Joyce unveils secret to ongoing Cody success: 'Lads are killing for a place'
Six words from Kieran Joyce that should send a tremor through every dressing-room hoping to steal Kilkenny's thunder over the next six months: "Lads are killing for a place."
The Kilkenny centre-back may have been relying on metaphor to convey his message (we presume!) but it's still an ominous statement on behalf of a group clearly not sated by multiple All-Ireland titles.
Brian Cody's crew lost their opening salvo in this year's Allianz Hurling League - in Waterford last month - but they've bounced back with four wins on the spin to seal top spot in Division 1A and a quarter-final home date with Offaly.
All this, including last Sunday's comfortable six-point victory over Dublin, has been achieved while Cody assimilated several new faces into his first 15.
"A few lads have put their hands up," Joyce reflected. "Diarmuid (Cody, the manager's son) in midfield has been great; James Maher has come in too; and there are a few new chaps onto the panel.
"And there are plenty more to come in as well. Competition is great. And that is what you want in the team. Lads are killing for a place and everybody knows that there are no shoo-ins now."
Kilkenny's ultimate goal may be another All-Ireland three-in-a-row, but their thirst for spring silver has been restored following last year's rare foray into relegation play-off terrain.
"This time last year we were playing a relegation play-off with Clare and it is a big improvement from where we were. Ultimately, we want to win the league," Joyce proclaimed.
As for the notion that Kilkenny's panel, circa 2016, no longer boasts the same strength in depth of yesteryear, the Rower-Inistioge clubman clearly begs to differ.
"We lost another couple of players this year, through injury - the likes of Richie (Power) had to go and we lost Matthew Ruth, who had problems with his hip," he pointed out.
"But you've the likes of James Maher and plenty of under-21s there as well, beating down the door to come in.
"And they will all be gradually funnelled in, as we all did. You all have to do your internship. But look, it is great where we are at the moment. My sole aim is to hold onto my jersey, as it is for all the lads.
"But we are taking nothing for granted ... Leinster is going to be tough again, Dublin are flying it and Galway coming back again."