What's it like trying to break into one of the greatest ever hurling teams?

Michael Rice and David Herity were speaking on Thursday night's Off The Ball

Kilkenny, Hurling, GAA

Image: ©INPHO/James Crombie 

Over the past two decades, Kilkenny have dominated the hurling landscape.

Brian Cody's men have won 11 All-Ireland crowns since the turn of the millennium and their team of the mid-to-late noughties is widely considered as one of the greatest to ever play the game.

But where serial success is the culture and competition for places is fierce, trying to break into the team in the first place can be a monumental task.

Speaking on Thursday night's Off The Ball, former Kilkenny midfielder Michael Rice and goalkeeper David Herity shared their experiences of trying to make Brian Cody's panel and eventually his starting team.

"When you're in that situation, you feel like 'God I can't really make the breakthrough, I'm the only lad who can't make the breakthrough'. But when you look at the people around you, David was in the same situation as me for a little while, Jackie Tyrrell had the same situation, Brian Hogan. But when you're in there, you probably put more pressure on yourself. You don't pat yourself on the back to say 'oh, I developed a small bit this year, but I didn't make the Championship team'. It's all about making the Championship team and playing in All-Ireland finals. 

"In some counties there is pressure on some 18-year-old to be straight in the team. By the time he's 25, it feels like he's been there forever and he's probably worn out. Whereas when we get the jersey, we've probably been sitting on the line and then you're mad to actually have that jersey. You've had the physical conditioning over three, four or five years. It's definitely a help when you reach that stage."

David Herity lifts the Liam McCarthy Cup in 2014. Image: ©INPHO/Ryan Byrne 

Herity, who joins Rice on a panel at the Leadership in Sport: Lessons for Business Conference in association with Newstalk, echoed similar experiences trying to become the team's first choice goalkeeper.

"I had played three years minor and three years U21, so I kind of had a monopoly on the goalkeeping position at underage level at the time. I thought it was only a matter of time before I get called in. 

"We had won two U21 titles as well and it just so happens that I came in at a time when you had James McGarry and PJ Ryan. These lads were 28 or 29, very young in goalkeeping terms.  It became a matter of 'you are not going to break these lads out of position'.

"I remember getting to the stage where I was thinking 'God, I kind of hope Kilkenny lose'. I knew I might come in at some stage, I'd been doing well so I kind of knew my time was going to come. But these lads were dominating and I remember going to matches thinking 'are they ever going to lose or is this going to be a case of when I come in this whole run is going to come to an end?'. 

"I got one trial at the start of 2004 and I didn't make it. I remember the U21 won in 2004 and 16 lads played that game. 14 of them made it to the senior panel, I was one of the only ones that wasn't."

The limited opportunities available to some of the players would have driven many away, but Herity pointed out that he had to approach his predicament logically.

"I knew that PJ and James were getting slightly older and I always knew that this moment would happen. It was just a matter of keeping my head down. When I did get the call it was the summer of 2008 and thought 'McGarry and Ryan will fall off here and I'll easily pick up the mantle'. 

"Going into training I was getting hooked and blocked all over the place. In goal I thought 'there's a standard here that I've never seen or witnessed before'.  No matter how many club senior games, U21 or colleges, this was whole different gravy. These lads were at a different level."

The pair also addressed the current situation within Kilkenny hurling and whether or not a conveyor belt of talent is as strong as it was a decade ago.

"Every few years when Kilkenny do lose, there is this conversation that the county are going to go through a dark spell. Even when you look at 2001 when it happened, every time Brian Cody has lost, he's come back  and won the next two," Herity explained.

"History does say that he comes back even stronger every single time and wins two-in-a-row. But the huge elephant in the room is the huge fact that when you look at the massive successes that Kilkenny have had, the 2006-2009 team came off the back of us winning U21 in 2003 and 2004.

"They had huge success at U21 level around the turn of the decade and then the senior team drove on for the next four or five years from 2011 to 2015.

"Now that's not the case. The U21 haven't won a Leinster in four years, which is huge. That's leading to the question of the conveyor belt and whether it was as strong as it once was?"

Michael Rice during the Division 1 semi-final in 2013. Image: ©INPHO/James Crombie