Eddie Keher knows there are better teams than Kilkenny at the moment and he doesn’t expect them to win the All-Ireland title this year, but he is convinced they are developing quicker than anticipated.
The recent wins for Brian Cody’s youthful side has led to an air of excitement around the county, according to the six-time All-Ireland winner.
“Well, we weren’t expecting anything this year, but they seem to be making strides. He’s been blooding in some younger players and they are beginning to settle in.
“There was sort of a lull last year. They said there was criticism of Brian Cody, but I never saw that. I think people were very patient and realising that we had a great time over the last 15 or 20 years, but we are going to have to go back and rebuild.
"I don’t think anyone expected the rebuilding process to get to this stage so quickly,” said Keher, who is proud that his own Rower-Inistioge men Richie Leahy and Pat Lyng are showing well. He’s also pleased with the progress of others.
“That young Martin Keoghan chap looks good. He’s Liam Keoghan’s son. He played the last day and looked very confident.
“Then [there’s] James Maher, who is Pa Dillon’s grandson, and his mother Jillian played camogie, so there’s a bit of breeding there and that’s very important.
“I was very impressed with Conor Browne (son of 12-time All-Ireland winner Angela Downey) the last day. He played with great confidence for a young fella just coming in and went up and scored his point from left-half back.
Getting the full-back line right still presents “the biggest problem”, Keher feels.
“Conor Delaney played wing-back and I think he has potential, too. We thought he might get a run at full-back, because he plays for his club, but neither him or Pádraig Walsh were playing against Tipp, because of the colleges, but there’s certainly an option there,” said Keher, who feels only Cody can steer Kilkenny, even if some, such as Eddie O’Connor, have questioned him remaining in the role.
I heard no talk in Kilkenny. Everyone was sort of saying, ‘we’ve had a fabulous time, we are going to have to stand back and rebuild’, and Brian Cody is the man to do it.”
Keher isn’t so worried that Kilkenny haven’t won an All-Ireland U21 since 2008 or a minor in four years.
“I was listening to Michael Fennelly there in an interview not too long ago and he said he found the step from U21 to senior phenomenal. He couldn’t cope with it for a couple of years.
"Look at him, Richie Hogan, TJ Reid, they took a few years to establish themselves on the senior team, so it’s a big step. If you get one or two from a minor or U21 team, it’s a good thing. You don’t have to be All-Ireland champions to get a good fella.”
He expects Kilkenny in Nowlan Park on Sunday will be eager to end Wexford’s recent dominance over them.
Wexford are going for four in a row of beating Kilkenny which is unique. I’d say Kilkenny are mad to stop that. It will be a great game. There’s great rivalry between Kilkenny and Wexford and Wexford have had the upper hand.
There’s going to be a fair battle from Kilkenny to stop them. Whether they do or not — Wexford are playing extremely well — I’ve great admiration for them, but they are there to be beaten.”
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