Davy Fitzgerald believes a traditional shoot-out will suit Tipperary more than Kilkenny should it manifest itself in tomorrow’s All-Ireland final.
This season Fitzgerald guided Wexford to two wins and a draw against Kilkenny, including that famous Leinster final victory, before losing to Tipperary in the All-Ireland semi-final having also beaten them in Division 1A.
The Sixmilebridge man, who will make a decision next month on whether to stay in the Model County for a fourth season, has seen certain changes in how Kilkenny set up attacks and envisages a more tactical battle being preferable for Brian Cody’s side.
Should it follow along the lines of their previous battles this decade, he feels it will fall into Tipperary’s lap. “Tipp, Kilkenny normally play very toe-to-toe. I think that will suit Tipperary more than Kilkenny and that’s a hard thing to say,” remarks Fitzgerald, nodding to their tradition of direct hurling.
“But Kilkenny have gotten very good at using the ball and I found them very good at working the ball out and moving it up the field.
“They’ve changed the way they attack. If anyone else wants to tell you differently, they’re not telling you the truth. I admire what they’ve done and the difference in some of the stuff that they have done is very evident for me, as an opposition manager. They have worked hard on a lot of that stuff and I admire that. It shows that they are ready to change and see what’s going on.
“Normally, I would call a winner no problem but this is going to be tight enough. I think it’s going to be an exciting game. Tipp will need to be a little bit tighter at the back than they were against us the last day.
And then Tipperary forwards, if you’re not tight on them they’re going to hurt you. They’re the best forward line in the country.
Fitzgerald expects Kilkenny to set up in the same way they did against Limerick and ensure their full-back line isn’t exposed. Cody and the survivors from 2016 don’t need reminding of what the Tipperary full-forward line did to them in the last quarter of that game.
“They can cope with a lot of things now,” he says of the Cats. “The only time they looked vulnerable for me was in the All-Ireland quarter-final against Cork. At times, they left too much of a gap between their half-back line and their full-back line.
"I think they rectified it against Limerick a bit but it was really evident against Cork. People talk about Patrick Horgan but Alan Cadogan was absolutely on fire that day and Pádraic Walsh, who I would rate as one of if not the best defenders in the country, found it very hard to cope with him.
“That was because there was too much of a gap between the two defensive lines and I think Brian realised that for the next day. If Brian allows a repeat of what happened in the 2016 final, then it’s curtains.”
Kilkenny have looked a team revived since the second half against Cork but Fitzgerald anticipated they would reach this stage.
“They haven’t changed that much since the Leinster final. We were really good that day and I remember going into their changing room afterwards and telling them that I expected to see them later on down the line. I thought that they would get to an All-Ireland final when I went in there because I knew that was a savage battle that day.
"The hurling in Leinster this year was intense but I thought the quality was really good. Like, there is no way — and I’m a Munster man — that I could say the Munster championship was better than Leinster. I thought the Leinster championship was very entertaining.”
As regards match-ups, Fitzgerald anticipates Liam Sheedy will be putting most thought into who marks TJ Reid and Colin Fennelly. Three years ago, Reid was shadowed in midfield by Brendan Maher, who has done excellent man-marking jobs already this summer, and James Barry tagged Fennelly.
“To me, it comes down to who Tipp put on TJ Reid. It’s massive. If TJ wins that battle, I think Kilkenny win the All-Ireland. If Tipperary win it, I think Tipperary have a great chance of winning. It comes down to a couple of battles — that one and the Tipp three against the Kilkenny 14.”