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Saturday 28 January 2023 Dublin: 6°C
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Hogan's injury woes continue but Murphy and Fennelly to rejoin Kilkenny squad next month
Paul Murphy and Colin Fennelly have been on a UN peacekeeping tour in Lebanon.

IT HAS BEEN a spring of experimentation for Brian Cody.

Brian Cody James Crombie / INPHO James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

Some of it has been enforced due to the absences of several key players, while Cody has also recognised the need to bring through a new wave of youngsters in Kilkenny.

After trawling the county and calling up a number of last year’s U21 side that reached the All-Ireland final, Kilkenny operated with a squad of around 50 players during the winter.

After the Cats suffered defeats in their opening league games against Cork and Clare, there were some whispers doubting Cody’s ability to build a new team capable of competing for the Liam MacCarthy.

Since then, Kilkenny have reeled off four wins on the bounce and find themselves in a league semi-final against either Wexford or Galway.

“We are in the league semi-final now at this stage, which is progress obviously because after the first two games, we weren’t being tipped at all to come this far,” said Cody after the win over Offaly in Tullamore yesterday.

“It has been good application by the players and good response. So, it was really a fierce battle today and if the attitude was less than what it was, we wouldn’t have won the game. And Offaly are going to be a serious threat to anyone in championship.”

Cillian Kiely and Richie Leahy James Crombie / INPHO James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

The discussion around Kilkenny’s newcomers has had a more positive tone to it in recent weeks, with Richie Leahy, Martin Keoghan, John Donnelly, Liam Blanchfield and Paddy Deegan some of the younger crew who’ve impressed at stages during the league.

They didn’t have it all their own way against Offaly on Monday and relied on warhorses TJ Reid and Walter Walsh to drag them over the line with the game in the balance late on.

Ger Aylward, Leahy, Ollie Walsh and Richie Reid were all withdrawn after ineffectual displays and Cody may decide to shuffle his deck once again for the semi-final.

On the injury front, the Kilkenny manager is hopeful Eoin Murphy will be fit to start the league semi-final which has been fixed for Saturday week. The 2016 All-Star suffered whiplash after a heavy collision with Tom Devine last month and Darren Brennan has deputised between the posts in recent games.

“Eoin is still not right, he wasn’t goalkeeper or sub keeper for us today, he wasn’t togged out. With the two-week break, he should have a decent chance of getting back. He is the one player that might have chance to get back.”

The news about Richie Hogan and Kevin Kelly was less optimistic, as Hogan continues to battle against injury and Kelly will be sidelined for a lengthy spell after undergoing surgery on his knee.

“Richie Hogan won’t be back and another player who is going to be out for a length of time is Kevin Kelly, who would be a very important player for us.

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pjimage Inpho Richie Hogan, Paul Murphy and Colin Fennelly Inpho

“He was involved in his club, Ballyragget, so we hadn’t seen him but unfortunately he had knee surgery and he is going to be out for few months. He would have been important player but that is the game.”

Lebanon-based pair Paul Murphy and Colin Fennelly are expected to return home from their peacekeeping duties next month, but will miss the rest of the league.

“Not positively certain (on when they’re back). The thinking the whole time is they should be back roughly middle of April, we will wait and see on that,” he added.

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