experience in the team, we have. But at the end of the day, everybody speaks about DJ being the top player for God knows how long, a player you mightn’t ever replace.
“Then Peter has been an absolute leader on and off the field, a mainstay of our team for the past six or seven years and playing in a vital position. John Hoyne has been much underrated by many people, but certainly not by the players he has been playing with.
“He has been a major ball-winner for us.
“That’s a big chunk out of the team if you like, a massive part of the experience gone. You don’t replace it overnight. We certainly retain a decent level of experience, but these three main players are gone permanently and at the start of the year, nobody else expected an awful lot from Kilkenny either. I heard a lot of the commentators suggesting that we’d be down for quite a while, and maybe we will be. But I’m not saying anything different to what everybody else was suggesting at the start of the year. We are in transition.”
On the credit side, Noel Hickey has come back into the team, having been ruled out after the Leinster final last year after a health scare. He can draw on a huge amount of experience and it goes without saying that Cody is glad to have him.
In effect, the only new player in defence is John Tennyson, who was given the task of replacing Hickey at full-back last year. Since then he has moved into Peter Barry’s position in the centre.
Cody is pleased with the way he has been settled into the team, but admits that it’s a “big ask” for him to go out and perform all the time.
James ‘Cha’ Fitzpatrick has come on, Aidan Fogarty too and Eoin McCormack, while Eddie Brennan has come back to complement the efforts of Martin Comerford and Henry Shefflin.
“We have introduced different players at different times,” adds Cody.
“They are doing fine. I’d be reasonably happy the way we are going. But, we still have lost a savage amount of experience with the three lads going.”
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