Former Galway star Ollie Canning has tipped Kilkenny to “bounce back” from last year’s Championship failures by retaining the Allianz Hurling League title.
The Cats had contested eight All-Ireland finals in a row heading into last season but were knocked out by runners-up Cork at the quarter-final stage as Clare won their first title since 1997.
However, Canning, who will play for Portumna alongside brother Joe in the All-Ireland club final on St Patrick’s Day, believes Brian Cody’s men will channel the pain of that early elimination and contend again this term, starting with Sunday's clash against the champions in Ennis.
“Kilkenny will relish the chance to have a crack at Clare and see how they’re shaping up at this stage,” Canning told RTÉ Sport.
“Last year was the first year Kilkenny went out so early in the Championship and even though they gave credit to the teams that beat them they were were very down over that. They didn’t expect to go out that early in the year.
“I think they’ve been waiting in the long grass for this year to roll around.
“They’ll be using the league to blood some new players. Brian Cody seems to be a master at picking up an exceptional player every couple of seasons.
“He’ll be looking to the league to test a few new players, as every other team will be.
“It’s going to be fascinating, it’s a very competitive league. I think Kilkenny will have a say, I think they will bounce back.
Canning predicted Tipperary, who also underachieved last season, would be Kilkenny’s closest challengers.
“Tipperary are rebuilding under Eamon O’Shea, they have a few very exciting players coming through as well,” he said.
“You may see the two big guys coming back onto the scene. I think it will be between Tipperary and Kilkenny.”