NO matter the result of tomorrow’s All-Ireland final, there will be mixed emotions in every county in Ireland outside of Kilkenny and Tipperary.
If Kilkenny win there will be disappointment for Tipperary and a fine band of classy hurlers and classy individuals beaten in their second championship decider in a row. That will be balanced by delight at the making of history.
If Brian Cody’s men win, then in 20 years’ time – more for those of us of a younger vintage – we’ll be able to turn to a new generation and say, “Yes, I was there, I saw Noel and Jackie and Tommy and JJ and Cha and Lyngers and Henry and Eoin and Gorta and Eddie and Taggie and Richie and all. And yes, they were that good.”
And should Tipp defy the odds? Disappointment for the black and amber crew and their followers with the five-in-row remaining the great unclaimed territory in senior championship.
All that would be balanced by delight for Tipperary, that Liam Sheedy and his men have made a badly-needed breakthrough, hurling with a new team of heroes and next year’s championship thrown wide open again.
So, which scenario is more likely to unfold?
There is one way only, that Tipp will win this game – their attitude, individually and as a team, will have to be perfect. Everyone must be totally focused; prepared mentally for the physicality that Kilkenny will bring to the table. For the duration everyone must be prepared to hit and be hit like they’ve never hit or been hit before. Everyone must run until their lungs are ready to burst, their legs are ready to fold; every defender getting to grips with his man, every forward taking his every chance. Simply, everyone must play to the maximum of their abilities.
And even then, they still may not win.
Why? Because this Kilkenny team is as close to the perfect hurling machine as we’ve ever seen, and any weakness in Tipperary will be exposed and exploited. A forward who isn’t doing his defensive work, that Kilkenny defender will have that extra split second to look up, find a space, set up an attack, and any such attack can be deadly. A defender who lapses in concentration, is caught ball-watching, or caught out of position – again, deadly.
It’s not just that these Kilkenny superstars have had excellent coaching in Nowlan Park, it’s because their hurling instincts are just that – innate, inbuilt, bred-in-the-bone. As Cody never tires of pointing out, it starts in the home, continues in the school and the local club, is further fed in the now famous underage development squads, then honed in Nowlan Park when they finally reach the senior squad. They don’t just know each other so well now, they know each other’s play, and their support play on and off the ball, their movement horizontally across the various lines and vertically up and down the pitch, is now so well choreographed it could be set to music.
That’s the team Tipperary are now trying to defeat and it’s a task of gargantuan proportions. But here’s the thing – Tipperary cannot afford to think the same. They must look at their own team, their own talents, and believe. Believe that they have the speed, the strength, the stamina, the hurling; believe that this giant can be slain.
Respect, but no fear. That attitude, a total team performance, and they have a chance; if not, there is even a real fear that Kilkenny could do here what they’ve done to so many other teams in the past.
- Verdict: Kilkenny
Photo shows a sign outside Thomastown, Co. Kilkenny. Picture: INPHO
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