For Tipperary, the parallels between 2011 and this season don’t have to be drawn: they can’t but smack you in the face.
Never mind a facile Munster championship, much like Dublin in that year’s All-Ireland semi-final, it could be argued Galway were the better team despite being on the losing side. Tipperary on both occasions were second best in the air and if they are again today then Kilkenny will make hay. But unlike the 2011 (TJ Reid), 2012 (Colin Fennelly), ’14 (Henry Shefflin) and ’15 (Richie Power) finals, Kilkenny don’t appear to have anyone coming off the bench capable of causing chaos. Power had no right to see action in last year’s final but Cody appreciated his impact. In nature as well as reputation, Power could make a difference. Looking at their bench now and is John Power the closest they have to a potential match-winner in reserve?
Tipperary aren’t exactly blessed with awesome auxiliaries themselves hence the good points made during the week about keeping John O’Dwyer in reserve although Jason Forde has come off the bench in the past and contributed. Turning 23 at the end of the year, former under-age star Forde should have had a breakthrough performance by now. Today provides with the opportunity to announce himself but will he take it?
Michael Ryan should take comfort that Tipperary, in beating Galway down the stretch, finally won a tight championship match. Even if facing Limerick with 14 men was a test of their character, until they went nose-to-nose with an All-Ireland contending team and were the second to blink that monkey clung to their backs. That will give them not only a sense of well-being but freedom too.
However, Kilkenny know where they can make inroads in the Tipperary half-back line. Seamus Kennedy and Ronan Maher are relative novices and if Pádraic Maher can be shut down the contagion will be difficult to control. Expect Kilkenny to put their form men on this line – Reid, Richie Hogan and although Walter Walsh is in a rich vein of it Colin Fennelly has done well on the older Maher before. Kilkenny will look to target Kennedy as they did John O’Keeffe in the 2011 final and look to draw the younger Maher out. Brendan Maher’s role in protecting that line will be essential.
Tipperary know they can win but if they’re relying on hurt to bring them up the Hogan Stand steps then they need only look back on how it left Kerry short last Sunday. Kilkenny will perform – the second date against Waterford ensured that. They will have to because Tipperary are the more skilful team but work-rate wins out every time. Outworking Waterford took some doing but this Kilkenny team are that formidable.
The aggression shown by Tipp this year is a tip of the hat in their direction and the last thing they would want is such flattery to be their undoing. Kilkenny’s corner forwards must chip in with scores because John McGrath looks in the mood to tear a defender apart but the Cats know the drill. They’re not going to steamroll Tipperary but a one or two-point win would flatten them all the same.
Don’t miss the Irish Examiner GAA Podcast. Daithi Regan, Tadhg O’Connor, Eddie Keher, Eamonn Murphy and PM O’Sullivan join Peter McNamara to discuss the Kilkenny v Tipperary All-Ireland hurling final.
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