Kilkenny in search of some September cheer

The latter stages of the senior hurling All-Ireland is motoring along quite nicely without them, thank you very much, and it’s nine years since a side featuring TJ Reid and Richie Hogan claimed the last of their 11 national U21 titles with a defeat of Tipperary.

What a year that was. The Marble City played host to the Liam MacCarthy, James Nowlan and Irish Press trophies, but that tidal wave has slowed to, if not a trickle, then a far more inconsistent stream of silverware.

This year’s minors, like Brian Cody’s side, won’t be troubling September which leaves Eddie Brennan’s charges shouldering the full weight of expectation as they approach today’s U21 semi-finals in Thurles.

Success would be welcome, of course, but the extent of the rebuilding work required by Cody was laid all too bare this season. New blood is needed and Conor Delaney, who has already dipped a toe in that bigger pool, certainly feels that the candidates are there.

“This year and last year Liam Blanchfield, and Richie Leahy made a good enough impression when they came along.

“It’s a bit down the line, you’d think, but the way it’s gone a lot of younger lads are playing in (other) different counties.

“It’s just really up to us to stake a claim. If you want to get in there (at senior level) you’re not just going to fall in just because you played one or two good matches at U21 level. You have to show up in training and do what you can.”

Delaney made the extended senior panel this year. He doesn’t disagree with the idea that auditioning for Cody is a daunting experience but he learned to settle into the rarified surrounds and fight his own corner, too.

He isn’t the only one of the U21 side with something to prove this year.

Eddie Brennan took over the grade last year and found his first term in charge to be a short one after Kilkenny were shocked by Westmeath in the first round of Leinster.

Delaney and eight others from that squad are back on duty in 2017.

“I suppose we had a point to prove to ourselves more than anyone really. Lads probably thought a bit negatively about themselves after losing a first round game, regardless of who we lost it to. We were well beaten on the day, we were beaten convincingly on the field of play.”

Brennan has admitted there was a point during the provincial semi-final against the same opposition earlier this summer when, with Westmeath leading and the second-half already underway, he felt a sense of dread that history was about to repeat itself.

Delaney got a chuckle out of that when told the story but it would have been hard to see the eight-time senior All-Ireland winner continuing in the role much longer had they been subjected to a double dose of that same medicine.

“Eddie is very hands on, a very approachable kind of guy,” said Delaney. “You’re going to listen to him because of how successful a career he’s had. He’s a legend in Kilkenny. His approach is very hands on in that he’d always be there or thereabouts and if you had anything (to talk about) you could also go to him with it.”

Kilkenny face Derry today, shielded from the contamination of complacency by that Westmeath loss and the memory of a highly-rated Wexford team’s defeat to Antrim at this very stage of the U21 campaign in the same venue four years ago.

“We’ve done a small bit of analysis on them. They actually came through Ulster comfortably enough, had two very good wins over Antrim and Down.

“Their seniors went pretty well during the year as well. They won the Nicky Rackard so I don’t think it was much of a surprise coming from their direction anyway. It’s something we won’t be taking lightly anyway.”


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