Ahead of the highly-anticipated All-Ireland hurling final between Kilkenny and Tipperary, Pundit Arena spoke to some of the country’s top hurlers to get their thoughts.
Johnny Coen (Galway), Mark Kavanagh (Laois), Alan Cadogan (Cork), and Cian Boland (Dublin) predict the 2019 decider in Croke Park, the Hurler of the Year and tell us whether or not they would like to see changes to officiating in the game.
1. Who will be Tipp’s main man and why?
Johnny Coen: I think it’ll be Séamus Callanan. He’s in prolific form in front of goal. In the 2016 All-Ireland, he gave an exhibition of point-taking. He’s a real focal point of the attack and Tipp will need him to stay in the form he has shown all summer.
Mark Kavanagh: Brendan Maher will be the main man for Tipp because he’ll be given the task of man-marking TJ Reid. If he can nullify Reid, it’ll go a long way in winning the All-Ireland for Tipperary.
Alan Cadogan: If you look at Tipp’s team, they have some exceptional players across the board. They have huge strength and depth but looking at the last few games, I would have to say, Séamus Callanan. He’s shooting the lights out and he plays an instrumental role in the Tipp attack.
Cian Boland: Séamus Callanan has such a natural instinct for goal. If the Tipperary backs feed him with more ball from further out the field, he poses a massive threat of stopping Kilkenny’s plans of a 37th All Ireland title.
2. Who will be Kilkenny’s main man and why?
JC: Kilkenny’s main man will be TJ Reid. Again he is the focal point of the Kilkenny attack. He is very good in the air, works hard for his team, wins plenty of rucks and he’s extremely accurate from frees. He’s a good man to score goals and his battle with Pádraic Maher will be very interesting.
MK: TJ Reid will be Kilkenny’s main man. He’s probably the best forward in the country along with Séamus Callanan. He’s Kilkenny’s leader so they need a huge performance from him if they’re going to win the game.
AC: Like Tipp, Kilkenny have a number of keys players. The likes of Eoin Murphy, Padraig Walsh, Paul Murphy, Conor Fogarty and Colin Fennelly are huge leaders in the team. However, judging by the championship so far, I would have to say, TJ Reid. He’s also in incredible form like Seamus so whichever one of these two comes out on top of their opponent, will have a huge bearing on the game.
CB: Tipperary’s matchup for the in-form Colin Fennelly will be extremely important. It will be interesting to see if they bring James Barry back into full-back, having left him on the sidelines the last day against Wexford. Fennelly is capable of exploding in Croke Park, which he showed in the All Ireland Club final.
3. Kilkenny v Tipperary, Cody v Sheedy, six final meetings in the past decade, how much will ‘familiarity’ play a part?
JC: I don’t think familiarity will have a big bearing on the game because really there has been a big turnover of players over the last decade. Kilkenny had the upper hand early on but the 2016 All-Ireland win was massive for Tipperary to get the monkey off the back versus Kilkenny. Both teams put in two serious performances in the semi-final and its a question of which team can bring the same level of intensity to the final on that given day.
MK: I don’t think familiarity will play a big part because it’s nine years since Cody and Sheedy have faced off and the game has evolved a huge amount in that time. It’s also been three years since they’ve last faced off in the championship and there have been significant changes in both camps since so no, I don’t think familiarity will be a major factor.
AC: There has been a huge rivalry between the two counties over the last number of years so they know each other quite well. However, I believe that both teams will be focusing on themselves and how best they can implement their game plan on the opposition. They won’t be dwelling on what happened in previous games in the past or the Sheedy v Cody effect or anything like that. All that is just hype and part and parcel of an All-Ireland build up.
CB: I don’t think familiarity will play too much of a part in this year’s clash. There are a few fresh faces in the Kilkenny side since the last time the two teams met in the final with the likes of Adrian Mullen, Huw Lawlor and Paddy Deegan entering into the starting 15.
4. Prediction time: Who will lift the Liam MacCarthy?
JC: Again it’s all down to the day. Kilkenny were relentless against Limerick and really took the game to them from the start. Work rate attitude and desire were all there but I feel that Tipperary dealt with so much in the semi-final. Sending off and three disallowed goals and yet they still had the answers. They had a poor season last year but have got it together this year and I think they will lift the cup.
MK: I’m going with Tipperary. I think their forwards’ firepower will get them over the line.
AC: It’s a hard one to call but I’m going to say, Kilkenny. But don’t rule out a draw!
CB: I think Tipperary will just about edge Kilkenny out. Their ability to score from long distance could be the difference in the two teams.
5. Who is your pick for Hurler of the Year/Young Hurler of the Year and why?
JC: This for me is down to the result of the game. If Tipp win, it will be Séamus Callanan but if Kilkenny win, TJ Reid will get it. These individuals will have a big impact if their teams are to win.
Young Hurler of the Year will be Adrian Mullen. I saw him play for St Kieran’s College and thought this fella is gonna make it. Although he had a rocky start to the Leinster Championship he has gotten better as the season went on. He will be a watched man for the final but he is still capable of scoring three, four, five points from play.
MK: The Hurler of the Year for me has to be Seamie Callanan, he’s been in unbelievable form this year. To score seven goals in seven games is unheard of and it seems to have been a masterstroke by Sheedy putting him as captain. Having said that, if Kilkenny win and TJ Reid has a big final it will be hard to overlook him.
AC: The Young Hurler of the Year I would say is definitely Adrian Mullen. He has had a very good opening season and played a huge role against Limerick in the semi-final.
The Hurler of the Year is a very difficult one to call. It depends on how the final goes. I’m not going to give you a definite answer but my top three would be Seamus Callanan, TJ Reid and Patrick Horgan. Patrick has been exceptional all year for us and in my opinion, he deserves to be in that category.
CB: Hurler of the Year is TJ Reid for me. He has been the most influential player in this year’s championship and has been critical to his team’s success so far this year. His best display was probably in their narrow loss to Galway in the group stages of Leinster, scoring 2-11 on the day.
Adrian Mullen, to me he is the standout player left in the championship who is eligible for Young Hurler of the Year. In his first year in the Kilkenny starting 15, he has shown he’s a natural scorer with four points from play in the semi-final against Limerick and three points from play in the Leinster final.
6. A big talking point this summer has been officiating with many calling for a second referee/VAR to help officials. Thoughts?
JC: I wouldn’t be in favour of two referees. At the end of the day, referees are human and they blow their whistle on their opinion. Some referees give more frees than others as they want to let the game flow. So if one ref wants to let the game flow and have hard tackles being hit and the other ref is blowing for frees there is no consistency.
VAR is a tricky one because what exactly will it be used for? We already have hawkeye and in fairness to refs, they are being scrutinised by an assessor every game they officiate. Will VAR overturn a decision like over carrying or handpassing. Or is it just incidents relating to penalties and goals? Either way, I’m not for it.
MK: I wouldn’t be too pushed on making many changes to the game and I definitely don’t think a second referee will work. It’ll only increase the inconsistency in calls made, I think.
VAR could be an option down the line but a lot of work would have to be put into it. I don’t think the game needs many changes if I’m being honest.
AC: The game has constantly changed and evolved over the last number of years. The speed of the game is after taking on a life of its own and it’s very difficult for referees to get all the calls right. Maybe it would be worth trying a second referee and trialling it in the National League 2020 and then reviewing it once the league is over.
CB: It is a difficult one because if you were to implement a referee in two halves, it is likely that they would have different styles of officiating, which would lead inconsistencies of refereeing in either half of the field.