Kilkenny the more proven - Ó hAilpín
GAELIC GAMES:Cork star opts for the Cats as neutrals find Sunday’s showdown difficult to call, writes GAVIN CUMMISKEY
THE OPINION of those involved in Sunday’s eagerly anticipated All-Ireland semi-final has either been understated or completely unheard so we sought the views of other hurling men – players who have rubbed shoulders with Kilkenny and Tipperary in recent times.
Gavin O’Mahony is well-placed to talk about the game having led an up-and-coming Limerick side out against both teams this summer at Semple Stadium. Limerick rattled the elite on both occasions before giving way.
Waterford’s Stephen Molumphy faced Tipp in the Munster final and was on the wrong end of a few Kilkenny beatings over the years, none more so than in the 2008 All-Ireland final.
Johnny McCaffrey’s Dublin were the latest team to suffer a traumatic defeat at the hands of Brian Cody’s ruthless charges in June, while they held pace with Tipperary for most of last year’s All-Ireland semi-final.
Then there is Cork wing back Seán Óg Ó hAilpín. A man who knows all about going to war with both counties in a long and storied career. Seán Óg rode rode the train to Dublin this week for a sponsor’s function in Croke Park.
“People hopped on in Thurles and they were saying, ‘Who’s going to win?’ Naturally enough I said Tipperary because we were in Thurles. Luckily enough the train didn’t stop in Kilkenny because I would have said Kilkenny then. I don’t know.
“I actually feel the winners from this Sunday will win the All-Ireland. That’s not to belittle Galway or anything. It’s not sour grapes for Galway beating us or anything. I just think that whoever wins this Sunday will win the All-Ireland.
“If I was to make a call on it, it would be close but I think that Kilkenny are more proven than Tipp. I’m going to put my head out for Kilkenny, only just.”
Ó hAilpín is on his own there. We struggled to find a Kilkenny man close to a modern intercounty set-up to talk about the game but in Dublin selector Richie Stakelum we have a former Tipperary captain.
“Tipperary have certainly sorted themselves out after last year, which seemed like a bit of a circus,” said Stakelum. “I don’t think their mindset was right going into the All-Ireland final. There were distractions around the selections of John O’Keeffe and Brendan Maher. This year has been a different approach. They have come through some tough games, answering difficult question, especially that game against Cork.”
Declan Ryan, having succeeded Liam Sheehy as manager last year, appears to have got Tipperary’s house in order, Stakelum believes.
“Declan inherited a team that won the greatest game that I had ever seen, against the greatest team that has ever been. It was always going to be a difficult trying to follow that. Liam Sheehy had a very different approach but they seemed to get back to an All-Ireland final almost too easily. They seem a tighter unit now, with less distractions.”
This, of course, is the definitive meeting of Kilkenny and Tipperary (much like last year’s final was for Kilkenny and the 2010 decider was for Tipperary and the 2013 meeting will be the definitive showdown yet again).
“We keep saying this every year, but how long more can this Kilkenny team keep going for?” Stakelum asked. “They beat the odds every year but you have to wonder how much more is left”.
“In the evolution of this team they have never faced a situation like they did against Galway and got such a beating. That just didn’t happen to this Kilkenny team before. It is more of a defining moment for Kilkenny than Tipperary.”
Over to the silent assassins. Come Sunday night the talk will be about those who performed more than those who were not allowed. So, will we be serenading the return to form of Eoin Larkin, Tommy Walsh and Michael Fennelly or the unrelenting rise of Pa Bourke and Bonner Maher?