Sheedy: Cats' aura of invincibility is gone
Tipperary's spectacular victory in last September's All-Ireland senior hurling final has smashed Kilkenny's aura of invincibility, according to former Premier County manager Liam Sheedy.
The Portroe man masterminded Tipp's eight-point victory at Croke Park last year as neighbours and arch-rivals Kilkenny were denied the five-in-a-row.
Sheedy has predicted that the Cats will have a major say in this year's championship, despite their crushing NHL final defeat to Dublin, but now believes that Brian Cody's men face a different type of challenge.
"They are going to be challenged differently because I do think the aura of invincibility has gone," said Sheedy.
"They went four years unbeaten in the championship, close on five."
Sheedy, who was unveiled yesterday as a new hurling panellist on RTE's 'The Sunday Game', also insisted that Kilkenny must get Henry Shefflin back fully fit and firing to make an impact in the championship.
"I think Henry is a big player for them," said Sheedy. "He got through his 20 minutes with Ballyhale at the weekend and looked impressive, didn't look to be carrying any injury.
"When the intensity comes up I think Henry and Richie Power are key to their forward line. They are the leaders in there and when they have them they are serious."
Kilkenny find themselves in the unusual position of hunters this year, when in the previous four championship seasons they have been the players with targets on their back.
"I do think they are hurting," said Sheedy. "They are hurting on the double now after the league final, maybe on the treble, because a Kilkenny club (O'Loughlin Gaels) lost the club final."
Shefflin is on course to make it back in time for Kilkenny's opening Leinster hurling championship match on June 18 according to Kilkenny selector Martin Fogarty who expects their talisman to "play some part" against Wexford or Laois.
Sheedy (right) also believes that holders Tipp are in a "very strong position" ahead of their All-Ireland defence and is confident that the champions can win back-to-back titles for the first time since 1965.
But he warned: "I think we are still the team to beat but we are trying to do something we haven't done in 46 years so it's not going to come easy."
Tipp begin their 2011 championship campaign against Cork at Semple Stadium on May 29, seeking revenge for last year's crushing 10-point defeat against the Rebels at Pairc Ui Chaoimh.
"I think it is ideal because it will focus Tipp," Sheedy said. "You won't be thinking ahead, you won't be thinking of All-Ireland finals, you will be thinking of the first round because last year it was a 10-point defeat."