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Kilkenny's blinding pace to burn off Offaly's stout resistance

SO then, when is the best time to face the unstoppable force of nature that is the Kilkenny senior hurling team?

The truest answer, glib and all as it may sound, is January. If you happen to face Kilkenny in the Walsh Cup - when the established stars are just shaking off the excesses of their latest All-Ireland team holiday and Brian Cody chooses to run the rule over a whole raft of young Black-and-Amber wannabes -- then there is every possibility that you might sneak a result.

That's what happened Offaly last month, when Joe Dooley was also able to dabble with his far-less-opulent resources and still come out on the right side of a 1-16 to 1-13 result.

Leaving aside the Walsh Cup, when is the next-best time to tackle those carnivorous Cats? Well, probably the early stages of the NHL -- when assorted stars from Ballyhale, for example, are still caught up with All-Ireland club pursuits and various others are either injured or easing back into action.

Take last year, for example: Kilkenny's opening fixture against Galway was postponed, their belated league start was an underwhelming one-point win at home to Limerick, and then they actually lost away to Waterford by four points. The latter contest took place on March 1. They didn't lose another game, league or championship, for the rest of 2009.

Offaly know, better than anyone, what it's like to face a merciless Kilkenny in June or July ... so they will hope to find a chink of early-season vulnerability in the champions tomorrow.

For all that, the auguries aren't overly positive. Kilkenny only started two of their 2009 All-Ireland team when the counties clashed in the Walsh Cup; they will be considerably stronger. Offaly can at least claim a competitive head-start over Cody's crew, who have endured the frustration of two late postponements of their seemingly-cursed league opener against Tipperary.

On the flip side, Offaly marked their return to Division One hurling with a familiar tale of first half battling to stay with Cork followed by the inevitable fadeout, culminating in an 11-point defeat on Leeside. Hard to see them sticking the ferocious Nowlan Park pace for the full 70 minutes either.

ODDS: Kilkenny 1/20, Draw 18/1, Offaly 8/1

VERDICT: Kilkenny