The Cats are back

6 talking points ahead of Kilkenny and Wexford's Leinster hurling clash

Nowlan Park is the venue for today’s Leinster semi-final.

1. Jack Guiney’s absence

Liam Dunne’s decision to dispense with Jack Guiney has come at the worst possible time.

The Rathnure hitman was on fire for his club on Thursday night, hitting all but one point of a personal 4-5 tally from play in a club match against Ferns St Aidans.

Dunne has flooded his half-forward line with real physicality and while Ian Byrne impressed against Westmeath, Wexford may lament the absence of Guiney’s scoring touch.

hockeyhurlingshinty5 / YouTube

Guiney could operate around the 45m line or closer to goal and also offers a big option from placed balls.

If Wexford do get through, we might yet see Guiney return later in the summer but it remains to be seen whether or not Dunne’s hardline stance works out.

2. Wexford’s half-back line

This pivotal line for Wexford is packed with power and athleticism.

Andrew Shore is back in harness after his controversial suspension and Lee Chin is one of the finest athletes in the game.

Completing the trio is Ciaran Kenny, drafted into the starting line-up after manager Liam Dunne shuffled his pack.

Ciaran Kenny 19/7/2014 Ciaran Kenny is back in the Wexford starting line-up.

Diarmuid O’Keeffe was named at wing-back against Westmeath but is now in midfield alongside David Redmond, with Harry Kehoe losing out.

Those alterations allow Kenny, who struggled with injuries last year, the chance to impress and Wexford must at least break even in this key sector to have any chance of pulling off a shock result.

3. Kilkenny’s new full-back

JJ Delaney’s epic hook on Seamus Callanan in last year’s All-Ireland final was one of the standout moments of the championship.

Paddy O'Paddy / YouTube

But Kilkenny will begin their 2015 championship campaign without the brilliant Fenians defender, who announced his retirement after collecting a ninth All-Ireland senior medal last year.

Current captain Joey Holden will fill the void left by Delaney on the edge of the square and he will feel that he’s up to the task, having starred on the Ballyhale Shamrocks team that won the All-Ireland club title in March.

The 24-year-old joined the Kilkenny senior panel in 2014 and finished the season with a stack of medals – Walsh Cup, National League, Leinster and All-Ireland.

4. Recent history

This is the first senior championship meeting between the counties since 2011, when Kilkenny dished out an eleven-point hammering.

And you have to go all the way back to 2004 for the last time that Wexford beat Kilkenny in summer fare, when Mick Jacob scored this fantastic winning goal:

Conor Ryan / YouTube

The omens are certainly stacked in Kilkenny’s favour but Wexford have made good progress under Liam Dunne and they contested an All-Ireland quarter-final last year.

Wexford’s qualifier victory over then All-Ireland champions Clare showed that the Slaneysiders can mix it with the best.

In the last ten championship meetings between the sides, Wexford have claimed just that one win over Kilkenny.

5. The Nowlan Park factor

Kilkenny were a tired team in 2013, losing to Dublin in the Leinster championship after a replay.

But for a proud bunch of players, defeat was simply not an option when the qualifier draw pitted them with arch-rivals Tipperary.

On home soil, Kilkenny summoned a big performance on an evening when the city venue was packed long before throw-in. Earlier in the year, Kilkenny also beat Tipp at Nowlan Park in the National League final:

RTENewsNow / YouTube

Another big crowd is expected at Nowlan Park tomorrow for Kilkenny’s first home championship match since they whipped Offaly by 26 points last year.

It’s obviously the venue the Cats train on and that gives them a distinct advantage against the visiting Model County but Wexford beat Waterford in an All-Ireland qualifier at Nowlan Park last summer.

6. Kilkenny’s retired heroes

Not only are Kilkenny without aforementioned JJ Delaney, they’re also beginning the championship minus the services of Henry Shefflin, Tommy Walsh, Brian Hogan, Aidan Fogarty and David Herity, sub goalkeeper behind Eoin Murphy last year.

Those six players brought a huge wealth of experience to the Kilkenny set-up but the path is now clear for new, emerging players to make their mark.

Manager Brian Cody would presumably have liked to see a couple of absent stars stick around for one more season but history tells us that he’s not a man to let the grass grow under his feet.

Tommy Walsh, Henry Shefflin and JJ Delaney Tommy Walsh, Henry Shefflin and JJ Delaney have retired from intercounty hurling. Donall Farmer / INPHO Donall Farmer / INPHO / INPHO

Injuries to Richie Power and Michael Fennelly are a concern and while we’ve said it so many times down through the years, an All-Ireland win for Kilkenny would represent a magnificent achievement, given the flux in his panel.

Kilkenny won’t lack for motivation, as always, and the nature of their gritty Allianz League relegation victory over Clare suggested that there’s plenty left in the tank.

– First published 11.00

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