By Kieran Murphy
MID-morning on Friday in Baldonnel Aerodrome, the Leinster senior hurling and football championships were launched. Most counties were represented by their manager and a player.
It was an opportunity to tease out the mindset of the counties as they prepare for what promises to be an enthralling All-Ireland hurling championship.
Take Brian Coady. He does not believe Carlow will be the whipping boys of the Leinster senior hurling championship.
“We in Kilkenny are very aware of what they can do. We have been watching Carlow for a long time and we see terrific things happening down there,” he says.
“What they have achieved has been outstanding. Last year they did everything they wanted to do. They have got to the stage where they are in the round-robin in Leinster. It is not a question now of what they have done. They are looking to see what they will do now,” added the Kilkenny manager.
Mattie Kenny, the Dublin manager, recalls tough Walsh Cup and league fixtures against Carlow at the start of the 2019 hurling season. Dublin will not take Carlow lightly.
“There is no doubt Carlow are making great strides. We are going down there in a few weeks’ time and we are under no illusion it will be a big challenge to us,” says Kenny.
Yet the Dublin manager doesn’t want to look too far ahead. After all he has to travel to play Kilkenny in their opening game and then Dublin entertain Wexford in Parnell Park. Lose those two games and their nerves could be shot by the time they arrive in Carlow.
“We haven’t thought about Carlow. When we get to the Carlow game we will be giving them the utmost respect,” Kenny assures.
On a broader note the Dublin manager fancies Galway and Limerick for overall success but he says every game will be on a knife-edge.
“Rightly so. Recent All-Ireland winners. They are favourites going into this competition. Nobody could predict the three teams to come out of Munster and the three teams to come out of Leinster. I don’t think we can look beyond each game until the previous one ends,” he says.
Galway manager Micheál O’Donoghue speaks in a similar fashion. Unlike Kenny, he doesn’t single out one county above another.
“It is going to be highly competitive. The gap is closed so we are going to be in for a very competitive championship.
“We know it is going to be very tough and like all teams, we will be just concentrating on our own performances and trying to get wins on the board,” says the 2017 All-Ireland winning manager.
The loss of Joe Canning will hurt. The Galway superstar is not just a fantastic hurler, but a great ambassador for the game. He spent ages signing autographs on the Netwatch Cullen Park pitch when Carlow played the Tribesmen in the league. But a groin injury means he is set to miss the Leinster campaign.
“He is going to be a huge loss for us. He is an unbelievable talent. However, it is a team game. Somebody will step up. I have always preached out the collective rather than the individual,” states O’Donoghue.
Under the management of Kevin Ryan, Carlow beat Wexford in a league game in Carlow some years ago. Wexford manager Davy Fitzgerald wasn’t at Friday’s launch but he was represented by Seoirse Bulfin who worked alongside the Clare man in Limerick IT.
The Wexford rep was cagey. He talked the talk but gave nothing away.
“To be honest I don’t think any team in the group will be taking Carlow for granted. We have had some fierce intense, physical battles with them.
“I saw them last year. They will be an addition to the Leinster championship this year. We play them in our third game in Wexford Park and if things don’t go well for us in our first two games I won’t fancy playing Carlow at that stage.”
Unlike the planes which fly out of the military airbase the managers were grounded. The big question is who will be soaring without wings and looking further afield by the time the result of the Leinster final is known on 30 June. No-one is daring to look that far forward. Just like Coady, O’Donoghue and Kenny, the Wexford selector is making no predictions about the match against Carlow.
“Strictly speaking, we are playing Dublin in our first game in Parnell Park and we are not looking any further than that. We cannot start jumping ahead,” Bulfin warns.