O’Mahony ready for the ultimate challenge

At the elite level sport is about testing yourself.

Win and you get that special buzz, Lose, you get to try again.

This Sunday Tipperary take on Kilkenny in the league final, a side who have won six of the last 11 titles, nine of the last 13 championships. They are the hurling benchmark of all time. They are also at home.

Daunting? Undoubtedly, yes. For Conor O’Mahony and his Tipp team-mates this is why they play the game

"Kilkenny are always going to be at the business end of the year but it’s a great challenge for our team, our squad and management, going down to Nowlan Park."

And the possibility of losing? Conor considers it, but not for long. He’s not playing top-class hurling to lose.

"It can knock you back if you let it knock you back. But I think our lads are around long enough. It’s a great opportunity, a great challenge and we’d love to get a result down in Kilkenny. But I don’t think that lads will be..."

He changes tack: "Obviously they would be upset and disappointed."

Then changes again: "There’s a national league there to be won. I think maybe Eoin [Kelly], Larry [Corbett] and Brendan Cummins have two, a few have one but the majority of lads don’t have any. So, it would be great for everybody to pick up a league medal."

It’s what’s to be won, what’s to be gained, that’s what drives them on not what might be lost. The Cats are the cream of hurling. Conquer them, in Kilkenny itself especially, and you’ve conquered Everest.

"Kilkenny are always going to be there. They’re fantastic hurlers. They’ve been the best hurlers in the country for the last number of years. They’re a great team and they’re going to be still there in another three or four years’ time.

"We’re not looking on them any different than we did three or four years ago. We have huge respect for them."

A massive team and personal then. In the semi-final win over Dublin he lined out at full-back, a position he hadn’t manned since his U21 days, with Pádraic Maher starring in Conor’s more usual position of centre-back ("He’s probably more suited to wing-back!", Conor’s tongue-in-cheek reaction to that).

It’s an unforgiving position and a line Kilkenny just love to breach. On Sunday he could find himself against the flying and physically-imposing Colin Fennelly, even more physically imposing Walter Walsh or the very different challenge of the blocky Richie Hogan. All very different but one thing in common – danger.

"Richie is absolutely flying it. He’s probably the in-form player at the moment. I think he got five or six points from play the last day [four, in the win over Galway]. The Kilkenny forwards rotate a bit and they all need watching."

And when this Sunday is over? On to the next challenge for Conor and Tipperary.
"This is ideal preparation for five weeks down the line, June 9, Limerick in Limerick [Munster championship] and that’s going to be a huge cauldron in there as well."