CHRISTY RING SEMI-FINAL:
Kerry v Kildare
Effectively it’s an All-Ireland B hurling semi-final in Austin Stack Park.
Lose and it’s season over, win and they qualify to meet either Meath or Down in the final on June 9.
What kind of planning is that, says Kerry captain Aidan Boyle? What chance does that give to the counties in the second tier to grow the game?
“It’s nonsense really. Regardless of whether you win it or not, every team in the Christy Ring is finished inter-county hurling by early June, not a single game across the summer,” he said.
“For all intents and purposes you’re playing winter hurling right through your season. Look at the weather for the last few months. How are you supposed to make progress like that? It’s daft!
“You’d love to see them space it out better. You’re playing nearly every weekend for five weeks then it’s all over by early June. It’s the wrong five weeks and should be played later.
“I suppose they’re worried about clashes with the football or with hurling on the bigger stage.”
Moving back into the Munster championship, that’s where Kerry would like to be but there’s a problem.
“It’s easier for a Christy Ring winner if they’re in Leinster. They’ll be up against someone like Carlow or Antrim or Westmeath in the first round. The problem for us is that we could be drawn against Tipperary, for example – a very different challenge!
“In one way that could be seen as a great incentive, to play one of the big teams, but it’s better if you start off against a team you know you can put it up against.
“We spoke about this among ourselves after winning the Christy Ring two years ago and there was a mixed reaction. Some were afraid of getting a hammering, some reckoned we should try to win the Christy Ring again and maybe then we’d be ready.”
Aidan himself has another barometer.
“We won four of five games in the league this year, topped the group with the same points as Laois and Westmeath but missed out on the playoff. If we’d made that then it’s a one-off game, anything can happen, and we could have ended up in Division 1B.
“Looking at it that way, maybe that’s what we need to do before we consider taking part in the Munster championship again. Move up another step in the league and take on those who are near the top. We need to be playing the likes of Limerick and Cork in the league, even Antrim are a step up, but we were never far off Carlow or Westmeath and have beaten both several times recently.
“A few years ago we had Clare and Limerick in our league and we put it up well to them, put it up to Laois this year and beat Westmeath so we’re not too far off that next level, if we stay at it.”
At the moment Kerry are at a crossroads with new management, new players and a new attitude.
“Of the team that won the Christy Ring, only seven will start against Kildare. That’s over half the team gone in only two years.
“It’s getting worrying for me, I’m one of the oldest on the team, at 30! But fresh blood brings new drive, they’re very eager, driving on the older lads.”
Driving them where though? The problem for Kerry is that there are several teams now all around their own go and while there’s satisfaction in beating them, proving yourself the best of the rest, to progress you really do need to be meeting better opposition.
Kildare are one of those who are in the same bracket as themselves and one thing is certain today, reckons Aidan – this one will go to the wire.
“Every game in this competition you’re talking only a point or two in it at the end. When we beat Kildare two years ago they thought they should have won.
“Last year we felt we should have won, but they beat us. Again this year, we played them up in Newbridge, but we came out of it with the win, just about. Having them at home is a big advantage. They’ll probably have to get up early on Saturday morning, long journey down. However it goes though, there’s only a puck of a ball between us.”
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