Hangover of Dublin defeat is long gone -- Cody
IT was the biggest shock in hurling for several years, but Kilkenny insist that they have put the misery of the Allianz League final trimming by Dublin well behind them as they prepare to change gears for Leinster championship action against Wexford on Saturday evening.
However, it will come just four days after Wexford hurling received a significant boost when Tony Dempsey's U-21 side beat Kilkenny by a point in the Leinster quarter-final at Wexford Park.
Brian Cody will lead his squad into the same venue on Saturday evening, knowing that there's a real spring in Wexford's step thanks to the seniors' improvement in the latter stages of the league and their solid second half against Antrim last Sunday week, followed by the U-21 victory.
It raises the challenge for Kilkenny, but Cody is confident that the Cats are as well prepared and as driven as at any time over the last decade. He also believes that there will be no hangover from the Dublin defeat.
"Hangover? Absolutely not. We were well beaten by Dublin. We accepted that at the time, made no excuses and began looking ahead," said Cody.
"In terms of how we prepare for the championship, it would be the exact same if we won. Once the league is over, you move on to the championship. It's as simple as that. Always has been."
Still, Kilkenny find themselves in territory they haven't experienced since June 2000, which was the last time they started their championship campaign with neither the Liam MacCarthy nor Croke Cups (NHL) waving them merrily on their way.
They didn't win All-Ireland titles in 2001, '04 or '05 but, on each occasion, they came back in the following spring to give themselves a pre-championship boost by capturing the league title.
They looked on course to repeat the confidence-building sequence when they qualified for this year's final, only to lose to Dublin by 12 points after scoring just 1-7. Only 1-1 came from play.
Coming seven months after conceding 4-17 to Tipperary in the All-Ireland final, it inevitably led to questions as to whether the record-breaking Kilkenny squad had reached the end of its cycle.
They could counter by pointing out that Tipperary, Waterford, Galway and Cork are all seen as top contenders for the All-Ireland title and failed to reach the league final yet escaped in-depth analysis, whereas Kilkenny were dissected in minute detail.
Still, that was to be expected since the sight of a Kilkenny team losing so heavily in any game -- let alone a major final -- stunned the hurling world.
"It put into perspective where we were on that day, but it doesn't have to dictate the rest of our year," said Cody.
Claims that Kilkenny were in serious decline dominated much of the post-league final comment but made no impression on Cody or his squad.
"I never paid any attention to what was said or written when we were winning titles so I wasn't going to start when we lost," said Cody.
"It doesn't matter in the slightest what people say about us -- it's only opinion. I never bought into the line that we were well ahead of everybody else when we were winning titles so I'm not going to worry if people think we're finished now."
There was a time in the earlier stages of the league when next Saturday's game would have been expected to be a gentle introduction to the championship for Kilkenny, but much has changed in the meantime.
Wexford lost their first five league games and seemed destined for Division 2, only to grab a late reprieve with a win over Cork and a draw against Tipperary.
That was followed by a sound performance again Antrim in the Leinster quarter-final.
The impressive finish to the league gave Wexford renewed hope for the championship but Cody was also impressed by their performance in the league in early March when Kilkenny won by five points after leading by nine at half-time.
"They turned in a fine second half that day," he said. "They've got better since then so we know we're facing a massive challenge."
Wexford last beat Kilkenny in the championship in 2004 and have taken some heavy beatings since then, but with home advantage, rising confidence and doubts over exactly where the Cats stand, they are hoping to deliver the first real surprise of the championship.
The Kilkenny team will be named tonight and is expected to feature the return of Henry Shefflin.