The All-Ireland semi-final between Kilkenny and Tipperary could signal “the end of an era” for whichever team loses according to former Cats defender Eddie O’Connor.
The former All-Ireland winning captain reckons there is very little to separate the teams and there are question marks surrounding both sides going into the mouth-watering clash. Adding to the intrigue for O’Connor is his belief that a number of players on either side could retire if the result doesn’t go their way.
“If you look at Tipperary’s performance against Waterford, I don’t think that’d be good enough to beat Kilkenny,” he said.
“And if you look at Kilkenny’s performance against Galway and in the first-half against Limerick, that wouldn’t be good enough to beat Tipp.
“It’s a huge game for both counties and you’ll definitely see a number of players retiring from the team that loses on Sunday. So it’s possible that it’ll be the end of an era for some of the greatest players that ever played hurling.
“The jury is out [on Kilkenny] after the Galway performance. A lot of people see it that Kilkenny maybe, are coming to the end of their tether. They have been on the road a long time. They have a fierce amount of miles on the clock as regards championship hurling. At the end of the day, it’s like Muhammad Ali, Sean Kelly; the end comes for everyone. There are doubts in Kilkenny. Questions are being asked. Is this the end? Only Sunday will tell.”
O’Connor isn’t reading much into the fact Kilkenny are training behind closed doors, noting the “circus” of the five-in-row build-up and the futility of questioning anything as successful a manager as Brian Cody does.
He believes both teams have the capacity for improvement.
“With the exception of Richie Hogan, Kilkenny will have their strongest panel to pick from, with the return of Michael Rice and Michael Fennelly. For Tipperary, every extra training session Lar Corbett gets into him there’s going to be an improvement.
“For Kilkenny against Limerick, as long as the game went on, Michael Rice and Michael Fennelly were improving immensely and I’m sure with three or four weeks’ hard training under their belt there’ll be plenty more improvement. You’d have to say it’s probably the same for Tipperary.”
The Glenmore man, who led Kilkenny to glory in 1993, doesn’t believe the current crop will be using any additional motivational factors other than reaching an All-Ireland final ahead of the game.
Much has been made of the fact Galway are awaiting the winner in the decider and it is difficult to imagine the Cats would not relish another crack at the westerners after being comprehensively beaten by them in the Leinster final.
Other potential motivational tools include the Tipperary rivalry and the fact that Henry Shefflin is two games away from winning an historic ninth All-Ireland medal. None of them are relevant as far as O’Connor is concerned, however.
“I don’t think they look further than the next match. I don’t think they have ever set targets like that or use other motivational factors.
“It’s an All-Ireland semi-final and they’ll want to get to the final. Brian has always said that they’d take one game at a time and that’s the way it will be for Sunday.”
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