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'I came off the field that day thinking, 'Michael Fennelly will start against Wexford''

Jackie Tyrrell played against Fennelly in a club game recently and was impressed with what he saw.

FOR MOST RECENTLY retired inter-county players, it’s not until championship time that it really hits you it’s all over.

Things were a bit different for Jackie Tyrrell, who hung up his hurley last winter after 15 seasons on the Kilkenny senior panel.

Littlewoods Ireland GAA Senior All-Ireland Hurling Sponsorship Launch Jackie Tyrrell was at the Littlewoods Ireland GAA Senior All-Ireland Hurling Sponsorship Launch Source: Ramsey Cardy/SPORTSFILE

He recalls attending that electric league match between Kilkenny and Tipperary back in March, and yearning to be back involved.

“I went to a good few Kilkenny games in the league, the only time it did hit me was when Kilkenny played Tipp under lights in Thurles,” says Tyrrell. “God I would’ve loved to have been in the middle of it.

“It was an unbelievable game. That kind of Kilkenny versus Tipp atmosphere just brought me back again. If I’d the gear in the car that night, I would’ve nearly went down and got it. I suppose it’s a progression, it’s my first year out and that’s obviously going to be the most difficult.

“When Kilkenny play Wexford in the first round it’ll really hit me then.”

The Cats are in somewhat of an unusual position heading into the Leinster semi-final with much of the focus on what their opponents will bring to the table.

Brian Cody and Davy Fitzgerald Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Wexford’s league quarter-final win over Kilkenny, coupled with Davy Fitzgerald’s eight-week ban has shone an intense spotlight on the Model County, who have been starved of success in recent times.

“For the first time in  long time, there’s little or nothing said about Kilkenny,” continues Tyrrell. “There’s not even a conversation about them being All-Ireland contenders.

“That probably suits the lads. I can imagine Brian and the lads down there, they’re not on the radar really. It sets them up going down to Wexford.

“I’ve never been getting so many phone calls for tickets for a first round. I’ve gone to Kilkenny club games where you’d be nearly trying to give away first round tickets, it’s just a stark contrast.”

Kilkenny struggled against the sweeper system employed by Wexford when they last met, but Tyrrell expects the Cats to be better prepared to deal with Fitzgerald’s defensive tactics.

“(Cody will) have learned that he’s going to be coming up against a sweeper against Wexford. Maybe they’ll have to prepare for that and he needs to pick a sweeper. He’ll need to look at who the spare man is going to be.

Shaun Murphy Wexford sweeper Shaun Murphy Source: Ken Sutton/INPHO

“It’ll have to be a key lad. Obviously Wexford use Shaun Murphy who’s excellent at distribution. Kilkenny need to prepare who their sweeper is going to be and what he’s going to do with the ball.

“One of the more important things Brian puts a lot of emphasis on is the work-rate of his forwards. It wasn’t to the required level in that league quarter-final against Wexford, I was at it. He’ll have learned he needs an awful lot more out of his forwards.

“The whole six forwards will need to up their work-rate because they’re up against an extra defender and things like that. They’ll be the key learnings for him.”

A number of proven All-Ireland winners are expected to return from injury to bolster Brian Cody’s hand.

Tyrrell is confident Michael Fennelly will be fit to line out at midfield after his lengthy recovery from the ruptured Achilles he suffered last August.

The former Hurler of the Year played a key role in the middle third as Ballyhale Shamrocks ran out seven-point winners against Tyrrell’s James Stephens.

“Michael Fennelly is back, I played against him in a club game recently and he’s in good
shape.

Michael Fennelly Michael Fennelly in action for Ballyhale Shamrocks

“Physically he looked very good, but Michael nearly always looks like that. He’s one of those lads that ever puts on weight. The thing that impressed me the most was his hurling.

“He started midfield and he went back centre back and he really shored them up. I was
impressed because I didn’t think he’d be at that level, now. I know that was club, and there’s a big difference between club and county but I was very impressed with him that day.

“He got 60 minutes in and he really looked in decent shape like he was getting up and down the field, on the ball, typical Michael Fennelly, he was in the thick of it all all the time.

“I’d say most definitely he’ll start. I came off the field that day thinking, ‘Michael Fennelly will start on 10 June (against Wexford).’

Ger Aylward Former All-Star Ger Aylward is thought to be in the running to start against Wexford Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“Ger Aylward scored three goals in a club game as well, so like some of their marquee lads are back. Obviously Padraig Walsh will be a big loss if he doesn’t start.”

Tyrrell, who made his championship debut back in 2005 against Offaly, believes the current rebuilding job in Kilkenny is the most difficult task Cody has faced during his time in charge.

“I would say it’s probably his biggest challenge. It’s very hard to keep that level of performance having lost the talent he has. But if there’s one man that’s out there and is continually able to do it is Brian. I would say it’s up there as one of his biggest challenges.”

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