Kilkenny could be without half of last year’s team for Tipperary showdown
But Nowlan Park venue could still swing it for injury-ravaged Cats in All-Ireland qualifiers meeting
TJ Reid (centre) is only one of several injury worries for Kilkenny ahead of saturday’s qualifier meeting with Tipperary at Nowllan Park. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho
Around this time every week Croke Park sends out neatly condensed championship updates – and they’re making less and less sense. How can it be that either Kilkenny or Tipperary will be gone for the summer come 8.30pm on Saturday?
Given what’s at stake that might be stretched into extra-time, or indeed a replay, but what is certain is for the losers, all front doors and back doors will be firmly shut. That all tickets have now sold out – also confirmed by Croke Park yesterday – underlines the urgency of the stage now set for Nowlan Park: it’s been 17 years since Kilkenny didn’t hurl into at least the middle of July, and 15 years since Tipperary since didn’t either.
“But I don’t think that would be bad for hurling,” said Pat Fox, a two-time All-Ireland winner with Tipperary .
‘Good for hurling’
“It is good for hurling. You have Limerick back in the fray, and Cork making a comeback. It was boring to see too many Tipp v Kilkennys. You need six or seven teams involved. It is great to see Dublin involved.”
Yet the question of how Kilkenny and Tipperary got themselves into this situation warrants closer inspection: Tipperary hadn’t lost to Limerick in the Munster championship since their 2007 semi-final replay, and that was Limerick’s only win in their last 17 games in the Munster championship.
That helped make for an unexpected outcome at the Gaelic Grounds on June 9th, although Limerick’s three-point win in the dazzling sunshine was mainly down to their resistance to sustained Tipperary pressure.
The last time Kilkenny finished up the summer without playing in Croke Park was 1951, when they exited the Leinster championship after being beaten by Laois, in Portlaoise.
Whatever about the mental and physical fatigue that comes with establishing a team as the best of the generation, Kilkenny’s exit from the Leinster championship is at least partly explained by injury.
They were, as expected, without Henry Shefflin and Michael Fennelly for the Dublin game, but with corner back Paul Murphy again a major doubt for Saturday with an ankle injury, and minor worries over Jackie Tyrrell (hamstring), Tommy Walsh (shoulder), JJ Delaney (hamstring), Cillian Buckley (hand and ankle) and TJ Reid (knee), whatever team Kilkenny field could be a pale shadow of that which easily beat Tipp in last summer’s semi-final.
Indeed it’s possible less than half of that team will line out in Nowlan Park, given David Herrity has already been replaced in goal by Eoin Murphy. Brian Cody won’t be afraid to shake things up, and while the team trained behind closed doors on Monday evening, rumours of another miraculous recovery for Shefflin would appear to be greatly exaggerated.
Cody has also put a ban on any media appearances: one Kilkenny player was scheduled to appear at a promotional event on Monday, but was promptly pulled once Saturday’s showdown became the stark reality.
What Kilkenny do have on their side is home advantage, which Fox suggested may well prove the difference. Kilkenny boast a formidable record at Nowlan Park, and underlined it by beating Tipperary there in the league final almost exactly two months ago.
“Winning in Nowlan Park is a very hard task, I assure you,” said Fox, at the GAA’s charity launch event there yesterday. “Taking them on in their own back yard is a difficult task but at the same time with the way Kilkenny are going with a lot of injury problems I’d say it has given our guys a new lease of life. They have a reasonably good chance of winning. ”