“The present Kilkenny team is functional beyond belief, and they’re getting the best out of what they have to an extent no-one else could do other than Brian Cody. But, at the same time, a team with that talent should not be winning an All-Ireland. I have no problem in saying that. Totally dependant on TJ Reid, one forward, and maybe Richie Hogan as well,” said Loughnane in an extensive interview with GAA.ie, that also reflected on his glory years in charge of Clare.
Yet the Feakle man feels if Kilkenny are to be denied another three-in-a-row of titles, it won’t be in this September’s All-Ireland final: “I think if they’re not stopped in an All-Ireland quarter-final or semi-final, then they won’t be stopped on the first Sunday in September. That’s the point where you must stop them. Who’ll stop them there? Maybe Clare could stop them at that juncture.”
Having called, last year, for a full review of hurling in Clare, Loughnane paid tribute to the current set-up under Davy Fitzgerald and Donal Óg Cusack, but remains sceptical about the style of hurling the team play.
“There are two different things here. Within the group themselves, the players and all the people involved, it seems to me there is a fantastic spirit. A fantastic, energetic and confident approach to this year. People are still suspicious about the possession game. And even with Donal Óg coming in, he is also a disciple of a possession game rather than a passing game. So people are still afraid Clare will overdo the possession game. Especially among their backs. And that it won’t be direct enough. Having such talented forwards won’t be great unless they’re getting the ball. So there is an unwillingness among the crowd yet to get involved.”
“I think they’re keeping their powder dry. I think Davy is putting all his eggs in the Championship basket this year. He knows the way to win the All-Ireland is four games. Waterford, Munster final, semi-final, and final. He’ll get them up to a really good level.”
Loughnane believes Tipp are the most skilful team in the country, but has doubts about the lack of pace in their half-back line, in particular, as well as ball-winning ability up front.
“I’ve seen all of Tipperary’s games so far. I think there is no team in Ireland more skilful than Tipperary.
“However, I would say, their half-back line at the moment, Barry Heffernan and the two Mahers, Paudie and Ronan — there’s no doubt that Ronan Maher is a terrific hurler, but can you get away with a half-back-line with so little pace as you have in those three?
“When you see Joe Canning’s goal above in Galway, Joe Canning shouldn’t be running away from two half-backs and opening up a gap on them. Will the deficiencies in the half-back line and in the lack of ball-winners, can they overcome those two deficiencies? If they do, I think they will win the All-Ireland.”