Part one of the Pundit Arena preview gave a brief look back at how both Kilkenny and Tipperary rebounded from their poor showings in 2013. Part two now looks at who will be the key men for Kilkenny if they are to get their hands back on Liam McCarthy.
1. JJ Delaney
JJ Delaney will unquestionably go down as one of the greatest defenders to play the game. At full-back and left half-back he has consistently shown his full array of talents. His ability in the air is exceptional, particularly taking into account that he is not the tallest of defenders, and his tackling and pressurising is also of very high quality.
Delaney will be key for Kilkenny as he will go head to head with Tipperary’s marquee forward, Seamus Callanan. He has held the upper hand over Callanan in the past and another victory in this individual battle could be a big factor in whether Kilkenny are victorious or not.
He is the last line of their defence that has defended very well since their five goal concession against Galway in the Leinster Championship. He has been good this year but his is now at his very very best. Delaney should get a big test from Callanan and for this reason Delaney’s performance will be important for the Cats.
2. TJ Reid
TJ Reid has had a major influence on the Kilkenny attack and team in general this year. He has taken over the free taking duties and has been a key link between defence and attack from wing-forward. He did not have his best game in the semi-final against Limerick and the final against Tipperary will require a big performance.
His free taking alone will be of utmost importance. A tight and tense final, which is anticipated, can often be decided by free takers. This will be Reid’s first time taking the free taking duties in an All-Ireland final and it is pressure that he will not have faced before. To take a leaf from American sport vocabulary, they will hope that his foot is firmly on the clutch.
His performances from general play have also been very good all year and he has contributed a lot from play. He has scored a number of key goals and has brought much needed energy to Kilkenny’s middle third. Tipperary’s half-back line have been very strong in the last few games and Kilkenny will hope that Reid can disrupt them.
3. Brian Hogan
Tipperary’s main asset has been their ability to score and significantly outscore their opponents. The Kilkenny defence looked very open at times earlier in the year and Hogan was recalled to the centre-back position. The Kilkenny defence will need to be at the top of their game making Hogan’s role vitally important.
His battle with Patrick ‘Bonner’ Maher could be a game breaker. Maher has returned to top form this year and has been a real thorn in the side of all the teams he has faced so far. Hogan has been a real tower in the heart of the Cats defence for a while now, and this will be one of his biggest tests. How he responds could have a real impact.
Kilkenny will have to try and keep their scores conceded to a minimum. Hogan has phenomenal aerial prowess and he will need to use this to stop Bonner Maher winning primary possession. His performance will have a real impact on how much Kilkenny concede and how much of a platform Kilkenny can provide for their attackers.
4. Richie Hogan
He has been the best hurler in Ireland so far this year and now the responsibility is on him to show on centre stage that he is well and truly the best hurler in Ireland for 2014. He was always a very talented hurler and often delivered for Kilkenny on big days in Croke Park but this season’s move to midfield has seen him up his performances to another level.
Like TJ Reid, he has provided a lot of energy to the side that was completely absent in 2013. He has found himself on endless amounts of possession and his use of the ball has been top class. He has put scores on the board as well as providing good quality ball for the Kilkenny forward line, playing a very prominent role.
He now has his biggest test of the year ahead of him. He played at midfield in the drawn All-Ireland final of 2012, where he was dominated by Iarla Tannion. He has improved a lot since then at midfield. Tipperary’s midfield was seen as a weakness until the Cork game where James Woodlock and Shane McGrath were outstanding, so Hogan will need to be at his best to curtail their influence.
5. Henry Shefflin
He is the name that never goes away, but Henry Shefflin could yet prove to have a big influence on this All-Ireland final. It is unclear as to whether he will start or come on from the bench but one would have to imagine that he could have one last hurrah and claim an illustrious tenth All-Ireland medal.
Brian Cody often holds a trump card up his sleeve; Walter Walsh in 2012, Eddie Brennan starting on Padraic Maher in 2011, Aidan Fogarty in 2006 and he may yet surprise everyone by throwing Shefflin in from the start. Tipperary have two slightly inexperienced defenders in Cathal Barrett and James Barry and it would be Cody-like to put Shefflin in on one of those players.
Shefflin has not had a huge impact this year. He scored what looked to be a winning point agaisnt Galway, scored points in the Leinster final when the game was already won, and had little impact in the Limerick game. Is he saving his best for the final? King Henry is still there and could be ready to have a big impact on this final. We will have to wait and see.
Sean Cremin, Pundit Arena.