Driven Kilkenny to end Tipperary’s season
Both sides are in need of redemption but the All-Ireland holders look the hungrier
Henry Shefflin has missed four championship fixtures in 15 seasons and three of them have concluded in some of the most disappointing outcomes of Brian Cody’s managerial tenure. Photograph: Inpho
Within five months of being approvingly noticed by John F Kennedy at Arbour Hill 50 years ago, Irish army cadets were providing a guard of honour at the US president’s funeral.
In just two months Kilkenny and Tipperary have gone from contesting a league final, which was seen by many as a rehearsal for September to the edge of a precipice over which one of their seasons will irretrievably tumble before the first week in July is out.
There are plausible arguments for either side in this evening’s face-off in Nowlan Park. Both have powerful motivation: Kilkenny, to hole Eamon O’Shea’s return voyage below the waterline before his first championship has even got to the last six and Tipp to lower the curtain on a Kilkenny era during which they have suffered multiple indignities.
The shadow of Henry Shefflin’s absence falls heavily on the fixture. He has missed four championship fixtures in 15 seasons (counting the bulk of the 2010 All-Ireland final) and three of them have concluded in some of the most disappointing outcomes of Brian Cody’s managerial tenure.
He would be the central character in a match like this if fully fit. His galvanic presence tore Galway apart in 2004, as Kilkenny were on the rebound from what would be their only defeat in Leinster in 15 seasons. Again against Galway last year he led the resistance on the days when his team were seriously under the cosh.
Rumours of his miraculous deliverance from injury in time for this evening may or may not be true but from a Kilkenny perspective they are disquietingly reminiscent of events in 2010 when Shefflin tried to play on a damaged cruciate. And back then he hadn’t gone seven months without hitting the ball on an intercounty field.
Team will change
Chances are however that the team will change before throw-in and other rumours suggest that Jackie Tyrrell won’t be able to start. In a way that would be a plus because he was clearly less than 100 per cent in the defeat by Dublin.
In a way it’s set up for Tipperary. They don’t have an injury plague although the loss of Kieran Bergin is a hindrance and O’Shea has performed extensive surgery. But it was necessary after the dismal display against Limerick and there must be questions about the ability of Eoin Kelly and Lar Corbett to seize the initiative in championship matches at this stage.
Kelly is betraying familiar signs of a great player whose body won’t do the brain’s bidding whereas Corbett’s erratic intercounty career is without a high-impact display in nearly two years. Shane McGrath’s appointment as captain hasn’t helped his form and he is again named to start.
What has been most disappointing about Tipp though is the feebleness of their desire in what should have been their biggest challenges under new management: the opening-night league hammering by Cork, a late defeat by Waterford, settling for containment in the league final and going down surprisingly submissively to Limerick.
Even when quite at odds with their game last week Kilkenny fought hard to stay afloat.
Tipp need redemption badly and this fixture is an ideal focus for that but the effect of the opposition cuts both ways and Kilkenny will be more driven for this than they would have been for any other opponent.
The evidence of this era – 2008 to date – shows that of six big showdowns, two league finals, an All-Ireland semi-final and three finals, Tipp have won just one and from their point of view, that’s looking sadly more and more like an anomaly.
With the state Kilkenny are in, it’s there for Tipp, but the view here is that they won’t be let.