As mentioned in the preview piece on Friday ahead of Saturday’s clash between Wexford and Kilkenny, I said that Wexford can upset the odds against a Kilkenny outfit that had plenty of questions marks surrounding them, and after Saturday’s result, Kilkenny have bigger questions to answer now.
We will deal with that in due course, but first of all, it was a thoroughly deserved victory for the Slaneysiders who displayed a far greater fight for battle than their opponents and were at least 10 points a better team over the 70 minutes plus.
In reality, the three point margin that separated the teams at full-time truly flattered Kilkenny and two goals in quick succession around the three quarter mark suddenly brought Kilkenny back to a solitary point, but surprisingly Kilkenny only scored two points over the closing 20 minutes as Wexford were played with ferocious determination and put everything on the line to gain a memorable and deserved victory.
So what about Kilkenny then?
As mentioned in the beginning, there are bigger questions to answer now.
Firstly, and no one will deny that Kilkenny have nowhere near the strength in depth that have brought so much success in recent years, and it was always going to be a near impossible task replacing some of the greatest players to have played the game.
However, what’s worrying is since Walter Walsh’s breakthrough in the 2012 All-Ireland Final replay, with the exception of Padraig Walsh and Cillian Buckley who played in the 2012 final replay, no one has come through from the Minor and Under-21 ranks to make the desired impact and it’s starting to catch up with Kilkenny now.
Whatever people think about what Ger Loughnane has to say, there is certainly a lot of merit in what had he has said over the past two years about the lack of depth to the Kilkenny squad, and the reality is a number of the squad have been used just to fill up numbers, and that explains the lack of talent that has been coming through over the past 5 years.
Saturday night’s result was certainly coming for a while, and the Wexford victory was no fluke and thoroughly merited.
The biggest problem with Kilkenny that was clearly evident from Saturday night’s game was the positioning of players within the team.
After Tipperary ran riot in last years All-Ireland Final, Brian and the backroom team primarily focused on the defensive frailties that were badly exposed, and in the intervening 9 months, it’s clear that they dont know who the first choice is in each of the defensive positions.
Problems exist further afield also, and there are too many stop gap positions within the team which leaves them very unsettled and Saturday night saw the team very disorganized, disorientated and like a team who was only thrown together for the very first time.
Obviously the National League hasn’t found those answers as to who are the best players for particular positions, and having to go through a potentially gruelling back door process, time is running out now.
The best strategy for Kilkenny is to settle players in positions and have the best players playing there.
What’s served Kilkenny so well over the years was having players assigned to positions, and that is the biggest conondrum.
Then again, they are lacking options to fill those gaps.
Former Clare Jamesie O’Connor said afterwards on Sky TV on Saturday night that Kilkenny were leg weary especially during the second-half.
Worryingly, a number of players appear jaded, and there is quite a considerable amount of mileage from players performing non-stop in recent years and it’s starting to take it’s toll.
Key players like Richie Hogan, TJ Reid and Paul Murphy haven’t been performing with the same fluency over the past while, and perhaps the wear and tear has taken it’s toll on all the hurling they have done in recent years, while also showing the effect from been constantly moved around positions.
Eoin Larkin pointed out after Kilkenny’s heavy defeat against Clare earlier in the year, that there was a lack of aggression and work rate amongst the younger players, and Paddy Deegan aside, it’s hard to dispute that notion.
The level of intensity that has been a major contributing factor to Kilkenny’s success under Cody has been clearly lacking collectively in recent times, and it’s no surprise that a number of the young players that have been called up to the squad have been let go because they haven’t cut the standard and not produced the goods.
So plenty of questions to answer, and while you can never write off Kilkenny, winning 5 games in 9 weeks appears a tall order for a Team with too many obstacles to overcome.