Less than a minute into Kilkenny’s win over Waterford in Walsh Park in the Allianz Hurling League game on Sunday last, Michael Fennelly laid down a marker — a full-blooded frontal hit on Waterford’s powerful centre-back, Kevin Moran.
It earned him a yellow card from referee John Sexton, rightly so, but it also served as an indicator of Kilkenny’s enduring iron will to win. They struggled thereafter in the first half against Waterford, led by only a point at the break and were lucky to be in that position after several wides by the Déise. But come the second half, they turned on the power with Fennelly controlling the middle and pulled away from the home side.
Impressive form this early in the season but, warns Fennelly, there’s even more to come.
“We’re doing alright, coming and going, doing well in patches. We had a good performance against Tipperary [league opener, eight-point win], a good second half against Waterford but that was a hard game overall, it will stand to us going forward.
“Walsh Park is a very tight pitch so it was always going be very physical. We’re happy enough with the performance and good to get the win but it’s only the second game in the league. A lot of progress made but we know there’s a lot more to be done.”
They’ve had an unbeaten start to 2012, Kilkenny. They won the Walsh Cup, giving Galway a bit of a lesson in the final. They’ve played well in their two league wins, are a good step ahead of both Tipperary and Waterford and finally, those who lined out for Leinster in the Martin Donnelly interprovincial win (which was most of the team) showed no sign of having the edge taken off their appetite.
“First of all, the weather is fantastic, almost like summer hurling, really,” Fennelly said.
“Pitches are in good nick where normally at this time of the year you could be ploughing your way through a game. We’re training as hard as ever but lads are enjoying it more. I think too we’re coming back fresher after Christmas and that stands for a lot. No one is coming back anymore in poor condition. Lads are minding themselves now during the break, which wasn’t the case a few years ago.
“Training was always hard, especially at the start of the season, but I’ve even seen it myself since I started with Kilkenny, the standard is going up all the time, and lads are starting off the year fitter and better.”
There’s another reason for Kilkenny’s enduring success and that’s the manner in which Brian Cody manages his resources. New blood is constantly being injected, new faces given their chance in the league and if they’re good enough, then regardless of who they might be replacing, they stay.
Fennelly went through that experience, given a few years to find his feet but eventually taking over from the great Derek Lyng in midfield. And last Sunday in Waterford several new faces again showed well, not least substitute Kieran Joyce.
“Kieran has been in around the panel for the last two or three years so he has served his time — he did well when he came on at centre-back.
“I’m sure he’s delighted to have got his opportunity, and he’ll be hoping for a few more runs to show what he can do. The more games these lads get, the more the confidence will grow — great to see them in there.”
Two others doing very well were last year’s find, Paul Murphy (outstanding at corner-back) and corner-forward Matthew Ruth, who ended as top scorer from play with 2-1, while wing-back Conor Fogarty is also finding his feet. What then, when they all click? What then, when TJ Reid, magnificent in general play, rediscovers his mojo in front of the posts. What then, when Henry returns?
“TJ is playing unbelievable hurling, winning great ball, and when he gets back his confidence in his shooting he’ll be flying it. Henry is back doing a bit of running but it’s a long, slow process; no better man to mind himself and make sure he doesn’t overdo it.”
Can anyone halt Kilkenny’s gallop?
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