'We've been written off before, it's the same again' - Brian Cody
For an 11-time All-Ireland-winning manager it may seem like an unfamiliar position for Kilkenny to be "written off" as Brian Cody enters his 19th Championship season, but the Cats boss has seen it all before.
Numerous pretenders to hurling's throne have been unable to pass the test of time during Cody's extraordinary reign and despite some seismic reversals along the way, Kilkenny have remained the sport's standard bearers since the turn of the Millennium.
The all-conquering Cats watched Cork change the game's complexion as the Rebels halted their three-in-a-row gallop in 2004, adding another title a year later as they threatened to dominate, but Kilkenny hit back to win four All-Irelands on the bounce.
Despite assembling one of the greatest squads in hurling history, Cody saw a young Tipperary side crush their 'drive for five' in 2010, sparking speculation of a takeover, but the Cats fired back with successive titles.
In 2013, it was Davy Fitzgerald's Clare, playing with flair and panache, that jeopardised Cody's team as a new era was set to be ushered in under the Banner, but normal service resumed 12 months later, and again in September 2015, as Kilkenny scaled the pinnacle again.
There was something different about Tipperary's dismantling of Kilkenny in last year's All-Ireland final, however, as the stalling of the Noreside conveyor belt left them battered and beaten, with the Premier running riot.
Combined with the biggest defeat to the Cody era (a 13-point loss to Clare in this year's League) and a Nowlan Park loss to Wexford, it left bigger questions being asked of the manager than at any other stage of his career. But in the face of adversity, he has always been at his best, and so have Kilkenny as they thrive on the challenge.
And while he tries to rebuild an empire going through a transition and over-reliant on TJ Reid and Richie Hogan, the maestro won't be changing his winning formula as they look to prove the doubters wrong. That won't be the only fuel which motivates them either, however.
"The reality of it is we were written off before - we've been beaten before. It was supposed to be the end of all sorts of whatever it was, and now the same thing is there again. Regardless, our challenge is to continue being competitive and it's challenging," Cody said.
"I don't hear too much of it because I don't pay too much attention to it; it doesn't matter to me in the slightest. The match is motivating, the challenge is motivating. We're a team, there's other teams out there, we have to play them, it'd be very strange if we weren't motivated by that and that alone."
The 62-year-old refuses to declare victories in adversity to be any sweeter than other final wins, and believes talk of All-Ireland titles is ridiculous at this stage as it's "light years away" with all focus on the their Leinster SHC semi-final tie on June 10.
It would be "disrespectful" to suggest that Wexford will be their opponents, "regardless, we're preparing ourselves to be as well prepared as we can be", but he concedes it would be a "serious atmosphere" that Saturday evening in Wexford Park should it materialise, as suggested by most.
One thing that won't happen is Cody's sideline duel with Fitzgerald, however, as the Model boss is consigned to the stands, serving an eight-week suspension for an on-field altercation with Tipp's Jason Forde, something Cody refused to give his two cents on, although he does feel that his influence will be no less regardless of where he is stationed.
"All of the other things are out of my control and out of my thinking at all. If it is Wexford we are playing, Davy is the manager and we know that he is going to have the team primed and ready to go," Cody said.
"He's going to make sure it doesn't influence them. He'll deal with the situation he finds himself in and he will have everything ready, he'll have the team ready. I've been on the line a long time and I never feel that I am in complete control of what happens on the field because it's very difficult to communicate and everything else.
"I like being on the line but if I weren't on the line, would it be a huge difference for the players? I don't think so because it's not what you do on the day that decides what happens on match-day, it's what you do in your preparation."
At yesterday's Leinster GAA Senior Championship launch, it was put to Cody that with Galway claiming League honours in devastating fashion against Tipp, the Tribesmen were now vying for provincial favouritism with 71-time winners Kilkenny.
Galway leapfrogging the Cats to become second favourites for Liam MacCarthy is also unheard of during Cody's tenure but the James Stephens clubman feels the race for All-Ireland honours is more open this year than at any stage in recent memory.
"I didn't know that now. I genuinely didn't know that. It doesn't matter to me in the slightest. Regardless, I don't mind where we are in that table. But I suppose it's consistent with what most people would expect, including yourselves," he said.
"There are four or five teams who sort of more or less on a regular basis could win the All-Ireland final and there's another four or five who could beat any of those teams on a given day. It probably has changed this year to an extent.
"I would say there's more teams capable this year of winning an All-Ireland final. Definitely. I think it's going to be the most competitive of all. Are Galway one of those? Absolutely. And were they before the League final. Most definitely."
Cody expects All-Star defender Padraig Walsh to recover from a heel injury for their Leinster opener, while Ger Aylward will see his first action with Glenmore in the coming weeks, but there's "no time-frame" on Michael Fennelly's competitive return.