'They're like Muhammad Ali boxing in the 80s' - John Mullane on why teams will want to draw Kilkenny
For only the fourth time this century, the Bob O'Keeffe Cup will be steering clear of Kilkenny.
The rest of Leinster has finally removed the yoke of Kilkenny oppression from their backs. And John Mullane now contends that, far from hoping to avoid Kilkenny in the qualifiers, other sides may hope to draw them in the hopes of getting a re-energising win under their belts.
Had Kilkenny stumbled in their province in year's past, other counties might have been praying hard to avoid them.
In 2004, for instance, when Michael Jacob rammed home a stunning late winner in the Leinster semi-final, it was that year's League champions Galway, then without a provincial home, who drew the short straw in the qualifiers.
The final score read Kilkenny 4-20 Galway 1-10 and manager Conor Hayes was presumed - wrongly, as it turned out - to be on his way out the door.
But that Kilkenny is long gone and Mullane sees an ageing, punch-drunk outfit who look increasingly vulnerable.
Speaking on The Throw In on Independent.ie, Mullane says that Tipp and Limerick won't be at all upset to meet Kilkenny early in the qualifiers.
"Where do Kilkenny go from here? If they were in the qualifier draw in previous seasons, you'd be hoping to avoid Kilkenny."
"But if you were a Tipperary now, or Limerick, or the losers of Waterford and Cork, and you were looking to re-energise your season and get a kick-start, you'd be nearly hoping to draw Kilkenny. Get a big win under your belt."
For me, they're nearly like Muhammad Ali boxing in the 80s. He's on the ropes and all he's looking for now is someone to come and knock him out."
The odds have lengthened on Kilkenny to win the All-Ireland and the fear factor is gone.
"Would you fear playing them? You wouldn't fear playing them. I think that within that Kilkenny camp, there's going to be an awful lot of doubts. Doubts that you never seen before. The bookies don't get it wrong too often. They're 8/1 and when was the last time you saw Kilkenny at 8/1 to win the All-Ireland?"
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