Eddie Keher: 'Functional' Cats to convince Ger Loughnane
Kilkenny legend Eddie Keher believes the current Cats panel are only scratching the surface of their potential and that Ger Loughnane could "change his mind" that they are a "functional" side.
The former Clare manager, who led the Banner to a pair of All-Ireland titles in the 1990s, recently insisted that there was "no way" Kilkenny should be aiming to win a third All-Ireland in a row in 2016 given the talent at their disposal.
But Keher (right) believes Brian Cody's side will only get stronger as they garner more experience and expects them to be in the business end of the championship once more this year.
"He might change his mind during the year," Keher said when asked about Loughnane's comments. "Over this great era of Kilkenny teams players were slow to come often.
"It took a while for a lot of the big names to make it and I think the same is the case now, you can see a lot of the current lads being stars and maybe (they already are) this year.
"There'll be maybe six teams in contention but Kilkenny will be up there. Even with this ordinary team!" he smiled.
Keher believes the depth of the panel is getting back to a level close to where they were at the end of the last decade when their bench was populated by a host of multiple All-Stars and All-Ireland winners.
"I think we are getting to the same position now," Keher mused.
"There are about two strong options for the full-back line, two for the half-back line, two for centre-field.
"And if you take the six forwards, I'd say there are two or four (options) there as well so it will be a strong team with lots of options - leaving injuries aside."
"I think he (Loughnane) was comparing them with a few years ago when you had extraordinary players like Henry Shefflin and DJ (Carey) but this team is proving itself and I think he might have a different view by the end of next year." Kilkenny face Clare in Semple Stadium on Sunday in their league semi-final in what many believes could be a dry run for a big clash later in the championship.
Keher admitted surprise at how the Banner have struggled to make an impact in the championship since their Liam MacCarthy cup success in 2013 but believes a win this weekend could do them a "great service".
"I was surprised (they fell away after 2013) because I saw them coming up through the grades with their great U-21 teams and they had everything going for them. It is strange that the dip came.
"They are young enough to recover from that and this year we might see a different Clare team and they will be well in contention.
"They are sort of playing it down that it is not that important and that they are focusing on the Munster Championship but I think it is a big game for them.
"It is a big game for Kilkenny too but I think Clare will be anxious to test themselves out against Kilkenny in preparation for the championship.
"They will be anxious to win it, there will be no question about that.
"They are not going to ease off now coming towards the end of the league. A league final would do this Clare team a great service."