Injuries could cause Kilkenny to come unstuck against Dublin at Nowlan Park this weekend - that’s according to three of their greatest legends.
The Cats open their Leinster Senior Hurling Championship campaign against the Dubs on Saturday evening.
Their form was indifferent Allianz League and this has been compounded by injuries to key players.
Goalkeeper Eoin Murphy and defenders Joey Holden, Cillian Buckley, James Maher and Conor Delaney are all ruled out for various lengths of time and none of them will feature against the Boys in Blue.
"Their performances in last year’s Championship and in the League this year show that they are a little bit below the leading back" - Henry Shefflin
"I think injuries are going to be play a big part in Kilkenny’s Championship this year," said eight-time All-Ireland winner Eddie Brennan.
"I’ve said it since I saw the draw that Dublin in Nowlan Park is going to be cut-throat. I said last year that Parnell Park against Dublin could have been lethal for Kilkenny and it almost happened.
"That bunch of Dublin players are going to come to Nowlan Park with no fears at all and Kilkenny are going to have to be at their best.
"At this moment in time, are Kilkenny capable of winning an All-Ireland? They are. But I don’t think they will this year - I think we’re a few players short.
"They have been a few significant injuries in the last few weeks. When you are facing into the Championship without a three and six, that really does present a challenge for the management and for the rest of the players."
The Cats’ second game is away to Carlow on 19 May, there’s a fortnight off and then it’s home to Galway and an away day against Wexford to finish on 8 June and 15 June respectively.
The top two teams in the Leinster round-robin group will go into the provincial final with the third placed side through to a preliminary quarter-final, where they’ll face a Joe McDonagh Cup finalist. The bottom two teams are done and dusted for the season.
Jackie Tyrrell picked up nine All-Irelands and lifted the Liam MacCarthy Cup as captain. He shares the same fears as his former team-mate Brennan.
"I’d say there’s an unknown quality to Kilkenny," said the James Stephens man. "It was a mixed League campaign, since then there has been a few crucial injuries.
"It puts huge pressure on that first game against Dublin. Your home games in the round-robin, as we saw last year, are so important. If they could win that it sets them up. Pinching another win and a draw might see them into a Leinster final.
"We’re a little nervous and with these injuries now it doesn’t give Brian long to put a new keeper in, build a new spine for his defence with Conor Delaney and Cillian Buckley not going to feature.
"We’re a little nervous, but you can never write off a Brian Cody team. One thing you can guarantee on 11 May is that they’ll fight like dogs for every ball and they’ll have a chance. I can’t over-emphasise how important that game against Dublin is."
Eleven-time All-Ireland winner Henry Shefflin shares the same views as his former team mates Brennan and Tyrrell, though he’s hoping the form of some of his Ballyhale Shamrocks men can improve Kilkenny’s chances.
Colin Fennelly and Adrian Mullen both showed well for Shamrocks in the All-Ireland club title win on St Patrick’s Day masterminded by Shefflin, meaning they didn’t play in the League.
However, he concedes that Kilkenny are still behind the very top tier of All-Ireland contenders.
He said: "That’s a fair comment; their performances in last year’s Championship and in the League this year show that they are a little bit below the leading back.
"They haven’t had the full compliment on the field and I have said it over the last few years, if Kilkenny can get everyone on the field at their full level they’ll have a great opportunity.
"But that’s a challenge and it becomes more of a challenge as some players get older and pick up knocks. They need their key players on the field.
"I don’t think there’s many in the lead pack along with Limerick. You'd say Cork are a Championship side, but League form not so good. Clare are up and down a bit. Galway, without Joe Canning, aren’t in the chasing pack so they are going to have to try and up it a level.
"There are a lot of teams at that level and it’ll be interesting to see which of them, like Limerick last year, are going to develop and push on."
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