For perhaps the first time since the turn of the millennium, Kilkenny will enter the championship as third favourites. Based on recent history, it would be crazy to write off the Cats before a ball is struck.
Brian Cody spoke at yesterday’s Leinster Senior Hurling championship launch of how his side are being written off already ahead of the championship after a sub-standard league campaign preceded a comprehensive defeat at the hands of Tipperary in last year’s All Ireland final. Going off past experiences, history has taught us that the men from the south east are at their most dangerous when they are written off. Surprisingly, it has happened more often than one would imagine.
Perhaps the first time since 2000 the Cats were seriously doubted was under Cork’s period of dominance prior to 2006. Many believed that the game had simply outgrown Kilkenny, and that Cody’s men would be left behind.
These doubts were answered in September 2006, when Kilkenny brought an intensity and will to win that had never been seen before to Croke Park. In many an interview since, former Kilkenny hurlers have referenced this game as the win they cherish the most.
The reason this triumph is so sweet for the Cats is the fact that they had proved so many critics wrong. Being told Cork were the new kingpins of hurling angered them, and they were unwilling to allow this statement to become fact.
Kilkenny would go unrivalled at the top table for the next number of years. This was until Liam Sheedy and Lar Corbett would play a huge part in dethroning the Marble City men, stopping an historic five-in-a-row in the process.
Once again, Brian Cody’s charges would be severely questioned. Further doubts came about when Dublin would breeze past them in the league final of 2011. Kilkenny were simply an ageing team and we were now looking into Tipp’s period of dominance for the coming years.
Fast forward to September 2011, Brian Hogan stood on the steps of the Hogan Stand lifting Liam McCarthy into the air. Questions had been answered once more, but it would not be long before more be asked.
The summer of 2012 would see an old nemesis of the Cats cause more doubts, as Galway dished out a hammering to Kilkenny in the Leinster final. Anthony Cunningham had masterminded a stunning victory and Galway were now the apparent top dogs.
A Joe Canning free would salvage a draw for the Tribesmen that September, meaning Galway had taken a Henry Shefflin inspired Kilkenny to the game’s first replayed All-Ireland since 1959. Three weeks later, step forward Walter Walsh to score 1-3 on his debut and lay rest to any questions for yet another winter. Kilkenny were All-Ireland champions yet again.
After a truly horrid 2013 for the Cats, one in which they would not make a single appearance in Croke Park, the game had once again been perceived to have outgrown Brian Cody. A new era of hurling was set to take place, in a renaissance similar to the 90’s.
12 months later, this rebellion against hurling’s top tier was proven to be short-lived as Kilkenny defeated their old foes Tipperary after two thrilling games in September. This game would be the curtain call of many Kilkenny legends such as Henry Shefflin, Tommy Walsh and JJ Delaney.
With the loss of several players including three of the greatest to ever play the game, Brian Cody’s men were now thought to be in transition. Cue one of Kilkenny’s easiest All-Ireland titles to date. Without breaking a sweat, TJ Reid led Kilkenny to their 36th All-Ireland title.
After a heavy defeat to Tipperary in 2016, and at best a mediocre league campaign, questions are being asked of Kilkenny once more. They enter the championship as third favourites behind Tipperary and Galway.
No doubt, Brian Cody will relish this position, as history has proven one thing, the Cats are at their most dangerous when written off.