DONAL O'GRADY: Tipp’s superior bench power could swing it

History informs the future.

When Tipperary manager Declan Ryan and coach Tommy Dunne sat down to plan their tactics for tomorrow they could draw from recent historical events.

Last year’s All-Ireland final against the same opposition is a source of much information. It doesn’t provide a range of answers, but for any major examination it’s important to know how to avoid the pitfalls and the 2011 DVD is an excellent source.

Their plans must include protection against a whirlwind Kilkenny start. They were shell shocked after the first 20 minutes and although that period didn’t cost them the game — sloppy defending in the lead up to the first goal did — it dented their confidence and prevented Tipp from getting any grip on proceedings, forcing them to chase the game from the start. Sloppy defending has to be avoided tomorrow.

A blanket defence, full of concentration, commitment and, above all, superb discipline will have to be employed early to build pressure on Kilkenny, forcing them to score from play and not releasing the pressure valve as Dublin did in the Leinster semi-final by conceding needless frees.

Tipp’s deliveries out of defence will have to be measured and Padraic Maher will be crucial here. Maher, with his defensive and midfield colleagues, will have to ensure they find Patrick Bonner Maher.

Finding Bonner with accurate deliveries is key to their success, but, above all, it’s important no deliveries are sent gratefully into the receptive arms of Tommy Walsh as they were in the first half of 2011 final.

Anytime Kilkenny have played big games under Brian Cody, Henry Sheflin was always central to the plans. Against Waterford in the 2008 final he was placed on the young, inexperienced Kevin Moran. Last year against Tipp it was on All-Ireland debutant John O’Keefe.

I expect him to start at left corner forward where he’ll have a height advantage over Conor O’Brien, if he starts, and to move to the left wing on occasions where Padraic Maher will pick him up. Shefflin is a great finisher and playing him inside with either Eoin Larkin or Richie Power and the pacy Colin Fennelly on the right provides a real goal threat.

This game, by its very nature, will be highly competitive with time and space at a premium and Kilkenny will seek to test Tipp defender Thomas Stapleton. Both Tipp and Kilkenny will have practiced swarm tackling at speed, cutting down time on the ball and making it difficult to pick out forward colleagues with measured passes.

Playing this combination inside offers the Cats the opportunity of hitting in any type of ball under pressure. On their day the aforementioned Kilkenny attackers have the capacity to win high ball and snap up any breaks around the square.

I’m expecting TJ Reid to be played at wing forward on Padraic Maher. He did well on him in the league, winning the contest in the air, although Maher’s fitness wasn’t at its peak.

If Kilkenny can subdue Maher, forcing him to clear facing his own goal under pressure — he is inclined to strike high balls over his shoulder, not an advantage to his attack — it would be a huge psychological boost for Kilkenny as Maher can do damage going forward and is a talisman for the Premier county in much the same way as Tommy Walsh.

Both sides are on par with replacements for defence and midfield, but, up front, it’s a different matter. There is a distinctly bare look, of Old Mother Hubbard proportions to Kilkenny’s forward replacements. Richie Hogan has a ban for this game and it puts further pressure on this area as there is no real depth of experience to come in, a problem that didn’t exist for Brian Cody in the past.

Tipp are much better placed in this regard. Eoin Kelly has a wealth of experience; Shane Bourke has done very well when introduced and Seamus Callanan and Gearoid Ryan are also available. Defenders are uncomfortable when a player with experience, a different style and a fierce enthusiasm to prove hismanager wrong, comes on.

They have to adapt to different circumstances, different strengths and challenges, particularly if the replacement carries a goal threat as the aforementioned Kelly invariably does. Kilkenny can’t afford any injuries to their big game players and Declan Ryan has an advantage in this area.


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