Thank goodness for Eoin Kelly; a common refrain among Tipp folk this past decade and a prayer heartfully offered up this morning by your correspondent.
Kelly’s assertion the other week that tomorrow’s Semple Stadium feature was a must-win fixture for Tipperary has provided an obvious and very handy hook on which to hang today’s article.
Otherwise I’d have been sorely tempted to rehash my intro from last year’s All-Ireland final, or from the All-Ireland replay, or from the National League decider, or from the league fixture at Nowlan Park in February. Just for the hell of it. Just to see if anyone was paying the slightest attention. Just to see if somebody out there could be bothered to catch me out.
(It was either that or the new Tipperary jersey, which is being launched at midday tomorrow at a glittering event in Hayes’s Hotel. The finger food will be flowing.)
Anyway, Tipp and Kilkenny again but this time in a lower, quieter key. Then again, anything would be quieter after the tumult of 2014.
Ten goals at Nowlan Park in February. A league final that went to extra time in May. An All-Ireland final of 54 scores on the first Sunday of September.
An All-Ireland final that came within a puck of a ball of going to extra time – a throwback to 1931, almost, except then it was a second replay that ensued — on the last Saturday of September. Sturm und drang, thunder and lightning, hailstones and sunshine and the hammer of the gods.
Tomorrow we’ll get none of that. Not with Kilkenny’s retirements, their injuries and the Ballyhale absentees. Hence Eoin Kelly’s declaration of a home must-win, a comment with which there can be no arguing.
In the circumstances, Tipperary dare not do anything but win. As for Kilkenny, they dare not lose by anything more than a few points, even if Hogan – their Tippslayer – is another absentee.
If it’s a big game for Tipp, it’s also a big game for Kilkenny, and not simply because every game Kilkenny play under Brian Cody is a big game.
The past fortnight, if it hasn’t been a chastening one for Brian Cody, has unquestionably been an informative one. He may have suspected there and then that his team’s victory on Leeside on the opening night of the league said less about them than it did about the timidity of the hosts. He can be sure of it now.
Irritating as Jonjo Farrell’s red card was the following week, the flow of the game was being shaped by Dublin. And though the visitors might have got over the line in Salthill last Sunday had Richie Hogan not departed 14 minutes from time, it wouldn’t have altered the reality that for the moment they’re fighting well above their current weight.
This isn’t 2008, with their all-singing, all-dancing chorus line of substitutes. This isn’t 2009, when they captured the league title without half the team that had won the All Ireland eight months previously. Cody would love nothing more than to be able to announce, deadpan, as he has in the past when his abundant natural resources allowed it, that the lads who’ve been starting recently are the men in possession of the jersey.
In these changed times it’s all he can do not to admit in public that the men in possession of the jersey are only in possession of it till the usual wearers of the garment return.
Kilkenny are where they are, and that’s where they’ll be ‘till the Ballyhale contingent are back, just in time for what’s shaping up as a potential relegation battle with Clare.
Tipperary and their supporters mustn’t get anxious tomorrow. They don’t have to be ahead by seven or eight points at the end; they certainly don’t have to be ahead by seven or eight points at half-time. Winning by three or four points means they’ll have done the job asked of them. Winning by seven or eight points or more, much as the faithful will luxuriate in it, would not be the greatest idea.
Considerable interest will zero in on John McGrath, the scorer of five points from play in Ennis last Sunday. While we’ll know a little more about him by the end of the league, it’s not too early to pose a broad question.
To wit, do Tipperary actually need another scoring forward?
Come to think of it, can one ever have too many scoring forwards? This is not the asinine question it may at first sound, and the answer is perfectly obvious. Yes.
One can indeed have too much of a good thing. At the very least, violins can become cloying without percussion. Is there another Bonner Maher to be found anywhere among the homes of Tipperary?
All that said, imagine John McGrath – or at any rate a John McGrath type — with Limerick. One more scoring forward might well be what gets Limerick over the line in the next year or two.
Tomorrow does not yet equate to a big day for John Power. His older brother spent years not being required to make a difference for the county, not when he had Henry Shefflin and Eddie Brennan within 50 metres of him.
But last September, when Kilkenny finally needed Richie Power to make the difference, he did. A period is coming when they’ll need his brother – bulkier, not quite as satin-smooth but gifted nonetheless – to do likewise.
Tipperary have to win and they will. It’ll hardly mean much in the long run. But it’ll mean something for a couple of hours tomorrow evening.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved