By Peter O’Dwyer
Having contested one of the most dramatic All-Ireland finals in living memory Kilkenny and Tipperary are set to do battle once more this evening.
Tipperary, a side very much on the up in the latter half of the championship, must surely have been imbued with a new-found confidence after coming within a whisker of snatching victory over their old adversaries the last day.
A stable team selection certainly indicates Eamon O’Shea’s belief in the fifteen that started the last day out, while his opposite number has a little more uncertainty to deal with.
Rather than stick with those who togged out on September 7, Kilkenny boss Brian Cody has opted to introduce three fresh faces to the line-up with Kieran Joyce, Padraig Walsh and John Power entering the fray.
The inclusion of Joyce and Walsh in the Cats’ half-back line tells you all you need to know about the manager’s dissatisfaction with how his defence handled the ever-evolving threat of Tipperary’s forwards the last day.
Removing Brian Hogan from the anchor of the defence at centre-back is a bold move by Cody but one he’s been playing with for some time given Jackie Tyrrell’s forays in that position earlier in the year.
The movement of Tipp’s attackers the last day was excellent and Cody will hope the greater mobility of Joyce and Walsh will go some ways to stifling their threat on their second All-Ireland outing of the year.
Indeed, that Tipp forward line was reborn in many ways two weeks ago with Lar Corbett epitomising their revival. Along with John O’Dwyer, Gearóid Ryan and others, Corbett and the supporting cast picked up some of the slack for the two consistent performers of the year, Seamus Callinan and Patrick ‘Bonner’ Maher.
Maher’s ability to grab a game by the scruff of the neck and bring others into play is almost unparalleled while Callinan has been in devastating form this year.
Corbett’s vastly improved showing the last day, along with the other Tipp forwards, gave them real impetus and a multi-faceted attack that Kilkenny simply weren’t able for.
That said, Kilkenny too seemed to have the upper hand over the Premier County’s defenders, particularly when Richie Hogan was moved to centre-forward against Padraic Maher who failed to cope with the move.
If John Power can emulate his brother’s goal scoring feats, Cody will have every confidence that his side will seal the deal at the second time of asking.
Predictions, however, are largely futile; while we all expect another close game we have little right to expect another of the same drama and if last year’s replay taught us anything it’s that a lot can change in the space of just two weeks.
Instead, it’s simply another occasion to appreciate and marvel at. What’s seldom is wonderful, they say, but not when it comes to All-Ireland replays.
KILKENNY: Eoin Murphy; Paul Murphy, JJ Delaney, Jackie Tyrrell; Pádraig Walsh, Kieran Joyce, Cillian Buckley; Richie Hogan, Conor Fogarty; Michael Fennelly, Colin Fennelly, Eoin Larkin; Richie Power, TJ Reid, John Power.
TIPPERARY: Darren Gleeson; Cathal Barrett, Pádraic Maher, Paddy Stapleton; Brendan Maher, James Barry, Kieran Bergin; Shane McGrath, James Woodlock; Gearóid Ryan, Patrick Maher, John O’Dwyer, Noel McGrath, Seamus Callanan, Lar Corbett.