This Saturday sees the All-Ireland Hurling Final Replay take place between Kilkenny and Tipperary. The sides could not be separated in the best hurling match of all time the first day out. Sean Cremin is here to look ahead to the replay.
This time last year all hurling fans looked ahead to the replay between Cork and Clare and felt it was almost impossible for both sides to replicate the drama that had unfolded in their drawn encounter. A last minute equaliser from a corner-back, who was the only player on the Clare team not to score all year, was fairly dramatic and few could have predicted that the replay could outdo the drawn game.
How wrong we all were.
Three goals in the first twenty minutes by Shane O’Donnell who was not even named in Clare’s starting line-up and had also failed to appear in Clare’s quarter-final, semi-final or drawn final. A goal from an Anthony Nash free with thirteen (yes thirteen out fifteen) Clare players in the goal. The quality of Cork’s fightback, the incredible solo goal by Conor McGrath, Stephen Moylan’s late goal, Tony Kelly’s long range points and finally Darach Honan’s goal to clinch the title for Clare.
Last year’s replay was absolutely phenomenal, an improvement on what we all thought was a classic drawn encounter. The same scenario has unfolded for 2014, so enough about last year and let’s look ahead to the 2014 replay.
The drawn encounter was the best hurling match of all time. We wrote enough about it in the immediate aftermath and now attentions are fully turned to what is now the biggest day in the hurling calendar. The initial build up is all geared towards the first Sunday in September but as has become custom in the last three years, the big day is now the last Saturday in September.
Following the quality of the last game, people have to imagine that is impossible for that game to be eclipsed, but similar opinions were echoed last year. The quality that was on show in the drawn game was nothing short of sensational. Both Kilkenny and Tipperary brought top drawer performances all over the field and the standard of hurling reached a level that nobody has never been seen before.
No team enters an All-Ireland final in the frame of mind that they might have to do it all over again and players and management do face a challenge in order to get in the correct mind-set to go to battle again. Three weeks is a long lay-off. A lot can happen in that period of time and there is a lot of disruption to be dealt with.
There is a challenge for management not to over-train players and to keep everything fresh. Players also need to maintain their own focus. Players have a lot of training done and there is no plan in their heads for a further three weeks on the calendar. They do have to prepare themselves to go at everything again but at the end of the day, it is an All-Ireland final and that should be enough motivation to focus anybody.
It is hard to know what way both sets of management will look at approaching this game. Last year, Clare sprung the surprise of Shane O’Donnell while Cork placed Patrick Cronin at full-forward and went route one. Both of these tactics were a change on the first day and both were successful. Obviously O’Donnell made more of a difference but Cronin also caused a lot of trouble as both managements made alterations. Now people will wonder if Eamon O’Shea and Brian Cody will do anything differently.
The 2012 All-Ireland replay saw Brian Cody move Richie Hogan from midfield to full-forward and hand a debut to Walter Walsh who scored 1-3 from play. The names like Tommy Walsh and Henry Shefflin have been quiet so far in the championship and it will be interesting to see if Cody springs another surprise. Will Richie Hogan start at centre-forward? Will Shefflin see more game time? Will Cody pick out more man-marking jobs for the Kilkenny defenders? Who knows.
Cody has made three changes to his side. Brian Hogan, Joey Holden and Walter Walsh are making way for Padraig Walsh, Kieran Joyce and John Power. It is strange to see three changes being made and the names of Tommy Walsh and Henry Shefflin remaining on the subs bench. Cody usually does not spring huge surprises with last minute changes in personnel but positional changes are a ploy of his. He will surely have a trump card up his sleeve to try and confuse the Tipperary side.
Tipperary have named an unchanged side. This still means Michael Cahill is on the reserves but he could yet start. Following the last day out, it is hard to imagine that Tipperary will not have a plan for Richie Hogan and Cahill seems like the Tipperary player who is best equipped to deal with his threat. Would they be best off to man-mark Hogan, play Brendan Maher as a sweeper and isolate Seamus Callanan and another in the full-forward line?
It may seem like a bit of a drastic change having played so well the last day out but a replay is another game. Both managements have had three weeks to look back over the various strengths and weaknesses of their opponents. Brian Cody and Kilkenny have generally had an edge over opponents in replays. Tipperary will have to be ready for everything and a slight variation on their approach could be the key difference.
Tipperary exposed some weaknesses in the Kilkenny line-up the last day, particularly in defence. They probably played the better hurling over the course of the seventy minutes yet they were the team that needed to come from behind to get a draw. Kilkenny will probably look to get their match-ups right at the back. They may simply work on cutting off spaces like they did to Cork in 2006. Likewise against Galway in 2012 they totally changed their attacking approach as previously mentioned with Richie Hogan and Walter Walsh. It is hard to imagine Brian Cody not making amends in this area.
But the other question is just how good Kilkenny are in comparison to their teams of previous years. They are not the team that they once were. Kilkenny’s biggest strengths this year are in a mental capacity. They are an extremely driven outfit with a strong resilience and at this level, they know how to win games. But will this be enough?
At this moment in time, Tipperary have the better hurlers and they are quicker all over the field. But this is not always enough to beat Kilkenny. Galway were a better team in 2012, Tipperay played the much better hurling in the 2009 final and both these occasions saw Kilkenny lift the Liam McCarthy Cup.
People say that Kilkenny can improve more than Tipperary did on their performance in the drawn game. But can they? Do they physically have what it takes having spent a lot of time of the fields of Nowlan Park and Croke Park. Tipperary are fresher and have the better hurlers in their side. If they get themselves in the right frame of mind and play the game as opposed to the occasion, they should have too much for Kilkenny.
So the tip is for Tipperary to do the business, provided that they do not do a carbon copy of the last day and manage to get outwitted by a change in the Kilkenny approach. They have the better players and if they get things right from the off, they should just have the ability to get more scores to win the game. But Kilkenny will not go down without a massive fight. Who knows, we might even be in line for extra-time.
Sean Cremin, Pundit Arena.