Kilkenny fans may be surprised, even disappointed, to learn that their favourites are no better than the fifth ranked hurling team in the country.
Missing out on the All-Ireland series last season cost the county. All-Ireland champions, Clare; Cork, the losing finalists, plus beaten semi-finalists, Dublin and Limerick would be ranked above them.
“You can think you are a top team, or presume you are, but you have to prove it,” suggested Kilkenny manager, Brian Cody when he put hurling matters in context before the start of the Allianz National League.
“We didn’t prove we were a top team last year,” he added when speaking at the announcement that Glanbia will continue as Kilkenny team - senior, under-21, minor and intermediate - sponsors for 2014.
“We weren’t in the All-Ireland semi-finals last year. The top four teams play in those games.”
Hard and all as that assessment might be for Kilkenny fans to digest, and very much against bookies opinion, the man who guided the county to nine All-Ireland victories insisted it was the reality of the situation.
“If we involved with the team delude ourselves by thinking otherwise, we would be very silly,” he added just days before the big National Hurling League clash with Clare in Ennis.
Kilkenny, the defending champions, will be without P.J. Delaney (back training after holiday), T.J. Reid (muscle injury), Richie Hogan (knee and hamstring), Michael Fennelly (due back from Australia this week) and possibly Kieran Joyce (Cody didn’t speak to him after All-Ireland club win) for what will be the Match of the Day on Sunday.
“Playing the All-Ireland champions is a brilliant way to be starting,” Cody continued. “We are looking forward to pitting ourselves against the best team in the country.”
With so much talent out of bounds, the likelihood is that new full-back, Michael Walsh, will be called into the team, and possibly the likes of Shane Prendergast, Jonjo Farrell, Joey Holden, Mark Kelly and Conor Fogarty too.
Henry Shefflin is available for selection, as are a host of other long servers like Michael Rice, Eoin Larkin, Brian Hogan, Tommy Walsh, Jackie Tyrrell and Aidan Fogarty (continued on page 95).