Mick Grace looks ahead to this year’s All Ireland Hurling Final and the implications for both Kilkenny and Tipperary should they win or lose.
Kilkenny and Tipperary, the great old foes, will once again face off in what is likely to be a titanic battle in Croker on the first Sunday in September. The chance to win an All Ireland should be enough motivation on its own for any team. However, the outcome of this particular final could have a major bearing on each county for the following years. The 7th of September 2014 could be the making or breaking of teams and managers alike.
Let us start by looking at Tipperary. Eamon O’Shea, much maligned over the last number of years, has seemingly turned the self belief in the Tipperary camp as a whole upside down and has worked wonders with one or two individuals.
In the build up to the qualifier game with Galway, questions about O’Shea’s future were being flung about in all areas of the media and GAA circles. Winning the All Ireland would certainly put any doubts over his future to rest.
Considering many attribute O’Shea to being the brains behind Liam Sheedy’s winning side of 2010, having his name stamped all over a successful team of his own would seem just rewards for what he has given to Tipperary hurling. Failure, however will undoubtedly lead to doubts once more about his ability to get the most out of such a talented bunch.
And then we have the talented bunch. Many would argue that in an era of Kilkenny dominance, it’s no surprise that the All Irelands haven’t been streaming in like they may in some other eras for this Tipperary team. Even though they’ve lost a stalwart like Brendan Cummins and the likes of John O’Brien and Eoin Kelly are playing a much more peripheral role in the squad, they ooze class and talent.
The likes of Lar Corbett, Pauric Maher, Brendan Maher, Michael Cahill, Bonner Maher and Noel McGrath have been knocking at the door for quite some time, tasting All Ireland glory but never really pushing on and claiming what could so easily be a haul of All Ireland medals to rival Kilkenny’s in recent years. The emergence of James Barry and Cathal Barrett will undoubtedly help their chances.
This year however, they may have found the answer to past frustrations. In getting the best out of Seamus Callinan, Eamon O’Shea has provided this skilful and clever bunch with a clinical finisher that maybe has deserted them over the years, 2010 being the exception. Callinan seems to have a renewed focus and ambition in 2014 under the pressure of being free taker and talisman on the edge of the square.
He has a staggering 7 goals and 38 points to his name so far this year and is the top contender in many people’s book for Hurler of the Year alongside Kilkenny’s Richie Hogan. His duel with JJ Delaney in the final will be one of the decisive factors in whether or not this Tipp team has what it takes to fulfil their potential and possibly start an era of dominance in the game.
If we move on to look at Kilkenny, more defining possibilities are there to be examined before the first Sunday of September. The Kilkenny team that have dominated hurling since the middle of the last decade is slowly starting to disband, bit by bit. Their hunger and desire has lost none of its past glory, however.
JJ, Brian Hogan, Jackie Tyrrell and Eoin Larkin are the stalwarts still driving the team on the field with the likes of Henry Shefflin and Tommy Walsh chomping at the bit to be included on September 7th for what could be one last hurrah. A new breed is starting to emerge from the shadows of the greats.
Paul Murphy, Cilian Buckley, Richie Hogan, the two Fennellys and TJ Reid are really starting to come into their own as leaders of this team. In a way, like Tipperary, their reputations are on the line in this final. This would be their All Ireland, their pathway to becoming greats of the game like those older guys still involved and those recently retired.
Brian Cody’s future remains a topical point, would winning the big one for one last time would be a good way to go? Or would a victory show the boss that the younger generation still have the drive and determination that he manages to eke out of every player in enough quantity to stay at the helm for another year?
Much like Callinan being central to Tipp’s chances, Colin Fennelly could be the key to Kilkenny lifting Liam McCarthy again. His direct running and work rate mirrors that of Tipp’s Bonner Maher but he brings a little more finesse and finishing ability than his counterpart. His battle with Pauric Maher if he lines out at 11, will be crucial.
If Kilkenny can bring the intensity and desire that they showed against Limerick, Tipperary’s slick style of play may not be enough to conquer the Cats. Likewise, if Tipp can replicate their clinical performance against Cork, all the work rate in the world won’t stop Callinan and company.
It should make for a titanic tussle on September 7th.
Mick Grace, Pundit Arena.