Battle hardened Kilkenny looking to reclaim Liam McCarthy

In the first of a three-part special on the 2023 All Ireland SHC final, Hawkeye Sidekick reflects on the Kilkenny season to date and identifies the key men who may be prove pivotal in the final on Sunday, July 23rd.

The Derek Lyng era has continued where Brian Cody left off

Kilkenny do not do panic. The news that Brian Cody was stepping aside from the Kilkenny senior management job last year was a surprise to anyone outside the country. To those looking in from the outside, it looked like a poison chalice to the incumbent.

Step forward Derek Lyng who has enjoyed success with the U20 team last year. His relationship with the senior team as both player and selector stretches many years. A candidate who understands Kilkenny hurling and the senior team.

Allianz Hurling League Campaign

Lyng has been astute in his use of the Allianz Hurling League. The new manager not afraid to test out standout underage prospects into senior intercounty fare. There may have been blips around the way with the home loss to Tipperary, but Derek Lyng and his side maximised the league with a final appearance.

A convincing victory over Cork in UPMC Nowlan Park setup an Allianz Hurling Division One final with Limerick at Pairc Ui Chaoimh. Kilkenny missing TJ Reid amongst others unable to stretch Limerick who comfortably won the final with plenty to spare. Shadow boxing aplenty from both sides. Kilkenny well positioned to secure a long tenure in the championship.

Leinster SHC

Kilkenny on paper looked a provincial finalist before a ball was thrown into the championship. Derek Lyng integrating the victorious Ballyhale Shamrocks contingent to the fold. TJ Reid getting game minutes and keeping the scoreboard ticking over.

A routine win over Westmeath in the opening fixture setup the eagerly anticipated Galway renewal. A draw between the two form sides of the province. Kilkenny learning more in terms of their defensive setup and the goals chances conceded to Galway during this contest. The resiliency and scoring of Kilkenny’s middle third impressive.

Kilkenny travelled to Corrigan Park to play Antrim. The lack of goals from Kilkenny in the first two provincial outings the catalyst for five goals to be registered during this fixture. Martin Keoghan and TJ Reid with the five goals albeit Antrim did score three of their own to focus minds on the defensive side of the team for management.

Dublin arrived to UPMC Nowlan Park in round four looking to upset the form guide and odds. Kilkenny had to absorb some good Dublin moments courtesy of Donal Burke before pulling clear late on to win by six points. A game where Kilkenny’s scoring rate from play continued to impress.

The final game of the round robin saw Kilkenny travel to near neighbours Wexford who were desperate for a win to stave off relegation to Joe McDonagh. A superb fixture. Kilkenny with Eoin Cody superb hitting goals at various stages but Wexford finishing strong down the stretch to win and secure Liam McCarthy status next year.

This loss focusing minds within the Kilkenny camp. The score conceded was not acceptable and the protection for the Kilkenny full back line and Eoin Murphy fell well short of the standards that Kilkenny management expect from their team.

Kilkenny and Galway renewed acquaintances in the Leinster SHC final. The shadow boxing from round robin a distant memory as both sides gave as good as they got during the contest. Walter Walsh with a key cameo of 1-2 and Cillian Buckley typifying Kilkenny’s resolve and near say die attitude with a sublime injury time goal to secure a fourth Bob O’Keefe in a row.

The season now cracked wide open for Kilkenny as they regrouped and waited for their All-Ireland SHC semi-final opponent.

Kilkenny take advantage of Clare’s indecisiveness

This All-Ireland SHC semi-final could be best described by the word ‘decisive’. Kilkenny came out with a definitive game plan. They looked as always to play on the front foot while Clare experimented with an alien sweeper system which gave impetus and early momentum to Kilkenny.

Kilkenny in the opening half were in control. Eoin Cody with 1-5 oozing class as TJ Reid continued to keep the scoreboard ticking over with regular efficiency. His 0-12 total comprising of 0-10 frees, 0-1 side-line cut and 0-1 ’65 free.

Clare did readjust after the break. They went man to man and Kilkenny were on the back foot. Shane O’Donnell, Mark Rodgers and Peter Duggan with prominent cameos. O’Donnell with ball in hand was a constant threat for Clare in the run game.

