There’s just two days to go until the biggest hurling game of the year; Tipperary vs Kilkenny in the All Ireland Final. Brian Barry looks at three key battles that could determine the outcome of Sunday’s game.
1. JJ Delaney v Séamus Callanan
Callanan has arguably been the player of the championship thus far, as is testified by his 2-04 against Cork. After an explosive 2009, the Drom and Inch clubman has flattered to deceive on the big stage until this summer. However, he will encounter his toughest test yet at the edge of the square, dueling with the 2003 hurler of the year.
While his best years at wing-back are behind Delaney, he remains a frightening prospect for any full-forward. A constant throughout Cody’s great teams, the 32 year-old has produced time and time again when it mattered most.
Against Cork, Tipperary opted to make full use of Callanan’s aerial ability, reigning in high balls. However, Delaney has seen off several target men in the past.
He was an integral part of Kilkenny defences which easily dealt with big full-forwards in the past, be it Dan Shanahan, Brian Begley, or Aisake Ó hAilpín. Goals win games. Tipperary found them in 2010, but did not in 2009 and 2011. The Callanan-Delaney face-off is vital.
2. Brian Hogan v Patrick ‘Bonner’ Maher
Centre-back is a position of worry for the Cats, and is the weak link in their chain, if there is such a thing. Although not tested often this summer, Kilkenny will struggle in the area if they are ran at by the opposition. In fact, the only time Brian Cody’s men were pressurised through this avenue was during the famous comeback by Galway.
For the final ten minutes, the Cats were in disarray. Cody switched Brian Hogan for Jackie Tyrell, but the Tribesmen were running riot by this point. Kilkenny were exposed.
Cue Patrick Bonner Maher, a centre-forward who loves to take his man on. While watching him play, Maher does not stand out, but on reflection, the damage caused by the Lorrha man is clear. Such was the case after the semi-final against Cork. He can run, hurting defences, and holds the key to unlock the Kilkenny guard.
3. TJ Reid v Keiran Bergin
Simply put, Reid has been magnificent in 2014. Right from Kilkenny’s opener against Offaly, the Ballyhale Shamrocks star has been magical. It is the year that he has finally come of age, having played more of a supporting role since arriving onto the scene in 2008. He is now the main man in the Cats attack.
Meanwhile, Kieran Bergin has become a regular starter for the Premier, having returned from America. Deployed at midfield throughout the league, he now has moved to wingback, and impressed.
The Killenaule native now faces his biggest test yet. Reid, in full flight, is thought to be ‘unhurlable’, and Eamonn O’Shea knows he must neutralise him if Tipp are to stop Kilkenny.
This writer is a firm believer that it can rock a team if the backs get inside the free-taker’s head in open play. It is not yet certain whether Bergin is up to the task.
Brian Barry, Pundit Arena.