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Tuesday 14 August 2018

Hogan takes first tiny training steps on road to a Cats return

Front-runners: Kilkenny manager Brian Cody
Front-runners: Kilkenny manager Brian Cody

The good news for all Black-and-Amber fans? Richie Hogan has finally got back on the pitch and participated in a Kilkenny training session.

The good news for Dublin diehards of a selfish disposition? It's still a long shot whether the 2014 Hurler of the Year will be even close to match-fit for their Leinster SHC round-robin opener in Parnell Park on Sunday, May 13.

Hogan's chronic lower back injury - three bulging discs the cause of his discomfort - has been a painfully long-running saga. The Danesfort magician didn't feature for a minute of Kilkenny's latest, unexpected, Allianz League triumph.

"Richie has had a tough time," Brian Cody conceded. "He's had this for a couple of years really and played through it, and he is that kind of player who doesn't give in to injuries. He's a really, really determined fella who's prepared to put up with a bit of pain. He probably went too far doing that.

"He's had a tough time now since last year. But he's been working away, as much as he's been able to do. Physically, he's in good shape from a fitness point of view but he still hadn't shaken off the injury.

"But there's signs now that he's hopefully, maybe, at a stage where he can get back maybe to playing. It's early stages and there's no guarantees but we're hopeful. He was able to get involved in a bit of training just the other night for the first time, really. Genuinely for the first time.

"Obviously, we'll wait to see a reaction to that and how he'll be after it."

Asked if the Leinster round-robin series is within reach, Cody replied: "That's what he's targeting, I'm sure. How it'll pan out is very, very difficult to say but, as regards a fella doing everything possible to get back, you won't find anyone better."

The question of enforced retirement has never come up. "It was something we didn't talk about. He certainly didn't countenance that, anyway," his manager said. "He's absolutely driven and a totally ambitious guy."

Cody's selection options, for the Dubs and beyond, have been boosted by the return of decorated duo Paul Murphy and Colin Fennelly from overseas army duty.

Equation

"They're back in training with us. We'll see how they go," he reported, adding that Kevin Kelly is the only player definitely out of the Parnell Park equation.

Many commentators have lauded Cody's ninth league title as among his greatest managerial achievements, spring or summer. Yet the rapid progress of his rookie contingent "didn't surprise me because I would have seen them a lot since they were at primary school and they are all good players".

But what of all the talk about Kilkenny's altered style? "It's like as if we weren't able to play hurling before, we were playing a game that was different altogether," Cody retorted. "We've had very, very good players over the years and our players have never been sent out to rigidly stick to a way of playing the game.

Opposition

"You prepare and you talk about it, look at opposition and everything else. Then you send the players out and you trust them to play the game​ that's taking place in front of them.

"Over the years we've always had to adapt certain ways for certain games, and certain tactics for other teams.

"And the game has become more tactical now and there's more teams putting different challenges in front of us compared to what it would have been a few years ago.

"So therefore there has been, I suppose, a more obvious tweaking of things now to deal with the game that's taking place in front of your eyes. Again, there's no master plan coming through from team management or anything like that."

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