Kilkenny’s former All-Ireland winning captain Eddie O’Connor has questioned Tipperary’s “bottle” ahead of Saturday’s make-or-break qualifier at Nowlan Park.
O’Connor has doubts about Tipp’s ability to take advantage of a vulnerable Kilkenny team – and also tipped Henry Shefflin to make a dramatic return to the black and amber.
O’Connor, who captained the Cats to championship glory in 1993, believes manager Brian Cody will pitch Shefflin in at the deep end, despite the fact he hasn’t played this year due to a foot injury.
Kilkenny trained behind closed doors on Monday evening and O’Connor is convinced Cody is set to take another massive gamble with Shefflin’s fitness.
In the 2010 All-Ireland final, Shefflin started against Tipperary despite sustaining cruciate knee ligament damage in the semi-final victory over Cork.
The 34-year-old forward, holder of nine All-Ireland medals, lasted until the 12th minute before he suffered a recurrence of the problem and was forced off.
O’Connor insisted: “For Kilkenny to win they’ll have to have the great man back. Would I play Henry Shefflin? At this stage of the game I’d play a half-fit Henry Shefflin.
“In critical games you must have your top man on board. With Shefflin, I’ll go for Kilkenny by three or four points. Without him, I’ll go for Tipperary.”
Kilkenny may also decide to gamble on the fitness of Shefflin’s clubmate Michael Fennelly.
“For me, if they get Shefflin and Fennelly on the field, they will win. From what I can gather, Shefflin has a better chance of playing.”
Tommy Walsh (shoulder), JJ Delaney (hamstring), Cillian Buckley (hand and ankle), TJ Reid (knee) and Jackie Tyrrell (hamstring) are other Kilkenny players currently nursing injuries.
But O’Connor wonders if Tipperary have the “bottle” to emerge victorious in the Nowlan Park cauldron. “I call a spade a spade and I would be disappointed in them in recent years. They came on the scene in 2010 and had a lot of very good underage players, some tremendous players, as good as anywhere. But I would question their bottle. They’re only as good as their last match and they were four points up against Limerick and folded. They were beaten by Kilkenny in the League final. Have they the bottle for a war because that’s what it’s going to be on Saturday night?
“But there are questions marks hanging over both teams. The disappointing thing from a Kilkenny point of view is that a number of the younger lads haven’t shown consistency and reached their true potential – the likes of TJ Reid and Colin Fennelly. And for every good game Richie Power has, he has a bad one. Cody would have thought these lads would take over the mantle from Tommy, JJ, Eoin Larkin, Brian Hogan and Henry but they haven’t and that’s why they have to go back for the great man (Shefflin).”
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved