Despite the compact nature of this year’s intercounty championship, it seems like an eternity since Kilkenny opened their Leinster campaign on a Saturday evening in Mullingar eight months ago.
In the games that were to come, there were peaks and troughs as Brian Cody’s side managed to storm to a first decider since 2019 with some memorable results along the way.
It wasn’t all plain sailing for the Cats however, with disappointing performances and defeats coming in between impressive displays.
Here, we take a look back on Kilkenny’s run in the Leinster and All-Ireland championships.
Leinster SHC Round 1 (April 16) – Westmeath 1-19 to 5-23 Kilkenny
While this won’t be remembered by too many, it was far from routine for large spells.
After 23 minutes, Westmeath had raced into a deserved 0-10 to 0-06 lead. Although few Kilkenny supporters were panicking over the result, the first half performance left an awful lot to be desired.
As expected, the Leinster champions cruised to victory in the second half with the goals coming easier and easier to come by due to the hosts’ exhaustion and Kilkenny’s ever-present ruthless streak.
The perfect start on paper, but the showing at TEG Cusack Park put any hopes of ending a seven-year drought for the biggest prize of them all on the backburner.
Leinster SHC Round 2 (April 23) – Kilkenny 2-34 to 1-14 Laois
A similar result, but a much-improved performance was in store for the small crowd that witnessed Kilkenny’s mauling of their neighbours in UPMC Nowlan Park.
Ten-points from the returning TJ Reid was the pick of very few storylines from a clash that was more predictable than any other this season.
The Cats had got off to the perfect start and topped the table after two rounds.
Tougher challenges were to lie ahead, with an old face returning next up.
Leinster SHC Round 3 (May 1) – Galway 1-24 to 3-17 Kilkenny
It was dubbed the battle of the master and his apprentice by observers beforehand as Kilkenny’s greatest ever manager, Brian Cody, took on arguably the county’s greatest ever player, Henry Shefflin.
The new Galway boss was unbeaten heading into this crucial clash following a draw with Wexford and a defeat of Westmeath.
The importance of victory could not be understated with both men, the leading figures in the unparalleled era of dominance that Kilkenny oversaw from the mid 2000s for almost a decade, desperate to move one step closer towards qualification for the All-Ireland series.
The home team almost threw away the two points when John Donnelly dramatically found the back of the net late into additional time.
However, there was to be one final twist as Conor Cooney made no mistake with a last-gasp free that was controversially awarded to grab a crucial win for the Tribesmen.
Cue the image of the summer as old friends seemingly became foes in a handshake that is still spoken about on Noreside and beyond.
Irrespective of the relationship between the two legends, Shefflin had undoubtedly left a dent in Cody’s aspirations of a third consecutive provincial crown.
Leinster SHC Round 4 (May 14) – Dublin 0-17 to 3-25 Kilkenny
Following the drama of Salthill, it was back to business for Cody and his men as they put Dublin to the sword in their own backyard.
Two goals from Tullaroan’s Martin Keoghan and another from TJ Reid sealed a comfortable win in a repeat of the 2021 provincial decider.
Unknowing to anyone at the full-time whistle, Dublin manager Mattie Kenny would never lead a Dublin team in Parnell Park again as he decided to step down following three seasons at the helm.
Cody had overpowered Kenny’s side once more and all but sealed a top three finish. They now needed to finish the job off and make a fifth consecutive Leinster final.
Leinster SHC Round 5 (May 21) – Kilkenny 1-18 to 1-22 Wexford
Any hype or over the top expectations that comes from the outside were almost entirely extinguished following the Cats’ limp performance in front of a boisterous crowd in the home of Kilkenny hurling.
The result was irrelevant from a Kilkenny perspective as a Galway defeat of Dublin meant Cody could look forward to another meeting with Shefflin in the Leinster final.
There was a flatness and sigh of despair following the loss to the Yellowbellies, but that allowed Cody and his charges to come into the critical part of the season under the radar, They were exactly where they wanted to be.
Leinster SHC final (4 June) – Galway 0-17 to 0-22 Kilkenny
“A poor, poor game for spectators.”
That’s how Henry Shefflin described his side’s dour affair with the Cats in a tepid Croke Park battle that will not live long in the memory.
Not that Brian Cody cared a jot about the entertainment value on show for supporters.
There was yet another frenzy surrounding Cody’s and Shefflin’s handshake, but that played second fiddle to the fact that Kilkenny were back in an All-Ireland semi-final and were bringing the Bob O’Keeffe Cup to the Marble City.
They were at their robust, functional and efficient best as they proved too willy and smart for a naive and wasteful Galway outfit.
All-Ireland SHC semi-final (July 2) – Kilkenny 2-26 to 0-20 Clare
We arrive at the game that filled Kilkenny supporters with hope that their seven-year wait for the holy grail all could have been about to come to an end.
It was hailed as the best performance from a Kilkenny side since their 2019 semi-final victory against Limerick and rightfully so.
Powerful, intense, clinical. Kilkenny were all of these and more as they marauded to a superb result in front of yet another small crowd in Croke Park.
The use of the bench coupled with an ability to swarm all over their opponents meant the game was all but over by half-time.
All-Ireland SHC final (July 17) – Kilkenny 2-26 to 1-31 Limerick
In a final for the ages, Brian Cody’s last game at the helm ended in a spirited defeat to a team who secured their third consecutive crown.
Both sides somehow seemed to put in their best performances of the season in almost unbearable heat as Croke Park welcomed more than 80,000 people for the showpiece event for the first time since 2019.
Gearoid Hegarty powered through the Kilkenny back-line in the early stages as the Treaty scored the first 1-03 without reply.
Kilkenny would never lead, but they also never relented, as second half goals from Martin Keoghan and Billy Ryan helped them draw level.
The throngs of Cats supporters who made the trip to the capital dared to dream as Richie Hogan entered the fray before pointing from underneath the Cusack Stand.
John Kiely’s men continued to pick off their points however, and despite exhausting everything they had as individuals and collectively, the Kilkenny players were left to ponder coming so close, but yet so far.