Contrary to general opinion, kilkenny always try to win the league, according to selector, Martin Fogarty.
“We set out to get to the closing stages and progress in the competition each year. The nearer you get to the final, the more competitive it gets. Being involved in the knockout stage provides serious games leading up to the championship and there are benefits with that,” he said, adding that the competition has a lot of positives.
“Counties won’t have as many recognised players available as they might like to and their hand will be forced by injuries, club and college commitments. In that situation, it will give an opportunity to blood a few new players so, in the early games, there will be a mixture of experienced and non-regulars. Some players not been available is a good thing as it forces your hand to give games to others.”
Kilkenny will head to Galway for a mouth-watering first round clash against Galway in what will be a repeat of the All-Ireland final which required a replay before the Noresiders captured the title.
“We are down a handful of players for that game. Three of our main players, Henry Shefflin, TJ Reid and Michael Rice are out while Noel Hickey has retired and they will be a major loss. In other years, we would have a club team still involved in the All-Ireland series, which is at the concluding stage but that’s not the case this year,” explained Fogarty.
Asked if he had any strong views on the timing of the year he said, “we go with what’s there. We don’t discuss it. We could lose focus by getting distracted. When players finish with us at championship time, they are straight back to their clubs.”
Personally he would not be in favour of a return to the system where some games would be played before Christmas.
“Everyone needs a bit of a break and, for the players, a break is hugely important, they haven’t much scope. At the end of the day, if there is pressure on a player he is not going to perform.”
He acknowledged that there are a lot of calls on young players who are being pulled left, right and centre.
“We rarely call on them until their involvement in the Fitzgibbon Cup is over. On top of all that, they have to study and face up to exams.”
Commenting on the extra pressure the favourites’ tag puts on Kilkenny he said that if the team has a full squad he knows they’ll be competitive.
“There really are only five or six teams that can win in any given year. We are lucky enough to have won more than most. All players are well aware of the quality that is there and if you drop your guard you are running the risk of losing out. People know themselves what teams are strong. We get on with our own business,” said Fogarty.
“Clare have a serious panel on the build now and we will be watching them with the two eyes. They have a beautiful bunch of players and there is huge talent in Clare. They have a great approach to the game where they throw off the shackles. We would be seeing them as being dangerous opposition this year. When a team is coming, they can arrive very quickly,” he said, adding “the performance of their minors two or three years ago was the most complete I have seen.”
Kilkenny’s league schedule
Sunday February 24, away to Galway
Saturday March 9, away to Tipperary
Monday March 18 at home to Waterford
Sunday March 24, away to Clare
Sunday March 31, at home to Cork