All-Ireland winning manager Ger Loughnane believes that the influence of Brian Cody is the only thing keeping the Cats ahead of the chasing pack.
Cody has managed Kilkenny to 11 All-Irelands, with another three-in-a-row on the cards if his side is not stopped this year.
But Loughnane believes that the current team is “functional” rather than outstanding, and totally reliant on one or two key players, as well as their “once-off, totally exceptional” manager.
“Looking at Kilkenny now and their personnel, there is no way that Kilkenny should be winning the All-Ireland. There is no way this Kilkenny team should be going for three-in-a-row,” said Loughnane in an extensive interview with GAA.ie.
“Three-in-a-rows were so hard to get before Brian Cody came along. And teams that won three-in-a-rows were legendary teams.
“Now the present Kilkenny team is functional beyond belief, and they're getting the best out of what they have to an extent that no-one else could do other than Brian Cody. But, at the same time, a team with that talent should not be winning an All-Ireland. I have no problem in saying that.
“They should not be winning an All-Ireland with that team. Totally dependant on TJ Reid, one forward, and maybe Richie Hogan as well.”
Because of the Cody effect, Loughnane believes that the time to beat Kilkenny is before they reach the first Sunday in September – like Cork did in the 2013 All-Ireland quarter-final.
“The danger of course is that the longer they go on the harder it will be to beat them. Will Mick Fennelly come back even if it's only for a few games? Eoin Larkin will be back again.
“The longer they go on, the bit more difficult they'll be to beat. I think if they're not stopped in an All-Ireland quarter-final or semi-final, then they won't be stopped on the first Sunday in September. That's the point where you must stop them.”
Loughnane believes his native Clare, under former goalkeeper Davy Fitzgerald, could come closest to stopping the Cats at that early juncture.
He also believes that Tipperary, who he regards as “the most skilful team and the team you'd like watching most”, could also be potential winners if they sort out defensive and ball-winning deficiencies.
However he fears that Cork, who face a relegation final against Galway this weekend, may struggle to return to their traditional place in the top-three of the game.
“The big loss to my mind is Cork. The decline of Cork is absolutely alarming. And when you look at it now, it's not a temporary decline. It's something you fear might get even worse before it gets better. Or ‘will it get better?’ is the big question. Will it ever come back again?
“You look at the decline of hurling in the City, and it's the City clubs that were the basis of all of Cork's might in the past. It's alright to say, 'ah, sure Cork will always be back'. But will they? When you look at the structures within Cork, will it come back?
“I know they're very strong now at U-14 and U-15 but that's a very young age and it will take a while to come through and will it ever come back to what it was before? It would be a massive blow to hurling if Cork don't remain a powerhouse in the game.”