Sunday 17 December 2017

How have Cats and Clare ended in this pickle?

KILKENNY have won the last three league titles, and three of the last four senior All-Irelands. The one they failed to land went west - to Clare - whose annexation of the last three All-Ireland U21 crowns would suggest they are best placed to challenge our Black-and-Amber behemoth.

Then why, oh why, do both counties find themselves in their current predicament?

Good question - with a few easy answers, and several more a lot harder to fathom.

Kilkenny's mutiple winter retirements robbed them of just one guaranteed starter (JJ Delaney) but left the bench looking unusually threadbare. Ballyhale's All-Ireland club exploits were far more damaging to their Division One prospects - a selection headache compounded by injuries to the likes of Richie Power and Eoin Larkin. Still, losing to Tipperary by 12 points will have agitated Brian Cody, even if he knows that Kilkenny will be a far more fearsome prospect once the Fennellys, TJ Reid (inset) and Joey Holden (maybe even a certain King Henry) return to Nowlan Park. Clare don't have the same selection excuses.

Moreover, the latest furore over the disciplining - and subsequent defection - of Davy O'Halloran and Nicky O'Connell scarcely paints a picture of all-sweetness-and-light in Bannerland.

The statement from management and players insists they are united. Their comeback with 14 men against Dublin hinted at a potential watershed - and they could contrive an unlikely escape from a relegation play-off if they beat Kilkenny and Galway do likewise to Dublin.

Chances are, though, it'll be Cody v Davy Fitz - Part 2 - a week from now. And then sparks might fly.


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