Kilkenny hurler Michael Kavanagh has been following the progress of Dublin over the last couple of seasons, and is expecting a tough encounter when the two sides meet in this weekend’s Allianz National Hurling League Final.
Although the cats are red hot favourites to claim yet another national title, Kavanagh believes that there will be little between the teams on Sunday:
“I am expecting a similar game to our recent meetings with Dublin. There has only been the puck of a ball between the teams in the last couple of years and they beat us in the Walsh Cup Final, before we drew in the league. Their progress would be no surprise to anyone involved in hurling. There is great work being done at underage and college’s level in Dublin and that is now being rewarded. They have a huge pool of talent in their ranks”
Having said that, Kilkenny have not yet shown their true form in this league campaign and have been patchy at times. There is definitely improvement to come from us and hopefully we can show that on Sunday. We will need to be at our best to win the match but if we bring our A game to the table then we should be difficult to beat”.
Despite their indifferent form to date, Kavanagh is adamant that winning the league is important to Kilkenny and is not viewed as merely a stepping stone to the championship. The county have done well in the competition in recent seasons and while it gives management an opportunity to blood new players, it is also a title worth winning:
“The League is a national title and we take it very seriously. We want to win every competition that is there to be won. This year, Brian Cody had the chance to experiment and try out new players but alot of that was forced upon him due to injuries to some of the more established players. Obviously we are delighted to have reached the final having been short a number of key men during the campaign”.
Kavanagh also has little doubt that the present Kilkenny side are good enough to reclaim their All-Ireland title, despite the fact that many pundits have questioned their hunger after such a long innings:
“Yeah, I believe this team are definitely good enough to win the championship. Last year was very disappointing for us, so it is important that we bounce back straight away, and winning the league this weekend would be a good starting point. We have a nice mix on the current panel between the older experienced lads and the young fella’s coming in. There is certainly the making of an All-Ireland in this bunch”.
“There is huge competition in training and Brian Cody has little difficulty in motivating the lads. Kilkenny hurlers love the game. Love playing. Everyone wants to be on the starting fifteen and there is never a question of lads needing to be encouraged to give their all”.
In a sense, Michael Kavanagh believes that while losing the All-Ireland last year was a huge disappointment to the side, it has taken some of the spotlight off them in 2011 and allows them to express themselves more and play their natural game:
“There was huge pressure on the side last year, going for the five in a row. Deep down we could feel that. Our great run had to come to an end sometime and that fact was weighing on us. We were very disappointed with our performance in the final and will need little motivation this year. Not starting the campaign as defending champions is motivation enough for Kilkenny”.
Kavanagh is pleased with his own preparations to date and everything is going well. He returned to training early and has been working hard. It’s now all systems go and he is looking forward to the year ahead. He has no intention of retiring just yet, and while he is enjoying his hurling and training, he plans to take it one year at a time.