Cats nap - Kilkenny face three-month wait for next match
Kilkenny's failure to make the knock-out stages of the Allianz Hurling League for the first time in five years means they will have a whopping three-month wait for their next competitive game.
They held on to their Division 1A status by pipping Clare in a relegation play-off last weekend but the All-Ireland champions will not play again until a Leinster SHC semi-final on June 21, a full 12 weeks away.
It is a rare situation for manager Brian Cody and his team, who have won the league title for the last three years and also made the final in 2011, which they lost to Dublin.
The last time they failed to make the league's knockout stages was in 2010, when they finished fourth in the group table when it was a straight 'top two' final.
That was the same year that the Cats went on to lose the All-Ireland final to Tipperary but, given their current transitional shape, not making the knock-out stages this year may prove useful in helping them re-group in time for the championship.
Their league form suffered due to a combination of unprecedented factors.
Not only did they lose six stellar players to retirement but Ballyhale's journey to All-Ireland glory deprived them of five of their starters until last weekend, and key players such as Eoin Larkin, Richie Power and Padraig Walsh are recovering from injury.
A break from inter-county action and the opportunity for some of their emerging players to get top-quality action with their clubs over the next two months may yet prove to be a blessing in disguise.
And clubs, generally, are the big winners in all those hurling counties who didn't make the league semi-finals and now face a prolonged lay-off before championship action.
Offaly and Wexford, who both lost Division 1 quarter-finals last weekend, will be out of action for 10 weeks.
Galway will only make their championship start a week earlier and both Clare and Limerick will also have no game until they meet in the Munster SHC quarter-final in eight weeks' time.
Kilkenny has always been a county that doesn't allow their inter-county commitments to disrupt their club schedule and, even though his side are one of those who will suffer one of the longest lay-offs, Offaly boss Brian Whelahan also believes that is a sacrifice worth making for the sake of club players.
"If you are looking at it selfishly, purely from the inter-county perspective, you'd say a 10-week break is not practical but we have to be realistic and respect the club scene and players," he said.
"Far too often the clubs play second fiddle to the inter-county scene, they're now talking about getting the (All-Ireland) club championship played in one calendar year, which to me is ludicrous.
"We will get two rounds of the local championship played (in the break) but, in Offaly, that includes senior hurling and football, so it's actually four weekends."
Kilkenny have pencilled in three rounds of the local SHC before their championship opener.
The first round is planned for April 11/12, the second on May 8/9, the third on May 22 and the fourth for the week after the Leinster final.
That gives the Kilkenny management plenty of time to monitor players in club action as well as a full four clear weeks of training before their Leinster semi-final on June 21, against the winners of Wexford/Leinster's round-robin runners-up.
Wexford have provisionally arranged to play three rounds of their SHC (May 3, 10 and 24) before their Leinster quarter-final on June 7, the same day Offaly play the round-robin winners in their quarter-final.
Galway also plan to get in at least two rounds of their local SHC before playing Dublin in a quarter-final on May 31.