Cody has rebuilt Kilkenny before and can do it again - Fogarty
Kilkenny's Conor Fogarty reckons up to half a dozen teams have a chance of winning the Liam MacCarthy cup next year, and he insists the Cats aren't as far off the pace as some might think.
This season saw Kilkenny's earliest exit in 19 seasons under Brian Cody as they went down to Waterford in the back door, which followed on from their defeat to Davy Fitzgerald's Wexford in the Leinster championship.
They were landmark defeats for the Cats as Kilkenny hadn't lost to the Slaneysiders in 17 years while the Déise hadn't tasted success against Kilkenny since 1959.
However, Fogarty points out that they brought Derek McGrath's Waterford to extra-time, who themselves went all to the All-Ireland final before going down to Galway, meaning the Cats can enter 2018 with more than a little optimism.
"There is talk out there (that Kilkenny have slipped back) but we don't really buy into it to be honest," said the Erin's Own man.
"Waterford have always been a good team, we have come up against them a number of times in the last couple of years and we have been the other side of it and this year they pipped us and deservedly so. They went on and gave an excellent performance in the All-Ireland final and just came up short, so when you look at it like that there are five or six teams at least that there is very little between."
Brian Cody will be at the helm as Kilkenny look to get back on top and Fogarty admits he expected him to return for a 20th season in charge.
"Brian has always shown savage determination and I couldn't see why this year would be any different," the midfielder said. "It's no surprise. He likes a challenge and no doubt he'll be up for the challenge again."
And he backed Cody to lead Kilkenny back to the biggest days.
"I suppose we went out early (this year) but it is a huge challenge every year no matter what personnel are there," he added.
"In the past he has rebuilt teams and brought them to finals etc but I'd say Brian will be just trying to get back to basics and get the basic things right and see where that takes us."
If Kilkenny are to get back on top in Leinster they will have to take the long way around after Special Congress voted to introduce sweeping changes to the hurling championship. But Fogarty believes most players will be happy that they will have more games.
"It's going to be a big change from what we are used to. In years past you were building up for a big Championship game and it will take a huge lot of energy to get up for those matches away and home but there should be some cracking games," he said.
"I'm looking forward to having home games in Leinster and travelling away will be a huge challenge in itself.
"It is something different and we look forward to it. Being part of big games is what it is all about. You enjoy training but at the end of the day you are training to playing matches and you are training to play big games and that's where the enjoyment comes form.
"So I am looking forward to it being part of those games whether they are home and away."