Has Kilkenny’s golden era come to an end?
No Tommy Walsh and no Henry Shefflin, albeit due to injury, means that this is a new look Cats side. Michael Fennelly moves to half forward, while Brian Kennedy, Pádraig Walsh and Mark Kelly make their championship debuts. The league triumph failed to paper over some underlying cracks, as clouds gather around Kilkenny hurling. Heavy defeats to Dublin and Wexford at minor and u21 levels respectively have sparked murmurs in the terraces in Nowlan Park.
The Cats won seven consecutive Leinster Championships in a row between 2005 and 2011. Suddenly, they face the prospect of a third year in a row without lifting the Bob O’Keeffe Cup. Brian Cody will be eager to not let that appear on his managerial CV and to start their assault on the province with a statement against the Faithful will set them on the right path.
How important is league form?
The results in Tipperary v Limerick and Cork v Waterford over the previous fortnight suggest that league form can be completely disregarded once the summer kicks off. Nonetheless, it is hard to envisage that the Faithful, who finished last in Division 1B, can overcome Kilkenny, who are fresh from a league final victory over Tipperary. Nonetheless, the championship is a whole different ball game. Last year, Offaly hit the Cats hard in the first half, before the then reigning All-Ireland champions closed out a win. The general consensus is that this will be closer than the league would suggest.
Can Offaly bounce back?
Brian Whelehan’s charges came in for huge criticism so far this year. Ger Loughnane described them as the only team in the modern era where you “still see players with fat legs, bellies and arses.”
However, they did little to prove him wrong, as they lost out to Antrim in the relegation play-off before ultimately retaining their 1B status after scraping past Kerry. Offaly are a proud hurling county and will want to set the record straight with a big performance, but the Cats may not let them.
Verdict: Offaly will up for it, but home advantage and all-round superiority should see the Cats home. Kilkenny by 12.
Brian Barry, Pundit Arena.