We continue our build-up to the All-Ireland Hurling Championship final between Tipperary and Kilkenny on Sunday with a look at some of the key battlegrounds where the game may be won and lost.
Colin Fennelly vs James Barry
Fennelly and Barry have been two of the championship’s real stars this year. Something will have to give if/when the pair face off on Sunday afternoon.
Barry will start on the edge of the square. It is a bit more difficult to predict where Fennelly will play, but due to his first-half brace in the replay against Waterford, Brian Cody would need a very strong case not to put him in at 14 for a good deal of the game.
While TJ Reid and Richie Hogan are the main scorers out the field, Fennelly is the one who can do damage in the inside forward line.
Tipp boast arguably the strongest fullback line in the country at present, and Michael Ryan knows that they must stop the Cats raising green flags. That is where Barry will come in…
Séamus Callanan vs Joey Holden
From one end of the field to the other. Callanan can and will do damage on the scoreboard. While he was quiet, by his own standards, in the semi-final against Galway, the Drom-Inch giant burned a path through Munster.
Waterford failed to put Kilkenny away in the drawn game due to their inability to find the net. Callanan is the man charged to do just that.
Despite winning an All Star last year, there are question marks hanging over Joey Holden going into this final. That’s not to say that he isn’t more than capable of answering them emphatically on Sunday.
However, when Callanan comes trotting over to the edge of the square, a Trojan effort will be needed. It is not unusual for Cody to call on Paul Murphy to do a man-marking job if things aren’t going well.
Do not understate the significance of Michael Fennelly’s injury. The 2011 Hurler of the Year would have strolled into our Tipperary/Kilkenny Combined XV if fit, but his absence changes things completely, and it gives Tipp the edge in this department.
Michael Breen has been a revelation in the engine room this season, adding physicality and intensity. Brendan Maher has appeared far more comfortable having returned from half-back.
We know Conor Fogarty will be his usual lively self, but guessing who might partner him between the 65s is where it gets tricky.
TJ Reid played further out the field in the semi-final replay, while Padraig Walsh and Lester Ryan are also options considering how deep Cody likes his midfielders to sit. Expect Cody to throw a curve-ball here.
Make sure to tune into our bumper All-Ireland final preview on the 16th Man Podcast, live on the Pundit Arena GAA Facebook page. It will also be available on iTunes and Soundcloud after the show.