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Cody's absence a new test for Cats to pass

BRIAN Cody won't be prowling the Semple Stadium touchline next Sunday and that's bound to have some sort of effect on Kilkenny's hurlers.

Imagine what it would be like for Manchester United's players without Alex Ferguson hovering over them? Cody's absence presents a new challenge for the All-Ireland champions and it will be interesting to see how they cope.

In many ways, it will be business as usual. Kilkenny pride themselves on a no-frills, no-fuss type of approach. And Cody has always been quick to highlight the key roles that Martin Fogarty and Mick Dempsey play. In that regard, he will have every faith in those two guys to pick up where he has left off and keep the ship afloat.

The way the announcement about Cody's heart procedure was made was typical Kilkenny. Cody is now recuperating following surgery and plans are in place while he's away.

And now you'll see the senior players on the team, the leaders, taking responsibility. And look at the players they have available to them – multiple All-Ireland medallists and All Stars. I think they'll handle the situation as only Kilkenny can. They're the best team in the country and it really is incredible how they manage to keep their business in-house. Such delicate information and yet nobody outside the camp knew a thing about it until it was made public. That's all Cody's doing and one of his big strengths.

Look at Henry Shefflin's situation too. There's plenty of speculation about whether or not he will make it in time for the championship but people are only guessing right now. If that was any other camp, it would be out in the public domain.

From my time playing against Kilkenny, I always found Cody a calm influence on the line. If he lets out a roar, you knew that it meant something, that someone was in trouble and needed to buck up on their performance or they'd be off. And when he does roar, it can be quite intimidating and daunting for opposition players. It's the aura that he exudes, more than anything. Now it's up to Fogarty and Dempsey to front up on the line, to defend Kilkenny's honour.

This week, they'll discuss the specific instructions that they want to see implemented against Galway and I'd expect the pair of them to be a lot more vocal than normal. And yes, it will be strange for the players not having Cody there. I remember a League game against Kilkenny at Nowlan park a couple of years ago when Davy Fitzgerald, our manager at the time, was suspended and sitting in the stands. It did feel a bit different, not having his presence on the line. And it certainly is a change when a selector or team trainer takes over the manager's duties. But in a broader context, this is just another game to be won for Kilkenny. They'll go to Thurles and get about their business just like any other game.

The way they train and their matchday itinerary won't change. And I expect them to beat Galway on Sunday because I'm not convinced about the Tribesmen and how they've set their stall out during the League. If they go with Joe Canning in the half-forward line again, their goal threat will be greatly reduced. Kilkenny will have more goal chances than Galway if that is the case.

But I don't think Anthony Cunningham will lose too much sleep even if Galway do lose the game. He's in a much better position than last year, when Galway had to win a relegation play-off to stay up. Galway will be in a relaxed frame of mind before throw-in. If we win, we win and if we don't, it's not the be all and end all. Their big focus is on the championship and they could meet Kilkenny twice in the summer – in Leinster and in the All-Ireland series.

The game is a re-run of last year's All-Ireland final and replay and while Galway won the previous League meeting between the sides at the start of the campaign, that will count for nothing. It's a bonus for both teams to find themselves in a semi-final because, after three games, they were in big trouble and looking over their shoulders at the prospect of a relegation play-off.

Galway will want to make a statement, but either way, I wouldn't read too much into the end result. In the other semi-final, Tipperary will be too strong for Dublin. Of all the teams in the league so far, Tipp have been the most impressive. They're scoring plenty of goals and racking up decent points tallies. I see Dublin bringing a high intensity and having a right cut off it but Tipp will pull through with four or five points to spare.

Irish Independent