League form indicates Tipperary’s progressive profile ahead of championship

Kilkenny are still the class act with their defensive unit well drilled and cohesive

Clare’s Brendan Bugler comes under pressure from Niall O’Meara and Patrick Maher of Tipperary in the Allianz Hurling League Division One  semi-final. Photograph: Cathal Noonan/Inpho

Clare’s Brendan Bugler comes under pressure from Niall O’Meara and Patrick Maher of Tipperary in the Allianz Hurling League Division One semi-final. Photograph: Cathal Noonan/Inpho


The recent league semi-finals posed and answered a few questions for the four teams involved.

It certainly was a positive result for Tipperary who, for now, have silenced their critics. Clare looked flat and rumours surfaced in the aftermath of Sunday’s performance of a fairly long, hard training session on the Friday night before. But the upside of the result for the other teams in the province is that that sense of inevitability that they would win Munster this year is minimised a little.

Galway played quite well in the first half of their match-up with Kilkenny, but didn’t score enough to create serious doubts in their opponents minds at half time. But while Kilkenny won the second half I think Galway did enough to be happy with their form as championship time approaches.

The Cats showed in that second half why they now are again the bookmakers’ favourite to take this year’s Liam McCarthy back to Noreside again.

But how naive were Galway in that second period? In the 2012 Leinster Final they out-thought, out-fought and out-hurled them, the first team in quite a while to make Kilkenny look very ordinary.

Traditional formation
Now maybe they’re saving their best for another day and they probably are but I don’t understand why they didn’t attempt to pull Brian Hogan out of position from the middle of the defence. How often has Hogan manned that position so well and so efficiently.

Last year though it looked like he was coming to the end of his days as an intercounty hurler. Up until the Galway game a fortnight ago that picture hadn’t changed. Galway played a traditional formation which suited their opponents perfectly. To say Kilkenny’s six backs were excellent would be a bit of an understatement. All six were contenders for the Laoch an Cluiche award from TG4. The recipient Pádraig Walsh was almost as good as older brother and true hurling legendTommy.

But Galway’s lack of mobility suited Kilkenny. And it’s not that the Galway forwards are slow, it’s just that they played their positions too rigidly which suited the Kilkenny backs. And Brian Hogan was back to his best – holding down the centre of defence and revelling in the role.

There have been so many great centre backs since I started watching hurling, among them Tony Keady. Brian Whelahan, Ciarán Carey, Seanie McMahon, Ronan Curran and Brian Hogan who mightn’t be the epitome of style but is very effective.

These players dominated so many games because, generally, they held the centre, were good readers of the game, strong in the air, covered their wing backs when necessary, were long strikers and distributed the ball well.

There isn’t much else left,is there? But key is their holding of the centre and not being pulled out of position.

Brian Hogan has played the position so well for so long, augmented by his team-mates also usually winning their personal duels. During the recent years of Kilkenny dominance opposition managers at times instructed their number 11 to play a roving role in an attempt to take Hogan out of the centre. But most of the time he held the middle and usually the nearest player to the roving player picked him up.

Hogan’s dominance
Quite often, the opposition reverted to putting their centre forward back into the centre to try and nullify Hogan’s dominance.

But really this tactic of instructing a forward to play a roving role is a bit like tossing a coin. If he is moving into the right positions, playing a lot of the ball and having an positive effect on the game it is seen as a stroke of managerial genius. If the opposite is the case the player is moved back into his original position and the game continues but the initiative is very much with the team who held their positions. However when evenly-matched teams are playing, at best there’s only a 50/50 chance that this tactic will be successful.

As far as Sunday’s game is concerned and acknowledging, of course that this is an oversimplification, but I think if Tipperary play a centre forward who stays around the centre it will suit the Kilkenny backs. And if they are as effective as they were in the second half a fortnight ago they will be hard beaten.

Patrick Bonner Maher played the centre forward role to perfection in the semi-final. he was full of running, unselfish, brave and of course contributed two invaluable goals.

Tipperary’s forward division has shown considerable improvement in the last two games. Their backs came in for much criticism throughout the league but they were much steadier in the semi-final with Michael Cahill and Pádraig Maher back from injury. Also their use of Brendan Maher in a sweeping role had the desired effect as it had in the second half of the quarter-final against Cork.

Improving Tipperary
This is a difficult match to call. Kilkenny have been quite consistent throughout the course of the league while Tipperary have improved incrementally in their last three games. They also played with a lot of spirit in the semi-final. On

the law of averages and with Tipperary having lost to Kilkenny in their last several meetings there’s every chance that the Tipp. men might just shade this one.

Yes I know. Not very scientific. Gambler’s fallacy maybe but the Tipperary numbers might just fall right this time.

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