Brian Cody: This will be a challenging league
Cody predicts a 'challenging league' as he heads to Cork minus 13 All-Ireland winners
KILKENNY launch their campaign for a fourth consecutive Allianz Hurling League title away to Cork this weekend. But if you fancy a flutter on a Black-and-Amber four-timer, Brian Cody has words of advice: keep your money in your wallet ... or put it on someone else.
So then, is hurling's most decorated manager playing early-season mind games? That will be the kneejerk/cynical reaction to the above intro, especially as a quintet of cups - the Liam MacCarthy, Bob O'Keeffe, National League, Leinster and All-Ireland minor trophies - were all on display just yards away.
But then as Cody details the various players unavailable for the early league rounds, it's hard to deny the impression of vulnerable Cats.
Some 13 members of the match-day squad that squeezed the life out of Tipperary at the second attempt last September will not be togging out for Saturday night's Division 1A trip to Páirc Uí Rinn. They include seven All-Ireland replay starters, with Richie Hogan the only forward currently available - and even he played at midfield for most of last summer.
Five well-documented retirees won't be back at all. Another famous five from Ballyhale Shamrocks won't return this side of St Patrick's Day, when they face Kilmallock in the All-Ireland club SHC final.
Throw in the injury issues afflicting the two Power brothers (Richie and John) and Eoin Larkin, and you get a clearer understanding of why Cody is predicting a "challenging league, for sure".
Speaking at yesterday's Nowlan Park launch of Glanbia's ongoing sponsorship of Kilkenny GAA, he was asked for his opinion on Kilkenny's favouritism for another league crown (according to Boylesports yesterday, they are joint-favourites with Tipperary at 11/4). "For the National League? Have a look at an alternative there and put on a few bob," he suggested.
"Look, we're going in next Saturday night and we're going to have a lot of players with limited experience or whatever, and it will certainly be a team that won't look very familiar to a lot of people.
"But look it, we'll take on the challenge. Any player within the panel needs to feel that an opportunity will be given there - and that's what's going to happen."
The opportunities will be plentiful, now that JJ Delaney, Tommy Walsh, Brian Hogan, Aidan Fogarty and David Herity have all called time on the Cats; and that Michael and Colin Fennelly, TJ Reid, Joey Holden and Henry Shefflin are all currently consumed with Ballyhale Shamrocks.
Then you have the latest news from Cody's casualty ward: "Eoin Larkin had a Gilmore's groin operation last week, he's gone. Richie (Power) has irritated cartilage in his knee ... he's going to be out of the equation for a while.
"John (Power) is recovered from a hernia.
"He's played with UCC last week ... but he needs to get more training into him. He won't be considered for next weekend."
More positively, Lester Ryan is back training following the recent tragic death of his father Johnny in a farm accident.
Meanwhile, Michael Rice is "making good progress" from his cruciate injury but is still a while off making his playing return.
While Cody retains "huge confidence" in his panel, he reckoned the coming season is "going to be very challenging because of who we've lost".
He expanded: "People can say we only lost JJ of the starters for the All-Ireland replay, but it only takes one or two injuries and suddenly all those players are crucially important.
"Even in the dressing-room, their experience, wisdom, leadership - all of that is massive.
"I said we're heading for transition and we are. That's the reality and we'll go at it."
Preparations were further discommoded by the bereavements that compelled Kilkenny to withdraw from the Walsh Cup. By contrast, their first two league opponents - Cork and Dublin - had extended runs in the Waterford Crystal and Walsh Cups.
"It gives them a great advantage," Cody maintained, "and that's not just saying so to take pressure off us."