Well, it’s that time of the year again, early September, the fourth meeting in four years of Tipperary and Kilkenny in the All-Ireland final, Tipperary trying to square the series at two-all.
What do you mean it’s not the All-Ireland final? And it’s not September either? Well I’ll be…
It’s already been quite a year on the hurling front hasn’t it? Munster provided great games, Tipp retaining their title, but Leinster, well, Leinster provided the great shock. Kilkenny beaten, only their second loss inside their province in the Cody era (that’s since 1999, for those of you living in another planet, and they had also won in ’98), Wexford catching them with a late sucker-punch in the 2004 semi-final.
Where does all this leave us? Shocked is one word, shocked that hurling’s undisputed one/two of the previous three years has been so unceremoniously and definitely split. But enthralled also. Had this been the All-Ireland final we were all expecting the advantage would very much have been with Tipperary, their dander up as they set out to extract revenge for last year’s final loss and the manner in which they were bullied into early submission by Kilkenny.
But it’s not. Now it’s Kilkenny on the rehab mission, themselves trying to make amends for the far more recent and traumatic experience they suffered, when they too were bullied but far more comprehensively so, by Galway. Whose advantage, in that case?
One thing for certain, the first quarter of this game will not be for the faint of heart. Tipperary know that the only way to even have a chance against Kilkenny is hit the field running and hitting, and hitting, and hitting again, with everything they have. Kilkenny though will not be in any humour to let what happened to them eight weeks ago, happen again.
Tipperary are unchanged from the team that started against Waterford in the Munster final, Kilkenny are much-changed from the 15 who succumbed against Galway. JJ Delaney wasn’t fit that day, nor were the midfield duo of Michael Fennelly and Michael Rice (though Rice did come on, and made a considerable impact) – what a trio to have back in the fold. Centre-back Brian Hogan is also fit again, having missed the quarter-final win over Limerick, but there is now one significant loss – Richie Hogan got a straight red card in that last game, misses out here. As both forager and finisher, he will be missed.
Such a hard game to call. I’m pushed and pulled, have tossed and turned, two very different minds. Kilkenny are still such a force and that shock to the system will have galvanised them, but Tipp too are such a force, threat in every position.
That midfield for Kilkenny, so powerful, and so important in the vast arena that is Croke Park. And yet, and yet…
Verdict: Tipperary, just.
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