Can I enquire as to why the hurling public have had to wait three weeks for the second instalment of Kilkenny and Tipperary? This is the third year in a row the hurling final has required a second day out and this is the third year in a row we have had to wait three weeks for the replay. Why do the GAA not have a plan in place to ensure the replay is played a week or a minimum two weeks after the drawn game?
The drawn fixture has long since evaporated from the minds of hurling folk. It is a shame to think one of the best hurling finals we were ever privileged to witness is no longer part of GAA discussion, it has been forgotten.
The build-up to the replay, as a result, has been tame, limp. There is no buzz this time around.
Another bone of contention is the defending in this year’s championship, or rather the lack of. What has happened to the art of defending?
Defenders now would much rather tear up the field and tally a score than prevent one at the other end, their very purpose inside the whitewash. It has been attack, attack, attack all summer long.
Kilkenny were once the masters of defending, yet they leaked 1-28 in the drawn game and were fortunate another two or three goals were not bagged.
At a time when coaching has never been more popular, defending has never been more unpopular.
We will see a return to old ways this evening, more emphasis on marking, more emphasis on man-marking, no more looseness.
Brian Cody has made three changes, but he is three weeks too late in bringing in Padraig Walsh. Dropping Brian Hogan is a very, very big call. Hogan brings a presence and stability to that Kilkenny rearguard.
And while Kieran Joyce will hold the position far better than the roaming Hogan, he is lacking in terms of pace.
John Power is a significant addition in attack. He will thrive in the full-forward line alongside his brother. I don’t think we have ever had the situation of having two sets of brothers in the Kilkenny forward unit. A bit of history before the ball in thrown in.
TJ Reid and Michel Fennelly are selected at full-forward and right half-forward respectively, but they will wander further out the field as Kilkenny seek to keep affairs tight around the middle.
In no uncertain terms, Kilkenny will need a hell of a lot more than what they got from their front six in the drawn game. Aside from Power and Reid, they were beaten all ends up. The extra three weeks should have enabled Michael Fennelly to recapture the fitness and form of old. Further back, Cody will be anxious to get his match-ups correct. Does he, however, allow his players be moved out of position in following their designated Tipperary shirt? I say this because Bonner Maher will move inside from the off with Lar again coming out to the 40.
Tipperary will be haunted by the fact they hit 1-28 the last day but didn’t come away with Liam MacCarthy. The decision by Cody to introduce Henry Shefflin in the closing stages worked to Tipp’s advantage. They weren’t going to allow Shefflin his 10th medal and his presence on the field only heightened their motivation.
This evening, Tipperary must demand a greater performance from their captain Brendan Maher. The corner-back pair of Barrett and Stapleton will not be allowed flourish as they did in the first instalment, neither will Pádraic Maher. The very fact, however, that Michael Cahill is again on the bench is sure to be a source of deep motivation for those operating inside the whitewash. They will know that one slip-up and their game is run.
Shane McGrath and James Woodlock will again have an arduous task in attempting to curtail Richie Hogan’s influence. Can John O’Dwyer, Lar and Callanan reach the dizzying heights of three weeks ago?
Worrying from a Tipperary point of view is that almost every one of their players was in full flow in the drawn game. That was not the case for Kilkenny. Tipperary will not be afforded the same space they were back then.
Kilkenny defenders are proud men. Their pride took a hammering when conceding 1-28. Jackie Tyrrell and JJ Delaney were unusually hesitant. The channels will be quickly cordoned off at 5pm.
I am expecting fireworks this evening, different to those in the the 54-score epic. Brian Gavin be ready. This game will be physical.
A verdict I have struggled all week to reach. I hope it won’t be a draw, or we will be waiting until Christmas for the replay if the GAA again get their way.
If the several Kilkenny players who did not perform three weeks ago perform today then they will win. If they can find top gear, if that gear is still within their armour, then they will return to hurling’s summit.