Kilkenny and Tipperary clash this weekend in the eagerly anticipated All Ireland Hurling Final. Ashling Dalton discusses three counties that played a part in the teams’ path to the final.
The Tuesday before the Sunday. The calm before the storm. Call it what you like, talk of the All-Ireland hurling final between Kilkenny and Tipperary will grip the country this week with predictions of teams, winners, first goalscorers and men of the match coming from all angles.
This will be the fourth meeting of the sides in an All-Ireland in five years. This year however, is a little bit different. While there are shades of 2010 about Tipperary (they came through the back door to win the All Ireland) they have faced the same opposition as their Black and Amber nemesis with varying results.
Offaly, Galway, Limerick, and Dublin. Four counties who are standing on the sidelines wishing it was them preparing for a final, but have contributed in a unique way; they made life extremely difficult for the two finalists.
One cannot help but remember the drawn game between Kilkenny and Galway. This writer was one of the supporters in the terrace on that day. Seven minutes to go, Kilkenny had the foot to the floor. I was happy in the knowledge that surely my seat in the Cusack stand was beckoning. I was in for a nasty surprise. Tipperary fans I’m sure were in a similar position against Limerick that fateful day in Thurles.
Theses counties forced the two juggernauts to prove how much they wanted to be back in September. While Offaly collapsed against Kilkenny in early June, they gave Tipperary a stern test. As for the other three…
The Shannonsiders probably provided the biggest challenge to the finalists and, had a few pucks of the ball gone their way, could have found themselves facing Tipperary in this year’s Final. Limerick ended up the right side of Tipperary and the wrong side of Kilkenny.
Both counties took a lot out of theses games, Kilkenny gained some ideal preparation in the semi-final while learning that nothing short of excellence will secure Liam MacCarthy, and Tipperary have learned to push on when they see victory in their sights. Important lessons to take into September 7th.
Galway gave Kilkenny the fright of their lives when taking them to a draw in the Leinster semi-final, and nearly knocked Tipperary out of the championship. The season may have ended dismally for the Tribesmen but they certainly made life difficult for the top two. When have we seen a Kilkenny team under Brian Cody surrender a ten point lead? Never.
The critics came out in force after the match, but Kilkenny have managed to silence them now. They learned more about themselves in that match than any other game preceding it. The likes of Joey Holden and Conor Fogarty have emerged from the replay and now could be certain starters for the final.
Those same critics were present in Thurles two weeks later when Galway went six points up against Tipperary with 20 minutes to go. What happened next however was nothing short of inspirational from the Premier county and they deserve their spot in the Final on Sunday.
It isn’t more so what Dublin did against either Kilkenny or Tipperary, but what Kilkenny/Tipp did against Dublin. They made sure everyone knew that the traditional powers were back in the big time. Kilkenny, three weeks on the go, gave an emphatic display against the Blues to win back the Leinster title and made good use of the front door entry into the All Ireland final.
Tipperary also gave Dublin a lesson and roared their way into the semi-finals. Both counties used Dublin as a signal of intent for the year ahead. Two counties, on a similar path, with a different destination awaiting them.
Ashling Dalton, Pundit Arena.