The day of reckoning is getting closer and closer as Pundit Arena continues the build up to this year’s All-Ireland Hurling Final. Part three looks at the men who could win the game for Tipperary.
1. Brendan Maher
The Tipperary captain really has led by example for the whole season of 2014. When Tipperary’s backs were against the wall earlier in the year, Maher moved to centre-back and started showing the form that made him one of Ireland’s best talents in 2009 and 2010. Since then injuries and loss of form have led to questions being asked but he has responded in style this year.
Maher has anchored the Tipperary defence very well at times this year. Finding a balance was difficult as Maher was playing very deep and struck a lot of ball but some centre-forwards starting dropping deep in the knowledge that they would not be followed by Maher and this led to Tipperary conceding a lot of long range points.
A balance has since been found where Maher is protecting the whole defence and Tipperary have tightened up further out the field. He has moved between centre-back and right half-back for the most of the year and it will be interesting to see which position he takes up in the final. Either way, Tipperary will need his leadership and hurling ability to be top class in order to beat their biggest rivals.
2. Padraic Maher
A lot what was said about Brendan Maher could be repeated about Padraic Maher. He shot onto the scene and looked like he was going to be the new template for any young full-back but then a few poor games at full-back saw a move to wing-back where he looked like an even better player, capable of leading a strong Tipperary side for many years.
However, backward steps were taken and Maher had a couple of poor seasons along with the rest of his Tipperary colleagues. Towards the end of the league he started to improve and he moved back to full-back. This move worked to an extent but he then conceded a brace of goals to Jonathan Glynn of Galway. This prompted a move to wing-back where he thundered into the game against Galway for the last twenty minutes and played a major role in saving Tipperary’s season.
Since then he has grown and grown and now finally looks like the player the came onto the scene in 2009. He was awesome against Cork and he now seems to be far more composed in possession where his delivery to the forwards has improved an awful lot. The final will be a big test as to whether he really is back to his best. Tipperary will need him to dominate and stop the mobile Kilkenny half-forwards from having a big influence.
3. Patrick Maher
There is very little coincidence that Patrick ‘Bonner’ Maher and Tipperary have both returned to form at the same time. He is a vital player for the Premier men. His performance can often dictate whether Tipperary dominate or struggle against opponents. He has an inspirational type of play that lifts teammates and the crowd.
People say he is not the most skilful hurler of all time but his quality has improved. Skill is not his primary attribute but his other attributes make up considerably for anything that he may be lacking. His work rate is phenomenal, he never allows the opposition time on the ball. He is by a million miles Tipperary’s best ball winner and he brings a great balance to the attack in that department.
He is also very direct in his running at goal. He tends to either score, win frees or provide assists bringing a huge contribution to the team. He has been at his best so far this year and the Premier will hope that he can continue this form into the final. Bonner Maher will definitely have a big influence over Tipperary’s fortunes.
4. Lar Corbett
It could be argued, despite having a poor season by his standards, that Lar Corbett got Tipperary’s two most important scores in this year’s championship. Against Galway, when Kilkenny were beginning to mount a comeback, Corbett provided two excellent points that gave Tipperary their lead. He delivered when it mattered most and showed the traits of a class forward.
Similar to what we wrote about Henry Shefflin, Corbett could be ready to explode. He may do well to even start the game but that does not mean that he won’t make an impact. He has failed to find his stride so far this summer but still has a chance to show his ability on the biggest stage. Tipperary fans will remember only too well that Corbett scored a hat-trick of goals in the 2010 final that gave Tipperary their last All-Ireland title, but can he do it again?
He has a tendency to deliver in big games. A lot of Tipperary fans claim that Corbett’s hamstring injury in last year’s qualifier game at Nowlan Park was one of the main reasons for their defeat that night. His form so far has been average this year, but he remains very dangerous and could be the man to deliver on the big day. Tipperary will hope that he he will save the best til last.
5. Seamus Callanan
Last but not least, we look at Seamus Callanan. Callanan is probably the single most important player in the Tipperary side ahead of this final. If he can get the better of JJ Delaney and play hurling the way he has been playing all year, then Tipperary will be in with a right chance. His performances to date have been exceptional, and this is now his acid test.
Talent was never in question for Callanan but his ability to deliver on the big day was. People questioned his heart, his willingness to compete for the ball and his ability to perform against the very best defenders. He has proved a lot of critics wrong this year. His 3-08 return against Galway was his real hallmark while his performance against Cork was also outstanding.
Some people will still have question marks over him prior to this game. He was poor in the league final back in May against Kilkenny, when Tipperary needed a big performance from him, now he has a chance to redeem himself. He has all the credentials to be one of the best forwards in the game, and if he delivers the Liam McCarthy Cup for Tipperary, no more questions will be asked for a long time. He is their key man, and if he delivers, it is hard to see past Tipperary.
Sean Cremin, Pundit Arena