HOW’S this for a list of injuries: Henry Shefflin (cruciate), John Tennyson (cruciate), James Ryall (hamstring), Noel Hickey (groin), Richie Power (hamstring), Aidan Fogarty (shoulder), Derek Lyng (ankle).
Seven instantly recognisable stars who are doubtful starters for Kilkenny’s Leinster SHC semi-final against Offaly tomorrow. Some will play, some won’t, but even those who do manage to make it won’t have all the solid weeks of training you like to see before big championship games.
In normal circumstances then, if you were talking about a normal championship match-up of relative equals, you’d be swayed in your choice of likely winner. But this is not normal; this is Kilkenny, All-Ireland champions in four of the last six seasons, Leinster champions in nine of the last ten. More tellingly, it’s 15 years since Offaly beat Kilkenny in Leinster, ten years since they beat the Cats in championship hurling when catching them on the hop in the All-Ireland final of 1998. As revenge for that loss, Kilkenny have since met and walloped Offaly seven times in championship, the average winning margin a massive 12 points. So, what hope then, Offaly? What hope, given that Joe Dooley, in his first year as Offaly manager is minus talented full-forward Joe Bergin and captain Kevin Brady. Note, no question mark to end that last sentence; it was a purely rhetorical statement because in truth, Offaly have little or no hope. We include the ‘little’ because, well, you know, where there’s life…
You look through the Offaly line-up and you see a lot of very familiar names, the likes of goalkeeper Brian Mullins, David Franks, Michael Verney, Ger Oakley and Rory Hanniffy in defence, Brendan Murphy, Dylan Hayden, Brian Carroll in attack, talented players all. Yet, when they see that black-and-amber jersey, they seem to freeze. They will put it up to Kilkenny for a while, as they did last year, maybe for over 40 minutes and then succumb late on as they did last year, 1-27 to 1-13 eventually.
Pray and hope, hope and pray.
Looking through the list of walking wounded, there is no doubt Kilkenny should be vulnerable this weekend. Looking back at their league campaign, they were invincible in the regular phase, finished up five for five (including a walkover granted against Cork) with a whopping +54 points scoring difference – that’s an average of nearly 16 points a game for the four they played.
Then came Tipp in the league semi-final, and for all those looking for a chink in the Kilkenny armour, a little hope. But that was Tipp, that was league – this is championship, this is Offaly. With the best will in the world, I can see only one possible result here.
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