Ger Loughnane once said that “some people say hurling isn’t very important in the scheme of things, but to hurling people hurling is the scheme of things.” It’s that very ‘scheme of things’ that comes to a head in Sunday’s All Ireland Final.
It’s the Sunday in September every hurler wants to play in and every manager wants to be manager at. The All-Ireland senior hurling final this year will be contested by Tipperary and Kilkenny. It will be the fourth time the two sides have met in the final in six years.
2013 was a stellar year in the hurling championship and 2014 has lived up to it in a way. Wexford were the boys of the summer; meeting Clare twice and giving the hurling public something to savour.
Limerick, while they lost their Munster crown they were another story of the summer. They took Wexford to the cleaners and then ran Kilkenny close in the semi-final.
Last year Kilkenny lost Leinster for the second year in a row and then were thrown out of the championship by Cork in Semple Stadium after going through the back-door. Tipperary were knocked out of Munster by Limerick and also had to go through the qualifiers. There they got beaten by the Cats.
This year both sides return to Croke Park for the final and over the course of their five games during the championship (including Kilkenny’s replay with Galway) the two sides are level with each other. Tipperary have a score of 14-107 and Kilkenny have a score of 13-110. This leaves both sides on 149 points apiece.
There is no love lost between the two teams. The trilogy of 2009 to 2011 is something we all remember with the 2009 final being one of the greatest games of hurling ever played. By the time the 2010 final arrived Kilkenny were unbeaten in 21 championship games but Tipperary went away with the spoils and stopped Kilkenny’s drive for five.
Tipperary halted them in their tracks and had their day in the sun but in 2011 Kilkenny came back and won. Totalling the scores of these three games Tipperary have 5-56 on the score-board and Kilkenny have 5-57. This leaves each side with 71 and 72 points respectively, Kilkenny with the winning point. Three enthralling games and there’s no doubt that Sunday will be the same.
Over the course of this year’s championship Kilkenny have shown that they want nothing less than a win come Sunday. They don’t do things by halves. They’ve only been threatened by Galway and Limerick in the championship and they annihilated Offaly and beat Dublin in the Leinster final convincingly.
Tipperary meanwhile, since their loss in the 2011 final, have been talked about as if they were a team on a boat without a paddle; going nowhere. This year they have answered their critics after they came back from six points down against Galway in the qualifiers and outscored them 2-10 to a point in the final twenty minutes. A massive win for Tipperary and they marched on to meet Dublin and then Cork whom they both beat.
Richie Hogan has been Kilkenny’s star player this year; he has made midfield look easy. TJ Reid is another Kilkenny player who has proven to be a force to be reckoned with. These are two players most definitely to keep your eyes on this Sunday. Henry Shefflin will no doubt make an appearance. He is a man in search of a tenth record-breaking All-Ireland hurling medal. He might be older; however, he has shown that as a substitute he does have a massive impact on the game.
Tipperary’s Seamus Callanan is on his way to being the top scorer in championship hurling this year and he will no doubt be a threat on Sunday. Patrick ‘Bonner’ Maher has been really on form this year and Noel McGrath has shown his prowess at plucking aerial balls. Padraic Maher will have tough job on his hands in the back line but he has shown this year he’s well capable of performing. John ‘Bubbles’ O’ Dwyer will be another to watch.
Rivalries will be renewed on Sunday; between fans, players and managers. Much like the rest of the games in this year’s championship Sunday’s game promises to be a hotly contested battle.
Throw in is at 3.30pm at Croke Park.
Amy Forde, Pundit Arena.