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Kilkenny's aura is gone, says legend Noel Hickey

NOEL HICKEY feels the "aura" that cloaked the great Kilkenny team of his heyday has faded in recent years..

The nine time All-Ireland winner spent his first summer of inter-county retirement last year, watching as his former colleagues failed to make the semi-final, the first time the Cats have been absent at the last four stage since 1996.

Reflecting on their 2007/'08 pomp, Hickey recalled: "Back then I always felt if we got the goals early on, I felt the other team used to go, 'here we go again'.

"Maybe the same feeling isn't there about Kilkenny now, that if they get a good start that they're just going to walk all over us.

"Kilkenny, like, it's definitely more of a level playing field now. That kind of aura about Kilkenny, it's definitely gone now alright."

Hickey's retirement, after 13 Championship seasons in Brian Cody's full-back line, left Henry Shefflin as the lone nine time All-Ireland winner still playing on the Kilkenny team.

Another for Shefflin would put him atop the all time list, though that's something which Hickey feels is motivating his former team mate.

"The year we won the nine, we were after training and hurling away and afterwards its great to say you have the nine All Irelands or whatever," he explained.

"But no, I wouldn't say it would be a real driving force.

"You'd hear people say it would be a driving force for the rest of the players to win 10 for Henry, but I wouldn't say it would come into any of the lads heads at all, that kind of a thing.

"They'd just be going out to win the match and beat Limerick, is all would be in their heads. You couldn't be preparing thinking I'll try a bit harder now for Henry to make him win 10 All-Irelands."

"Henry hasn't the same legs he used to have five or six years ago," he added. "But what he has is probably one of the cleverest brains of anyone in hurling."

"He will even open it up for one of the other forwards, be it picking out the perfect pass to get in for the goal."