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Thursday 14 November 2019

Cats with the right attitude 'can be a match for anyone' - Holden

Ballyhale Shamrock’s Joey Holden and St Thomas’ Conor Cooney
Ballyhale Shamrock’s Joey Holden and St Thomas’ Conor Cooney

Joey Holden hasn't been part of the Kilkenny set-up so far this season, but he's adamant that they will be live contenders when it really matters this summer.

Can they be a match for any team in 2019? "No doubt" is Holden's firm belief.

The 28-year-old defender has the perfect alibi for his non-involvement so far this year: he was TG4's Man of the Match as Ballyhale Shamrocks overcame Ballygunner (Waterford) last month to reach another AIB All-Ireland club SHC final, against St Thomas' on Sunday week.

The last time Ballyhale were crowned All-Ireland champions - in 2015 - Holden was also Man of the Match in the final, against Kilmallock.

He duly transferred his club form into the county arena, filling the giant No 3 void left by JJ Delaney's retirement. He won his second All-Ireland SHC medal with Kilkenny against Galway that September, his first as captain, and finished the year as an All Star full-back.

You might argue that his full-back days were numbered ever since Seamus Callanan went score-crazy for Tipperary, 12 months later, and that Holden is now viewed primarily as a wing-back option by Brian Cody.

The player himself is happy enough to leave that decision in management's lap.

Crushing

"Maybe the whole team didn't play as well as we could have that day," he says of that crushing All-Ireland defeat in 2016. "But, listen, I wasn't on my game that day. It didn't go well for me, so fair enough.

"Again, it's not up to me, it's up to the management team on where they see fit for every player to fit on the team. My job is just to go out and hurl as best I can in whatever position I play."

Meanwhile, from a collective perspective, we are entering uncharted waters as Kilkenny's rain-delayed Allianz League campaign chugs along (back to Innovate Wexford Park this Sunday) and as the Leinster SHC round-robin looms into May view.

The last three fallow summers represent their longest All-Ireland 'famine' under Cody, who is now in his 21st season in charge.

"It's not really talked about in amongst us. I didn't know that until you said it," Holden remarks, when the three-year drought is mentioned.

"I suppose it is a long run in Kilkenny given the tradition over the last decade or so. But we just have to believe in what we're doing in training.

Hammer

"If you look at the Kilkenny club championship, how tight the games are; and the attitude from all club players is fantastic and they go hammer and tongs at each other. So, if we can bring that in Kilkenny, I've no doubt that we'll be a match for any team we meet later on in the championship.

"Lads are getting valuable game-time now at the moment, and they're going to use that experience to bring it forward and hopefully we can have a good, strong championship this year with Kilkenny."

But can they bridge the gap to Limerick and Galway, the two most recent Liam MacCarthy benchmarks?

"Absolutely. We lost to Limerick by two or three points last year (0-27 to 1-22) and 'twas helter-skelter … we went ahead with maybe five minutes to go and they got a couple of great scores and won it," he recounts. "But look at the amount of Limerick games that were draws, they were barely getting over the line. I've never probably seen a hurling championship as close and so many teams that could win it, and so many teams that can provide shocks.

Thriving

"If you can get on a roll of confidence and winning games, that's what's key. I think Limerick built that confidence, with young lads starting to drive it on, thriving, and they just kept winning. And winning becomes a habit: if you can get that habit, it's going to be priceless."

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