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Dublin: 21 °C Thursday 13 August, 2020

Are these the next two Kilkenny forwards poised for a senior breakthrough?

Kevin Kelly and James Maher made their mark on Sunday afternoon.

IN 2014 JOHN Power burst out of the shadows and made his mark for Kilkenny on All-Ireland final day.

In 2015 Ger Aylward was the breakthrough star, winning an Allstar for his exploits that aided Kilkenny’s Liam MacCarthy Cup retention.

But who will break out of the pack for the Cats in 2016?

MaherKelly Kevin Kelly and James Maher caught the eye for Kilkenny on Sunday.

With Aylward out for the season with a cruciate, Richie Power retired and Eoin Larkin currently based in Syria on a peacekeeping mission with the Irish Defence Forces, there are vacancies in the Kilkenny attack.

On Sunday two players stepped forward against Tipperary to press their claims for inclusion. 22 year-old St Patrick’s Kevin Kelly was on hand to clinically fire home two late goals to supplement his earlier point.

St Lachtain’s James Maher, who is still U21 this year, chipped in with 0-4 from play.

Both players have done stints at underage level while Kelly has shone for IT Carlow in the Fitzgibbon Cup this year and Maher did likewise for UCD.

This is Maher’s breakthrough senior campaign. Kelly caught the eye when striking 1-9 in the league against Clare last March but it didn’t prove the precursor for a summer run.

Kevin Kelly under pressure from Patrick Maher Kevin Kelly in action for Kilkenny against Tipperary's Patrick Maher Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

TJ Reid knows all about having to bide his time in Kilkenny before reaching the current leading light status he occupies.

He saw enough on Sunday to be encouraged by the prospects for Kelly and Maher.

“Kevin if you give him a chance he will nail it so he will. Brian (Cody) is always saying that if you’re going well in training, as he is, he’s playing with Carlow IT there, so he was given the jersey there and he dug us out of a hole.

“He’s around 23, 24 now. It’s up to himself now, he’s fighting for a spot on the Kilkenny team. Of course, there’s plenty of subs on the bench fighting for a place on the team as well so, you know, we need competition.

“We need lads putting their hands up to fight for that jersey. He did that Number 10, Jimmy Maher did the same again, four points off of one of the great half-backs, Brendan Maher.

“You need young lads coming through. We had a lot of retirements, Ger Aylward is missing and Richie Power is gone as well, so we need two or three forwards stepping up to the mark.

“He’s been around there for the last few years as well, himself and Mark Kelly, fighting for spots there, there’s Chris Bolger there as well, there’s John Power so there’s probably five or six.

“Richie Hogan has to fight for his place now as well after being injured, so you want competition there.”

Sunday’s win provides Kilkenny some breathing space after faltering on the opening day against Waterford. They had to stave off relegation in 2015, avoiding a repeat is their objective this spring.

Shane Prendergast under pressure from Noel McGrath Kilkenny and Tipperary players battling for possession in Sunday's game. Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

“If we’d lost (on Sunday) we would have been down the bottom of the table,” reflects Reid.

“I think we’re down in the middle. An okay place to be but the real drive this week was just to get a good work rate.

“Last week, the conditions were there but you can’t be making excuses – on the day we were just blown away by Waterford’s pace and work rate.

“We needed to get that right there and we showed great hunger and won plenty of ball there in the last five minutes where it counted.”

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About the author:

Fintan O'Toole

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