DJ Carey believes that the immediate challenge of dethroning Limerick is a daunting one for intercounty sides, but that management teams must find a way to become competitive against John Kiely’s all-conquering outfit.
Kilkenny legend Carey, who is currently the manager of the IT Carlow hurling team, expanded on what can be done to narrow the gap between the All-Ireland champions and the rest when he spoke to the media recently.
“To me, it’s almost always the short-term,” said the Young Irelands clubman when asked about the primary concern for intercounty managers.
“What do you have presently in your panel? Can you add one or two to it in the short-term? Now they might be there for the long-term but this year is the year you’re concentrating on.
“You’re not concentrating, in my opinion, on the next four or five years, you’re concentrating on this one to win it.”
One of the greatest players to wear the black and amber Kilkenny jersey, Carey knows that there is enormous pressure on the current crop of players to end the county’s wait for an All-Ireland victory that dates back to 2015.
Despite having only two All-Ireland final appearances since that victory against Galway six years ago, the Kilkenny legend believes Brian Cody’s side have a legitimate claim to be one of the main contenders to topple Limerick in 2022.
“Kilkenny have two Leinster titles the last couple of years,” he said. “They were in a league final last year (2021) albeit they were in the weaker group of the league.
“We lost in extra-time to a very good Cork team so if you’re to take Limerick out of it you’re going to say Kilkenny are there or thereabouts with any team.
“I’m not saying they’ll beat them but I’m not saying they’ll lose to them either.
“They’re well capable of competing and being as good as any other team. I think Limerick are exceptional and I think the team that’s going to beat Limerick need to get them on a bad day.”
Carey, who was a selector under Kilkenny manager Brian Cody for the entirety of 2020, believes that the 11-time All-Ireland winning manager is still the right man to lead Kilkenny through their current transitional period.
“Brian Cody is, in my opinion, the one man that is capable of managing,” Carey opined. “He would have the respect of the players, he would have the respect of the county.
“Now, I do hear it now and again from outside, maybe it’s time to move on, but who’s looking for the job? It’s a very tough job.
“It’s easier probably to coach and train a Kilkenny team than it is to manage because the expectation is there and if you don’t win, you don’t have anything.
“If you do win it’s down to Brian Cody and what the players are giving.”
A genuine legend of the game and arguably the greatest player of all-time, the IT Carlow manager drew comparisons with Kilkenny’s difficulties during his own playing days and the challenges that they face now.
“When Kilkenny won 11 All-Irelands under Brian Cody, what were other counties saying?
“We’re in an era at the moment where Limerick are very strong. Kilkenny lost out to Limerick in 2018 or 2019, by a point, in extra-time I think, they beat them two years later.
“We were competitive. We’ve been in an All-Ireland final, in 2019. We were in semi-finals. So we’re not a million miles away.
“Now, a drought, which is a drought in Kilkenny, we have to be realistic in so far as saying maybe we don’t have the players…and maybe we do have the players and they’re not far away.
“If Limerick weren’t in the All-Ireland series at present, Kilkenny would be there or thereabouts, it’s as simple as that. Is it good enough in Kilkenny that we’re not winning All-Irelands? Well, what gives Kilkenny the divine right to win?
“I played a lot of years with Kilkenny when we didn’t win,” he points out. “We played in an All-Ireland in ’91, 92 and ’93. And then we were gone for seven or eight years. And we came back and won in 2000.
“It didn’t mean we were a terrible team in ’94, ’95, ’96, ’97, ’98 and ’99. We were within a puck of a ball in last year’s All-Ireland semi-final. So how far are Kilkenny away from any other team outside of Limerick? We’re not too far in my opinion.”
The former Kilkenny U21 manager is with the majority of hurling fans when he insists that Limerick are the team to beat next year.
Despite that, Carey insists that there are certain traits that can help their rivals catch up with the two-in-a-row All-Ireland winners.
“The best teams are always the toughest and the hardest and the fittest and strongest and most skilful,” he explained.
“So unless you’re going to be able to combine all of those and have that little bit of an edge, you do really need to concentrate on your own game.
“But I would have to say,” he adds, “if I was over a team that’s contending, Limerick are the model, And Limerick are the team because if every other team are not looking at that model, unless we’re able to match and beat them in all those categories we’re not going to win on a regular basis.”