In the Father Ted episode where a bomb was planted on Dougal’s milk float, two fellow priests and a tense Ted were involved in a major planning session. Liam Sheedy and co will have gone through a planning process for this final — and their bomb is TJ Reid.
Negating the influence of Reid should have taken some time, both in planning and in preparatory work on the training pitch. Ted eventually found a solution to Dougal’s plight, and it is vital for Tipp that their planned solution also works.
However, stopping TJ Reid will take some serious application, especially as he is captain and will be as keen as mustard to lead his team up the Hogan steps in what would surely be the greatest victory of the Cody era.
Getting this match-up right will be crucial for Tipp. In the last major game between these bitter rivals — last season’s Allianz League final — Reid, opposed by Ronan Maher, was named Man of the Match.
Unlike Wexford, Tipp have no standout defender tailormade for a ‘man-marking’ job on the superb Ballyhale attacker, though they have handed Brendan Maher man-marking roles in this championship. Maher or Seamus Kennedy might share these duties but stopping Reid from catching clean is the main requirement and preparation for this in training, where the defender focused on Reid’s catching hand, is a must.
The Tipp defence must deprive the Kilkenny captain of clean possession rather than competing in a duel for the ball. Kilkenny’s attacking plan will revolve around isolating Reid ‘one-on-one’ with his marker in the middle, for puckouts and in general play. Reid is strong in the air. Once he secures possession, turns, and moves towards goal, Tipp’s defence will come under major pressure.
A direct flight path from ’keeper Eoin Murphy to Reid would be available on puckouts, if Kilkenny’s wing-forwards hug the sidelines with their midfielders on the halfway line, right and left of centre. As Murphy delivers the ball, John Donnelly would drive across diagonally in front of Reid, taking his marker with him, while Walter Walsh would make a similar move from the opposite side, but behind the centre-forward.
If Reid gains direct possession, the wing-forwards would be on his shoulder if he careers into traffic, while timed late runs by Cillian Buckley from midfield would also lend support. Reid will always attract extra defenders.
Once this happens, Kilkenny will have an overload in their favour on the 45m line, with Donnelly or Walsh free to receive passes. In space and with time, they can seek out the dangerous Colin Fennelly at the edge of the square.
Kilkenny’s management will have noted that throughout this championship, central runs at Tipp’s defence have created goal opportunities. This will be high on TJ Reid’s agenda. Unlike Wexford, however, the Cats won’t squander gilt-edged opportunities if they come their way.
Up front, Tipp will try and open up channels for quality ball into their dangerous full-forward line. Rookie Kilkenny full-back Huw Lawlor is facing the might and experience of in-form Tipp captain Seamie Callanan. The Premier will be anxious to create one-on-ones with the Kilkenny full-back line, while the Cats will be hoping to work as a collective.
They were torn asunder in the last 25 minutes of the 2016 final when the Tipp defenders and midfielders drove forward and fed quality deliveries into their inside attack without any degree of real defensive pressure being exerted by Kilkenny’s attackers.
The Kilkenny forwards will have received many reminders of this aspect of their performance in 2016 over the past week. They will be steeled to ensure there is no repeat.
Tipp’s plan to supply the inside line of attack with quality ball should centre on the Noreside half-back line. As a starting point, Premier wing forwards Jason Forde and Niall O’Meara need to play as wide as possible. Putting them in possession through short, accurate diagonal ball from central midfield, especially early on, is important. This ensures that their markers, Conor Fogarty and Paddy Deegan, have to remain near them to prevent easy point opportunities, instead of funnelling back to provide cover for their full-back line. This will ensure plenty of space in front of Tipp’s inside attack.
I would select Michael Breen at centre-forward, opposing Pádraig Walsh. I would keep Breen 50m from the opposition goal for Tipp’s puckouts, in a central position, with the other half-forwards and midfielders spread out, and target him for down the middle, creating a straight fielding contest.
Breen could also ‘pull’ on the ball (if the skill still exists) with the intention of allowing it to travel on directly to Seamie Callanan. The weather forecast tells us that tomorrow will be breezy, and if wind-assisted, Brian Hogan is capable of delivering a supply to his inside attack from restarts and from general play.
In general play, Breen would operate as a false centre-forward, as part of a triangle, playing on the right of midfield with McCormack on the left and McGrath behind them in a central role. The hope would be for Walsh to follow Breen to midfield to open up the central channels for the inside attack.
Breen’s three instructions would be to run directly for the posts at every opportunity from 50m in, to create goal chances, and to move into an inside-right position for outball from his defence and to go for points when a high-percentage option presents itself. Only scores or crucial assists force a centre back to leave his zone, so feeding Breen with good ball is essential.
However, if Breen moves outfield, Walsh may funnel back in front of his full-back to prevent a supply of low deliveries to Callanan. This would also suit Tipp as they would have three-to-two in midfield, giving them an overload and therefore an advantage. Short, quick inter-passing will be required in midfield to set up Breen and Noel McGrath, both effective point-scorers and ball-carriers.
The key would be to avoid hitting deliveries into Walsh’s area, which would become Tipp’s ‘no-fly zone’. Kilkenny would be relying on their wing-forwards to compensate for the lack of numbers in midfield by working back, condensing the middle third, and cutting down the time and space for the Premier midfielders and half-backs.
The Black and Amber will hope to replicate their opening against Limerick by tackling Tipp hard early on, cutting down their time on the ball, and attempting to knock them off their game. They succeeded in doing this in 2011 and in 2014.
Rapid support all over the field and offloading quickly out of the first tackle will be essential for Tipp to counteract Kilkenny’s enthusiastic tackling. The Cats will look back to 2016 for motivation. They will be fired up to the last to avenge that comprehensive defeat.
Tipp feel that they are a different animal under Liam Sheedy and look to their performances in ’09 and ’10 for inspiration while the questioning of their appetite for the fight by a former Kilkenny player should provide their motivation. It should make for a dramatic, ‘no-holds barred’, torrid contest, with those 50/50 refereeing decisions being crucial, as always.