Just as Clare were looking to build a decisive game winning lead, defensive indecisiveness cost the Banner dear. All credit to Billy Ryan for not giving up on the sliothar and creating the turnover. Quilligan and Hayes getting themselves into a serious mess. Ryan to TJ to Eoin Cody. Goal Kilkenny and Clare were then playing catchup.

Eoin Murphy superb down the stretch but each Kilkenny player to a man put a massive shift in. Conor Fogarty’s flick in the opening period to deny a certain Mark Rodgers goal pure class. This was the difference. Kilkenny primed and executed at a higher level than Clare during the seventy plus minutes.

Team Profile

Kilkenny’s team has a nice mix of youth and experience. Eoin Murphy by virtue of that Peter Duggan save in the All-Ireland SHC semi-final win is favourite to win the All Star for goalkeeper.

Mikey Butler continues to be a real-life nightmare for Tony Kelly or any intercounty forward that is assigned to. Huw Lawlor and Thomas Walsh have provided assured defensive leadership in the full back line.

The half-back line has evolved as the championship has progressed. Richie Reid assumed the half-back jersey last weekend, but David Blanchfield has provided superb displays to date. Paddy Deegan’s work rate and energy to support his forwards has been a hallmark this year.

The midfield unit has Conor Fogarty driving the side forward with the mercurial Adrian Mullen back to provide class and pose in the middle third. Cian Kenny’s cameos have provided energy and directness when required late in games.

The half-forward line has seen Tom Phelan, John Donnelly stands out with their impressive ball winning ability and scoring prowess. Billy Ryan continues to be an absolute menace for opposition with his distribution and goal scoring instincts.


Goal scoring was quiet at the start of the championship, but it exploded into life since the Galway round robin fixture.

Kilkenny’s hunger and ruthlessness to score goals seen to full effect against Galway and Wexford in Leinster SHC play. Clare learned a lesson on their goal concession; Kilkenny will pounce on any defensive mistake. Kilkenny have scored fifteen goals so far in the championship.

Martin Keoghan, TJ Reid and Eoin Cody have been excellent all year. Reid the fulcrum. If Reid is on form, then Kilkenny are on song. The mercurial Reid has scored 32% of Kilkenny’s points scored to date. Reid has surpassed Patrick Horgan for the all-time top points scorer in the championship.

Eoin Cody’s form this year sees him neck and neck with Limerick’s Aaron Gillane for Hurler of the Year honours. The Ballyhale Shamrocks forward first touch, power and ability to create scoring opportunities has stood out this year for club and county.

Martin Keoghan may have been quiet against Clare, but his goal poaching ability is a massive asset. A player who may be the secret weapon for Kilkenny to recapture Liam McCarthy.

The number of players who have scored for Kilkenny this year in championship has been a pleasing point for Derek Lyng and management. Twenty-three different scorers to date. The scoring distribution as well indicating that open play is the primary scoring avenue with 168 out of 224 points coming from open play.

Weak Points

Eoin Murphy’s prominent performances for Kilkenny gives you an insight as to the weak point. Kilkenny are conceding goalscoring opportunities which is a concern given Limerick’s potent attacking options.

The run game both with ball in hand and without is a work in progress. When Clare and Galway penetrated through the Kilkenny lines in recent fixtures, Kilkenny have struggled to cope with the run game setup. Limerick’s run game will pose issues like twelve months ago.

There have been lulls during games. The Galway and Clare recent fixtures has seen passive third quarter performances. Limerick are renowned for third quarter burst. A repeat on Sunday week could be trouble for Kilkenny’s chances.

Will the young prospects step up to the plate for the final? Clare negated Phelan, Donnelly, Keoghan and Ryan during the All-Ireland semi-final fixture. This final cannot be left to Eoin Cody, TJ Reid and Adrian Mullen to win on their own. Other players will need to deliver personal best performances for their county to win this final.

The over-reliance on TJ Reid is huge right now for Kilkenny. If you look at the scoring statistics below, Reid stands over and beyond others in the scoring stakes. Eoin Cody and Martin Keoghan are notable exceptions to the rule here. If Limerick negate the number of frees conceded and Reid / Cody, the question will be to the other forward line options. Can they take on the scoring mantra?

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