The final part of our All-Ireland Hurling Final preview looks at the game in more detail and we also give our prediction as to who will walk up the steps of the Hogan Stand.
So time is running out and Croke Park is going through its final preparations ahead of the biggest day of the hurling calendar. Tipperary have announced their team, while the rest of the country awaits to see if Henry Shefflin will start or be held in reserve. Mind games have taken place with people attempting to put pressure on referee Barry Kelly and it is safe to say the tension will be at tipping point come 3:28 on Sunday.
It is hard to predict how it will all unfold but one has to expect a very tight and very tense contest. Both teams will be so desperate to win that it is hard to imagine one team pulling away from the other. Both sides have had different pathways to the final but both have realistically achieved the exact same feat. Both are deservedly in the final and both sides have a sufficient chance of winning.
A closer look at both sides does not seem to tip any massive advantage in either teams favour. If anything both semi-finals took a different direction as to what a lot of the hurling public would have expected. Kilkenny limped their way to a victory over Limerick when horrific conditions saw two goals edge the Cats through to the final.
Tipperary were probably underdogs against Cork. Cork were Munster champions and Tipperary could have been classified as lucky to beat Galway, and their following victories over Offaly and Dublin did not provide the sternest of tests. Tipp winning may not have been the biggest shock, but the way that they comprehensively dominated Cork stunned a lot of people. OK, Cork may have significantly underperformed but Tipperary were excellent.
Overall, it was pretty ironic that following both semi-finals that Kilkenny were the team that receive the tougher game. Will that have a bearing on the final, probably not.
Kilkenny have done well this season, but they are not the team that they once were. They do not have the same intensity and physicality that the greatest team to ever play the game showed between 2006 and 2009. While they have continued to win and be successful, they have looked very vulnerable at times and Tipperary should definitely take confidence from this.
While Kilkenny won the All-Ireland final replay comfortably in 2012, they were most definitely there for the taking. Galway exposed frailties in their side and more were shown in 2013. 2014 has been a different story to an extent, but Limerick also showed that Kilkenny can most definitely be beaten. Whether teams can go that extra step and actually beat them, particularly in a final, remains to be seen.
Tipperary will surely have learned from 2010. They were the first team to beat that awesome Kilkenny side but their failure to kick on and have a legacy like Kilkenny’s has not happened. This game gives them a chance to show that they were not a flash in the pan in 2010. They have answered a lot of critics in this 2014 season and the All-Ireland final should give them the impetus to really go and completely prove all the doubters wrong.
Kilkenny will need to defend very well. The full back line of Paul Murphy, JJ Delaney and Jackie Tyrell showed a lot of steal and resilience against Limerick to keep a vital clean sheet. Brian Hogan has steadied the ship since coming back in at centre-back and the Cats will need to keep things tight at the back. If they give too much space to the Tipperary forwards, they will need a big score to win the game.
Richie Hogan has been the key man so far for Kilkenny and he has been the key link between defence and attack. He has provided the platform for the Kilkenny attack and has contributed significantly to all games. They have the ability to score in attack but it is their work rate all over the field that seems to be their biggest asset. They do not give time to their opponents and they will need every last ounce of energy to stop Tipperary building up a head of steam.
Tipperary have begun to play to their strengths again but they need to dominate the middle third if they are to provide high quality ball for their attackers. Padraic and Brendan Maher were exceptional against Cork in protecting their full-back line and providing a platform for their attack. They will need to the same against Kilkenny.
Tipperary struggle to win their own ball. This was described as a ‘myth’ earlier in the summer, but it looks like more of a fact. If Tipperary take on Kilkenny man for man then they could lose too many individual battles. We have seen Seamus Callanan do most of his damage when he is isolated and space is created for him. The same could be said for Lar Corbett.
Patrick Maher could be the key man. He has been on top form this year and his physicality could be vital. He needs to disrupt the Kilkenny backline in an attempt to draw in defenders and create chances for others. John O’Dwyer has picked off a lot of scores from play and Noel McGrath needs to show his play-making ability.
The game really is a contrast of styles. It is the bustling, hard-working Kilkenny going up against the free-flowing and ‘wristy’ Tipperary. Both sides have a wealth of qualities, and both have strengths and weaknesses. Recent history favours Kilkenny, but there is a freshness about Tipperary that says that if they win enough ball around the middle third, the ability is there to cause problems for the Kilkenny defence.
It will be tight, it will be tense but the game is there for Tipperary to win. The three Maher’s and Seamus Callanan will probably dictate if they win the game. If these four players play to their best then Tipperary could have enough to defy the odds. But they must dominate and dictate the game from early on.
Sean Cremin, Pundit Arena