With the waiting almost over Tipperary and Kilkenny are revving up for what everyone hopes will be another classic contest. Expecting a full blown reprise of September 7 is surely over-ambitious, so something less will suffice – especially if the outcome falls our way.
The betting odds have tightened slightly since the draw, with Kilkenny now holding just marginal favouritism in a market that’s effectively evens. The backing public then sees it as too tight to call with everything hanging on the whims of the day.
Replays tend not to follow the course of the original event so few expect that we’ll have the same dizzy rollercoaster ride this time. Teams learn from draws, pick up on their problem areas as well as their opponent’s strengths and then try to bring something fresh to the re-fixture. The side that learns most from the draw tends to win the replay.
Both teams had much to mull over after that cracking encounter the last day. One slight worry is that Kilkenny seemed to be hurting more than Tipperary after the draw. While they were disappointed with the input of a number of their players there was almost one hundred percent approval rating on the Tipperary side. Reproducing that high standard then is going to be difficult for Tipperary whereas Kilkenny will feel that they’ve more scope for betterment.
The only item of discussion with regard to team selection is Mickey Cahill: will he, or won’t he start? In the aftermath of the drawn game one felt he’s simply too good to be left on the bench. However, three weeks later now and I suspect that once again he’ll probably take his place among the substitutes awaiting introduction wherever the need arises.
You could argue the toss either way on this one. He’s an outstanding player, one who would find a place on any other side in the country. Yet it would be harsh on any of the starting fifteen the last day to lose out. Besides he’s an exciting utility option to introduce on almost any line of the field so I suspect the management will hold him in reserve to see how the game unfolds.
While Tipperary is likely then to name the same fifteen I suspect Brian Cody will incorporate a few changes to his starting formation. Walter Walsh didn’t light up the scene in the drawn tie and there’s a feeling that he won’t start this time, which opens the prospect that Shefflin might be part of the pre-match parade. In previous games Cody was clearly keeping his big name player in reserve for maximum impact but there is a view now that the situation has altered. We’ll see.
The speculation mill is also hinting at some possible changes to the Kilkenny rearguard where they were unhappy with the huge score that was leaked the last day – not to mention the unconverted goal chances they coughed up. Padraig Walsh could come into the frame for half back with Kieran Joyce being touted too, though the latter has got very little play-time this season. Either way there’s probably more curiosity about Cody’s selection options than Eamon O’Shea’s.
Encouragingly the much-publicised injury worries surrounding the Mahers, Brendan and ‘Bonner’, have eased in the last week. The word coming from the camp is that all personnel are fully fit and ready, including Niall O’Meara who made a hasty return from America after the drawn game. While there was universal happiness with Tipperary’s display the last time I suspect Eamon O’Shea will have underlined a few areas where improvement is definitely needed. Our defence did well on September 7 but still leaked 3-22, not to mention a few other goal chances that on another day might have hit the net. Reducing that leakage must be a priority. Curbing the Kilkenny attack requires a slavish work rate from all; when one of their forwards breaks the tackle you need covering players cutting them out, so everyone has to work overtime.
Then at the attacking end our failure to convert more goal chances will have been on the management’s agenda too. Taking a high quota of your goal chances is essential to beating Kilkenny; we did it in 2010 and won; we failed to do it in ’09 and lost. Curbing Ritchie Hogan will be another topic I’m sure the team and management will have addressed since the draw. He was reasonably well contained at midfield before switching to half forward for that very productive second half period. Tracking this key player will be essential on Saturday.
Of course while we have our areas requiring improvement Mr. Cody and company have theirs also. They’ll worry about defence where Tipperary found so many holes the last time and they’ll expect a greater input from several of their forwards. In the end then it comes down to which side is able to react best to the evidence of the last day.
On all known indicators this title is on a knife edge. The experience of the drawn match should stand to our younger players especially – remember we had five in their first All Ireland three weeks ago. Confidence levels are certainly high after September 7 but we need another feisty effort on Sunday to try and finish the job. Ultimately it’s going to come down to the swings of the day. In that regard I hope referee, Brian Gavin, won’t be a deciding factor. There are certainly Tipperary people who have major doubts in that regard but the official deserves best wishes in advance and let the judging be done afterwards. It’s going to be another tough one, so let’s hope for the match-winning breaks on the day.
When the All Ireland is finally over the club scene will launch into frantic activity but even before then there’s been action that deserves mention. Nenagh Eire Og took the North crown at the second attempt against Burgess to become the first divisional winners of the year. Another famous first has gone South with Moyle Rovers taking the minor ‘A’ title against Newport. I was looking forward to seeing this one but other events intervened. Anyway, congrats to the new champions, the first from the South since Mullinahone in 2011. It’s a new name on the roll of honour and let’s hope they build on it in the years ahead.
An event that doesn’t really register on the Richter scale of hurling achievements took place at Littleton on Sunday morning last. Boherlahan defeated Thurles Sarsfields in the Mid junior ‘B’ hurling final. So what? I hear you ask – who cares? Well, maybe not, but there is an interesting angle to the story. Four members of the winning Boherlahan side played against Toomevara in the club’s 1996 county senior final win. Conor Gleeson was the key man on Sunday bagging three goals to help his team to a first-ever win in this grade. Now into his forties he was centre back on the senior win of 1996 and of course captained Tipperary in the All Ireland defeat to Clare the following year. Willie Hickey won an All Ireland minor medal with Tipperary in ’96 and was corner back for the club the same year; he played number three on Sunday. Then you had Michael Murphy, centre forward in ’96 and full forward on Sunday; and Ger Flanagan out on the wing, a position he also played in the ’96 final. Why do I mention this? Simply because I feel it’s a great tribute to their enthusiasm and love for the game that they’re still strutting their stuff eighteen years after their greatest moment with the club. Watch out for them in the county series.