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Michael Rice: 'There are even better hurlers to come in Kilkenny'
By John Harrington
Former Kilkenny star Michael Rice is convinced the young hurlers now emerging in the county are even better than those that went before them.
The Carrickshock man is in a good position to judge because he teaches and coaches in that famed hurling nursery, St. Kierans Kilkenny.
Some of the greatest hurlers in the history of the game have played for the Cats in recent years, but Rice believes the coming generation will compare favourably with them.
Absolutely, sure the standard is always on the up, says Rice.
Im seeing it first-hand in Kierans College now, with a few young lads that are really driving on themselves. Some of the stuff theyd be doing on the training pitch youd be in awe of.
It was the same as if you had seen maybe DJ Carey or Richie Hogan doing something. So there are always these lads coming and even to see the skill levels of those chaps is amazing.
Rice captained the Kilkenny minors to an All-Ireland title in 2002 and reached an All-Ireland Colleges Final with St. Kierans the same year.
He played on those teams alongside future senior stars like John Tennyson, Richie Power, and James Cha Fitzpatrick, but believes the current generation of young hurlers in the county are even more dedicated to the game than his was.
I tell you what I judge it off the amount of young lads with hurls in their hands around Kilkenny and in St Kierans in particular, which I see every day.
We hurled a lot in Kierans College but there wasnt the same volume of lads hurling.
Whereas now maybe 120 students come in in First Year and the majority of them have hurls in their hands.
I think Paul OConnell mentioned something a while back and it goes back to that, when those young lads go out with a Kierans College team they might already have done two hours that day, be it half an hour in the morning, half an hour at lunch or whatever, at different stages throughout the day they have already done their hurling.
So you are working with players who have probably done a lot on their first touch before they even get to the hurling field and that is a huge benefit. Its definitely embedded there at the moment.
The last few years have been good in Kieran's College. We've won the last three All-Irelands at senior level so that's a huge thing, really.
There's definitely players there. It just depends how they drive on themselves over the next few years and see where it takes them.
St. Kieran's College have won the last three All-Ireland Hurling Colleges 'A' titles in a row.
In the aftermath of Kilkennys defeat to Tipperary in the All-Ireland Final, Jackie Tyrrell and Eoin Larkin joined the recent exodus of multiple All-Ireland winning Kilkenny hurlers into retirement.
Richie Hogan is now the only player left in the panel who started the 2009 All-Ireland Final, and there are none left who won four-in-a-row from 2006 to 2009.
But even though it looks like Brian Cody will have to blood some new players next year, Rice thinks all the talk about the team being in a period of transition is overdone.
Ive heard that phrase used going back years after 03 and before the All-Ireland in 06 people were saying it was going to take Kilkenny three or four years to get back, says Rice.
The one thing with Brian is that it is always in a constant state of flux, theres never a situation where it is settled and thats it. Ive seen that at first hand and so have many players.
As he says himself there are always places up for grabs and its about whoever is going well. Thats what keeps the competitive nature in the place and its vital for the success.
You wouldnt put it past Kilkenny to knock Tipperary from their perch again next year, but Premier County do look better equipped now to successfully defend this title than their last in 2010 when much of their panel were still U-21.
Possibly so, it's hard to judge it, says Rice. I suppose we were being told in Kilkenny in 2010 that we were gone and for the next five or six years it was going to be Tipperary.
But those players at the time were probably quite young. The likes of Brendan Maher and Padraic Maher and Bonner Maher and these lads.
They have the experience of that now and I'm sure they're thinking no way do they want to let this opportunity slip by. Come January everyone is at teh same level again and they have to go a long way.
But I think you could see from the start of the year with Michael Ryan that he was trying to put it out there that they were going to be mentally strong.
Even his decision making during the year when he had Bubbles available to him again but didn't pick him and just made that kind of competitive culture there.