Brian Barry lists five reasons why he thinks Tipperary will win the All-Ireland Final.
Kilkenny are panicking
Never has Brian Cody rang the changes to such a degree. Not only the three switches in personnel, but several positional switches to boot. The fact that he has not fully decided upon his number one goalkeeper, and has installed a third centre-back of the championship signals that it is a team in panic.
Brian Hogan was given a run-around by Patrick Maher in the drawn game, and Cody is merely doing his best to plug all holes in selecting Kieran Joyce at number six. In search of a tenth All-Ireland as manager, Cody has also sent TJ Reid to full-forward, going or broke in pursuit of goals. If there is not sufficient service to Reid early on, he will be moved to win ball further out the field. Never has the manager seemed so unsure of his best team.
Patrick Bonner Maher
The Lorrha man is on fire. Having forced Brian Cody to alter his plans, Maher has already won a psychological battle. By running at the defence, he attacked a vulnerable channel which has been clear since the Cats’ draw with Galway. The Bonner has been in fine form all year, and has really come of age.
Whether Joyce can deal with him is yet to be seen, but should he create havoc, Paul Murphy will move out to keep him quiet again. This is an avenue Cody is reluctant to explore, moving Murphy exposes the full-back line. But perhaps he has no option. Maher ran in on goal twice in the first half three weeks ago, finding the net once, before being dragged down the second time. He is the best hurler in the country at present. It is unlikely the Cats can contain him.
JJ Delaney is past his prime
All good things come to an end. Delaney will go down as one of the best defenders hurling has ever seen, but looked slow in the drawn game. Séamus Callanan is in form, and one worries for Delaney. Against Tipperary, the 2003 Hurler of the Year appeared a shadow of his former self. Brian Hogan and Tommy Walsh no longer hold starting places, while Jackie Tyrell is also in decline. The Kilkenny back line are not the force they once were. It took cynical fouls and fortitude to prevent Tipperary from scoring more goals the last day. Two penalty saves and the post saved their skins last time out, but the Cats may have ran out of lives, and might not be so lucky today.
The reason Tipperary won in 2010 was simple; hustle. No Kilkenny back had an opportunity to clear the ball free of pressure. When Declan Ryan took charge, we did not see this, and it has not been evident in recent years. Following a tame finish against Limerick, serious questions surround the Premier’s hunger. Rumours have suggested that Liam Sheedy is back in the setup behind the scenes. If this is true, it is no surprise. The men in blue and gold seem to have got their ‘mojo’ back, and look to be willing to go that extra mile. They are physically superior to this aging Kilkenny outfit, and should they take their chances, Liam McCarthy will be paraded around Liberty Square in Thurles on Sunday night.
Much has been made of the high quality of substitutes at Brian Cody’s disposal, but it may be more suitable to describe it as high profile rather than quality. Henry Shefflin, Tommy Walsh, and Brian Hogan have great CVs, but none are anyway near their prime. Both Shefflin and Walsh have looked slow when introduced this year, and in truth only serve the purpose of lifting the crowd. Tipperary, on the other hand, have some genuine game-winners on their bench. Michael Cahill will be sprung to stifle any threat, while Denis Maher, Jason Forde and Eoin Kelly can make a real impact up front late on.
If Tipp show the Cats no fear, they will win.
Brian Barry, Pundit Arena.