Cats aiming to Tipp title balance

THERE may be no three-in-a-row in the offing, nor is there any baggage from last year, but just as with the senior decider, Kilkenny and Tipperary hold the same number of titles ahead of today’s Erin All-Ireland U21 hurling final.

However, that’s very much a side issue, with Tipperary battling for their first championship crown since 1995 - when they defeated Kilkenny in Semple Stadium.

This is the seventh meeting of the two in a decider, with Tipperary having won on four occasions.

Brendan Cummins and Thomas Dunne were part of the winning combination five years ago, when Kilkenny were captained by Peter Barry at midfield.

Interestingly, while they each hold eight titles, Tipperary won their first 10 years before Kilkenny - in the inaugural final in 1964, captained by Francis Loughnane.

For lengthy spells in their semi-final at Portlaoise three weeks ago, Kilkenny struggled against a Galway side who enjoyed a six points lead early in the second half.

However, a number of key switches sparked a rally and Kilkenny won 0-20 to 0-15.

In contrast, Tipperary sailed through their game against Down, winning 4-20 to 0-5.

Cork U21 manager Sean O’Gorman is familiar with both sides, after his team lost to Tipp in the Munster final and met Kilkenny twice in challenges earlier in the summer.

“Our second game with Kilkenny was in Nowlan Park and they had Tommy Walsh that day. They were two of the best matches we had,” he commented. “I’d see Kilkenny as a physically stronger team, but Tipp have a few big fellows with a lot of very good players throughout the field. Tony Scroope beat us on his own he’s a top-class forward.”

But the Premier county are not lacking in defence, marshalled by skipper Diarmuid Fitzgerald at centre back. In their three games to date, against Limerick, Cork and Down, they have accumulated 10 goals, conceding only two. O’Gorman agreed that Galway played some outstanding hurling in the semi-final, but says he wasn’t surprised to see them overtaken at the finish. “That’s Kilkenny - they are never out of it,” he added. “They made a few great switches, especially bringing Shane Hennessy out to midfield and Willie O’Dwyer was very impressive when he moved to centre-forward. I can’t understand why he wasn’t in the senior panel.

Kilkenny’s line-up includes four of the forwards who won medals against Galway in Thurles last year (with Brian Dowling having lost out for this game). They also have the same goalkeeper, David Herrity, but all of the backs were under-age, which is the reason why manager Martin Fogarty decided to play senior star Tommy Walsh at wing-back. Last year, he operated at midfield with Shane Hennessy.

O’Gorman believes the Tipperary half-forwards could hold the key to victory, mindful of how well the Kilkenny half-backs played against Galway. I wouldn’t disagree, but while it was hard to judge Tipperary because of the weakness of the Down challenge, I was more impressed by Kilkenny in their semi-final so I expect them to retain their title.

TIPPERARY: P McCormack; A Morrissey, C O'Mahoney, D Walton; E Hanley, D Fitzgerald, H Moloney; J Caesar, W Cully; P Buckley, S Sweeney, F Devanney; E Sweeney, T Scroope, M Farrell.

KILKENNY: D Herity; S Maher, J Tennyson, M Fennelly; T Walsh, PJ Delaney, C Hoyne; S Hennessy, P Cleere; S O'Neill, W O'Dwyer, E Reid; J Fitzpatrick, C Phelan, R Power.

Referee: Barry Kelly (Westmeath).

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