ENDA MCEVOY: Putting a new slant on old Kilkenny-Tipp rivalry

Six championship seasons and six consecutive Kilkenny/Tipperary clashes, not to mention the three National League finals they’ve collided in during the same period of time.

There’s no unconscious coupling here and there’s simply no getting rid of the pair of them. As Sunday’s showpiece draws closer, here’s a few issues to ponder.

Q. Does the presence of bothcounties in a fourth All-Ireland final in six years herald the end of the (apparently short-lived) revolution Clare initiated last year?

A. Not a bit of it. It’s not as if the gains of 2013 have been flung violently back in the faces of the peasantry by the vengeful ruling classes. We had plenty of revolutionary activity this summer too, what with Limerick coming within a puck of the ball of reaching the final and — the ultimate act of insurrection, this — the reigning monarch losing his head in Wexford Park. Championship 2014 was not short on surprises. The reason Kilkenny and Tipperary contested the finals of 2009-11 was because they were a mile ahead of the pack; the reason they’re contesting this final is because they emerged from the pack. The levelling-off process has not come to some abrupt and emphatic halt. As a result, this is unlikely to be a final that will take a lot of winning; certainly nothing like the winning that the 2009 equivalent took, what with Tipperary hitting 0-23 and still losing, and Kilkenny having 11 scorers from play and needing them all. Nor is it unlikely that a couple of other teams — primarily Limerick — will look in on Sunday and conclude that it might easily have been them. The good news is the revolution will continue next year and will continue to be televised.

Q. On the law of averages, are Tipperary due — even overdue — a win against Kilkenny?

A. On the face of it, they are. Since their victory in the 2010 All-Ireland final, the sides have met in three championship encounters and two National League finals, with Kilkenny winning every one (plus three out of four regular league fixtures too, among them a 16-point turnaround at Nowlan Park back in February). The wheel has to turn some time. But it will only turn on Sunday if Tipp hurl well enough, and the only one of those five games they hurled well enough to win was this year’s league decider.

Q. Does Brian Cody know his best team?

A. A very good question. All season he’s been hymning the joys of an unsettled lineup. A settled spirit, yes; a settled team, no. It may be overdoing it to assert he’s been making it up as he goes along and getting away with it, but how else does one explain taking his standout forward out of the All-Ireland semi-final by putting him in the full-forward line, then leaving it to the three-quarter mark to spring Henry Shefflin and Richie Power? Had Kilkenny lost, the charge sheet would have been a long one and the management would have been well advised to cop a plea rather than allow the case proceed to trial. What Cody does possess, and what’s clearly influencing his thinking from match to match, is his back-up battery of forwards. Look at who else, in addition to Shefflin and Power, was on the bench for the Limerick game: Tommy Walsh, Walter Walsh, Aidan Fogarty, John Power.

At this stage it’s impossible to name Sunday’s starting sextet with any confidence, but rest assured, that the need to prevent Padraic Maher becoming the launch pad for Tipperary attacks, as he was against Cork, will constitute one plank of Cody’s plan.

Q. What about the Eamon O’Shea factor, if indeed there’s such a thing?

A. There is such a thing and it manifests itself when Tipperary visit Croke Park. Give or take the 2008 All-Ireland semi-final, a forgivable lapse for a developing team in year one under new management, O’Shea’s Tipp have made the spaces of HQ their ally and their accomplice. They took Limerick for six goals in the 2009 semi-final, outhurled Kilkenny for 20 minutes of the second half in the final (“If you’d told me beforehand we’d play that well and lose, I’d have been surprised,” O’Shea revealed afterwards) and put four goals past them in 2010. Obviously their defeat of Cork last month wasn’t on such a lofty scale, but they got the job done, and with plenty in hand too. A man whose heroes include Vaclav Havel and the poet Paul Durcan, O’Shea has always seen himself as more than simply a manager or coach, emphasising the pastoral aspect of the job. As such, he’s the ideal person to reinvigorate the careers of the boys of 2010. Their best days should have been ahead of them; they weren’t. On Sunday these former boy-band members seek street cred and redemption with their shot at a “serious”, grown-up album.

Q. Is there any previousAll-Ireland final to which this match may bear advance comparison?

A. Sure is: 1967. Three years earlier the great Tipperary team of the era, at the Everest of their powers, had destroyed Kilkenny, the reigning champions, by 5-13 to 2-8. But by 1967, Tipp had eight outfield players over the age of 30, among them the old warriors John Doyle and Kieran Carey in the full-back line, whereas Kilkenny didn’t have a single one. In the end, pace told; Tipp’s stalwarts “were dying at our feet in the second half”, the winners’ centre-forward Tom Walsh recalls. The team with the stalwart defenders this time around are, of course, the crowd in stripes. Three of the six Kilkenny defenders are the wrong side of 30, among them JJ Delaney and Jackie Tyrrell in the full-back line. Next Sunday is the last day Delaney, Shefflin, Brian Hogan and Tommy Walsh will tog out together in Croke Park. They’ve kept the Grim Reaper in the waiting room long enough. Now he finally has the door ajar.

Q. The last two All-Ireland finals have ended in draws. The odds against a third successive draw are astronomical, I assume?

A. They’re the same as they usually are. Around 9/1.



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