Eddie Brennan says Kilkenny cannot afford to depend on Richie Hogan and TJ Reid to help them overcomes challenges like the ones presented by Wexford this evening.
Hogan and Reid have been consistently excellent these past three seasons for the Cats but Brennan knows that burden of responsibility will have to be shared if Brian Cody’s side are to get back to winning All-Ireland titles.
What disappointed Brennan in last year’s All-Ireland final was the lack of forwards outside of the pair capable of winning their own ball.
“The worry for Kilkenny was our ball winners in the forward division weren’t there. We had nobody that we could say, ‘Put the ball down on top of me and I’ll catch it and win a free’.”
But Brennan underlines how much they must work when they have not gained possession.
“I know if I was playing like Seamus Callanan was last year and I can point where I want the ball, and the backs have the luxury of giving you that, it’s very difficult for defenders. A cornerstone of our ethos when we were hurling in ’06 and ’07 and all through them times, was that the forwards had to defend and put pressure on backs. Last year that was the difference. It’s going to be a difficult challenge for them.”
He is looking to players in their mid to late 20s like Colin Fennelly to show their worth.
“They need a couple of guys outside of TJ Reid and Richie Hogan up front to really step up. They need someone like Kevin Kelly or Ger Aylward to have one of those seasons. Colin Fennelly really has to take on a leadership role this year. He has to be demanding the ball and do the grunt work for some of the other players.
“They’re marking some good corner-backs at the moment, but Kilkenny do need one of these younger guys to have a year of years to take the pressure off TJ and Richie Hogan, because both of those guys have been a model of consistency in recent years. If one of them is to dip this year, it means Kilkenny need someone else to take up the slack.”
The eight-time All-Ireland winner also admits it’s a concern that Brian Cody hasn’t been able to try out younger players due to injuries and the cut-throat nature of the league. At the same time, Cody has continued his recent habit of not utilising much of his bench. Brennan remarked: “Usually Brian had a policy of bleeding lads into the team and give them a couple of league games, 10 minutes of a championship match and get them familiar with it.
“It worked well historically but he hasn’t got that luxury now so you have to throw in these guys and give them a chance. How quickly they can learn is the big key.
“Richie Leahy is still very, very young. Liam Blanchfield, we probably measured him with a big stick when we looked at him.”
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