By Kevin Regan
There comes a time with every great sporting stronghold when saturation point occurs.
For the first time in a long number of years both Kilkenny Minor and Under 21 Hurling teams are out of the Championship and it’s not even June.
This is virtually unheard of in Kilkenny, with teams expected to challenge for top honours at every level year in and year out.
On Wednesday night Kilkenny crashed out of the Leinster Under 21 Hurling Championship at the hands of Westmeath in what many Kilkenny followers regard as a real disaster, which manager Eddie Brennan didn’t deny.
Now everybody knows and appreciates the strides which Westmeath have made, none more so than former Kilkenny goalie and current KCLR analyst Michael Walsh, who is involved with the Westmeath seniors, but on any given day Westmeath should not be beating Kilkenny regardless of the level they are at.
However, the warning signs have been there for Kilkenny as they were on the brink of losing out to Carlow in last years semi final, before being beaten comfortably by Wexford in the Leinster decider.
What’s more concerning is that Kilkenny have not won a Leinster Under 21 Hurling Title since 2012 when they last contested an All Ireland Final, and you have to go all the way back to 2008 for their last All Ireland success at that level.
Many of Wednesday nights panel won an All Ireland Minor title in 2014, so makes last nights result even more disappointing.
In fairness at Minor level Kilkenny have won the last three Leinster titles and this years semi final defeat to Dublin was unfortunate more so than anything, given that Kilkenny led for most of the tie in normal time.
What you would wonder though is why can’t the transition from Minor to under 21 be a successful one for Kilkenny having done so well at Minor level in recent years.
The one big worry going forward for this season and in particular in a couple of weeks time is how will Kilkenny Senior’s cope in their Leinster Semi Final against Dublin with lots of key players absent.
People have spoke about the conveyor belt of talent which Kilkenny have, but you simply can’t replace the likes of Richie Power who was forced to retire and Richie Hogan who has recently been ruled out for two months with a hand injury.
In fact, there is no team in the country that can replace that calibre of hurler and with Michael Fennelly also nursing an injury it could be a very difficult day for Kilkenny when they meet the Dubs.
The one thing that the public and in particular Kilkenny supporters are expecting more than anything is a backlash from that heavy defeat to Clare in the League Semi Final.
Everyone involved with Kilkenny Hurling was hurting badly after that defeat, and it would be foolish to write them off based on that one performance alone as Brian Cody’s men have proven on many occasions down through the years.
Ironically on Thursday a Kilkenny Hurling statue was unveiled in the city on a day where the county is trying to figure out just how a Kilkenny team could possibly lose to Westmeath.
It’s actually quite scary to think what might happen if Dublin do defeat Kilkenny in a couple of weeks, and should that happen then people will really start to wonder if this might be the end of an era.
But don’t be surprised to see a herd of highly dangerous animals appear on the 11th of June in the shape of 15 wounded Cats, who will be hell bent on reassuring everyone that the All Ireland Champions and indeed Kilkenny Hurling will not be knocked off its perch anytime in the near future.