KILKENNY BOSS BRIAN CODY admits that his side have several injury concerns ahead of Sunday's Leinster SHC final against Galway.
Captain Eoin Larkin continues to be a doubt after incurring an ankle injury in training recently but Cody is hopeful that the James Stephens man will be in a position to feature. Elsewhere there are concerns over JJ Delaney, Colin Fennelly and Paul Murphy after that trio picked up knocks during Kilkenny's semi-final victory over Dublin in Portlaoise.
"Eoin went over on his ankle last week in training and he hasn’t trained since," revealed Cody. "He did a small bit of jogging on Sunday so we’re hoping that by the weekend certainly that he’ll be fine. We expect Eoin to be okay. We have injuries, no doubt. But there’s nobody ruled out and there are definitely a few players not ruled in yet. You’d be speculating at this stage.
"JJ (Delaney) picked up a finger injury and obviously had to come off against Dublin and there’s no certainty of his availability. He’ s not ruled out. Colin Fennelly picked up an injury that day and hasn’t trained since. Paul Murphy took a heavy knock and hasn’t trained."
In relation to that recent convincing win over Dublin, Cody was keen to play down the significance of Kilkenny's victory.
"We played well on the night. It was a good performance and it had to be a good performance. As it turned out it was, you could call it a big victory if you like. If we had played to a lesser standard it could have turned out differently. Plus it was combined with a bad day from Dublin. It’s very, very small things, thin margins - call it what you like. Lookit, we were good, we’d be pleased with the way we played."
He dismissed suggestions that the sense of rivalry between the two sides added to Kilkenny's desire to win.
"We just went out to win the game and we wouldn’t even begin to think beyond that. They were the opposition, the prize was to get to the Leinster final - it was either them or us and the object, as ever, is to win the game that’s in front of us. If you think of doing anything beyond that you’re deluding yourself."
One player who has impressed of late for Kilkenny has been TJ Reid - a factor Cody largely attributes to the player's experience at this level.
"During the League he had a good few opportunities that he’d normally score. One of his great strengths is his accuracy and his striking is very, very good. He had a decent game [against Dublin] and he’s been having decent games through the League. TJ is obviously around a few years and he’s showed great determination."
However, Reid and his teammates will have to be at their very best against a Galway side who, as Cody acknowledges, will be no pushovers.
"They've brought their abilities, their talents and the excellence of their team. When people make a list of potential All-Ireland winners at the start of the year, they're on it. You talk about Kilkenny and Dublin and everything else, but the last time Galway played Dublin in a knockout match, a competitive match, they were excellent and gave Dublin a serious beating that day.
"The last day against Offaly, they produced a whirlwind start. The game was over early on. People talk about Kilkenny killing off teams, Galway killed off Offaly completely in the early stages of that game. It was game over. They've brought that standard and are a top team. You look around and see the potential and young talent that is there. They're an outstanding team even though they haven't won in the last few years."
Nevertheless, Cody will not be losing any sleep contemplating how to counter the opposition's gameplan.
"We generally do the same things and try to play to the best of our abilities. It doesn't mean you don't pay particular attention to particular teams in certain aspects. Generally speaking we'd focus on ourselves more."
While Cody recognises the strengths of Galway as a team, he insists he won't be focusing extra attention on any one individual player, namely Joe Canning. "He's a player at a phenomenally high level. He's an outstanding talent, no doubt about that. The player who marks him will have his hands full but the players know that. It'll be a full time job. But not alone have they Joe in the forwards, he has very serious company up there."
Kilkenny, of course, have a star of their own in Henry Shefflin, whose recent return to action represented a timely boost for the side, following his spell on the sidelines.
"It was a huge game for Henry from a personal point of view. It gave him the confidence to realise that he’s back to where he needs to be. He has suffered, more than most, from injuries in the last number of years. The second time around with the cruciate he knew what to expect but the shoulder was a whole new ball game and it was particularly tricky as well. But he stuck at it and to have a championship game behind him is terrific for him."
And though Shefflin's season began belatedly, Cody feels the extra rest he experienced, in contrast to his colleagues, could prove somewhat beneficial in the long run.
"He certainly wouldn’t have chosen to do that. He would have loved to have been playing. But there is something in what you are saying because freshness does matter. And if anything can make you fresh it’s an absence from the thing you like doing. There would be a benefit from that but he would have liked to be involved in some of those matches from a sharpening point of view."