Brian Cody was absent but still played a huge role in Kilkenny’s National Hurling League final win over Tipperary at Nowlan Park on Sunday according to Cats hero Michael Fennelly.

Cody did manage to watch the Kilkenny minors in action at the same venue on Saturday after his recent heart surgery but wasn’t present as the senior side won by 2-17 to 0-20 in a pulsating decider.

Fennelly won the man of the match award on his return to action after injury as he scored 2-3 for the Cats, and he later dedicated the win to Cody and the huge home support at Nowlan Park.

“There were a lot of factors behind that win, the boss man being out and the game being in our back-yard, playing our local rivalries. There were a few things that made it a great day,” Fennelly said.

After months out with injury, Fennelly was delighted and surprised by his scoring feats.
“I didn’t score that much before to be honest and probably you’ll never see it again. I got the breaks and luckily enough they went in. I don’t get them too often so I will take them when I do,” he said.

“A few of the boys stood up big time, the backs were awesome, they came out with great balls near the end. It was a whole all round great team performance. We had one or two injuries there again but lads just got on with things.”

Jackie Tyrrell also dedicated the win to absent boss Cody. “You would feel Brian Cody’s shadow about the place. There is such an aura about him that even though he wasn’t here you would feel him about the place still and hopefully is back soon,” Tyrrell said.

The hometown win made it extra special for Kilkenny star Tyrrell as a sold-out Nowlan Park hosted the league final for the first time since the early 1960s.

Tyrell said, “As a team we haven’t played a league final in Kilkenny ever and to see so many people out here made it extra special.

“I wouldn’t put it up with an All-Ireland medal, but it’s not far off it and there was a great buzz around all week. It’s extra special.”

Selector Martin Fogarty confirmed on RTE radio that Cody is on target to return in time for the championship. 

“Brian’s doing very well now, thanks be to God. We’re hoping he’ll be back pretty soon now and he’s here in spirit with us, so we’ll look forward to him coming back,” said Fogarty.

The other good news for Kilkenny fans is that Henry Shefflin has resumed light training.
Selector Michael Dempsey said, “I don’t know when he’ll be back, it depends on how he reacts to the physio, but he is doing some work and is making good progress.

“Obviously with the injury it’s too early to say; it will depend on how he reacts to the training, how he gets on, and that’s impossible to say.

“Hopefully his reaction is good and we’ll have him back as soon as possible. He’s doing some jogging at the moment.”
No Regrets for Tipperary
TIPPERARY left Nowlan Park without the National Hurling League title on Sunday but manager Eamon O’Shea was pleased with their efforts in 2013 ahead of the summer.

The game was played at championship intensity as Tipp went down by three points to their fierce rivals, and O’Shea says that will stand to his team.

“In terms of where we’re at, we’ve a lot of ball work to do, speed work to do in terms of where we want to be, moving the ball under that sort of pressure, but it’s a brilliant game to have to be honest with you,” O’Shea said.

“I don’t know what it looked like but, to me, it looked like a high grade game between two teams, one playing slightly better than the other and the other one trying to stay in the game and that was us. If you asked me was I happy or unhappy, I’m not sure.

“It was a very good battle. It reminded me of some of the rugby games, you see two really good teams. Our guys did fantastic to stay in that game. I think the better team won the game.

“We’ve been trying to put together our game, trying to see how far we could get. Today was a big learning curve for us, that level of competitiveness so early in the season so I was happy with the league.

“We were up and down a bit, there were poor performances, there were bits of games that we wouldn’t be happy but you never know until you get out and play opposition like that as to where you are, that’s the benefit of these games. They were very competitive today and I thought we were competitive.”

O’Shea also praised wing back Kieran Bergin, who enjoyed an impressive senior debut in the blue and gold shirt at the age of 27 after several years in America.

“I think he was very good. In fairness to him, the first five or 10 minutes he was under severe pressure and then he settled down and got into the game,” O’Shea said.

“You could say that for a number of our players, even though they weren’t playing well I still think they stayed wanting to win the game which again, I say, is a great sign of a team in terms of what we’re trying to do here. We’re not at the level we want to be yet at all and we’ll be trying very hard to get there.”

Kilkenny Won’t Appeal Red
KILKENNY have opted not to appeal the red card issued to JJ Delaney for an altercation with Lar Corbett in last Sunday’s NHL final. The pair were dismissed after trading blows, with Delaney set to miss the opening Leinster SHC game against Offaly through suspension next month.

Kilkenny selector Michael Dempsey said, “Obviously we have a serious game in five weeks with Offaly. JJ is a huge loss -- I thought he was majestic while he was on the pitch. I didn’t see the incident, but he’s a huge loss. We’ll just have to get on with it.”

Tipperary have yet to decide if they will appeal Corbett’s dismissal.

“Larry is a fantastic player and he is still a fantastic player,” said O’Shea.

“I have to be honest, I didn’t actually see it. I mean, two players were grappling on the ground. I couldn’t see what happened. Sometimes a referee sends players off, sometimes he doesn’t. I have absolutely no problem with the referee today. The referee for me had a fine game.”

Corbett spent time in hospital on Sunday night when it was confirmed he broke two ribs in the game.
Tyrone Waits in the Wings

TYRONE boss Mickey Harte says his team are due a championship victory over All-Ireland winners Donegal ahead of their big match in Ballybofey on May 26.

Defeats to Donegal in their last two Ulster semifinals will act as a spur for Tyrone says their boss.
Harte said, “It wouldn’t be right in a team affair to take things personally. I think collectively, you see it as a collective effort. Collectively, we owe Donegal a defeat in the championship. That goes without saying because the results in the last two years tell us that.

“But it’s nothing personal. Nothing personal between myself and Jim McGuinness or anything like that. We’re part of a unit, they’re part of a unit and we’d like our unit to win this time.
Antrim Starts With a Win
ANTRIM were full value for an eight-point win over Westmeath in the opening round of the Leinster SHC in Mullingar on Sunday.

Manager Kevin Ryan said afterwards, “I still feel there is a lot more in us. We need to loosen up a little bit more. It is still a reasonable score, 3-18 is good enough for most games.

“I just feel we have the players and we just need to bring it out. I’d like to see more points on the board, even though they were going for goals a bit. I still think there is a good future there for them regardless what happens in the next few weeks.”
No More Guinness

GUINNESS has ended an 18-year association with the GAA as sponsors of the All-Ireland hurling championship. The decision was made last week ahead of government proposals to ban alcohol sponsorship of sporting events.

The Dublin based brewery will remain as “proud partners” of the GAA with American insurance company Liberty tipped to replace them as hurling sponsors.