Tipperary primed for a big display
GAELIC GAMES:BEFORE the extraordinary unfolding of this year’s GAA hurling championship this fixture was booked in for next month, an unprecedented and slightly worrying fourth successive final between the counties whose rivalry has dominated the game since 2008.
Galway’s eruption in the Leinster final has changed everything about the championship, which is now seen as difficult to call and no longer an extended vehicle for conveying the title to Kilkenny and the situation has been further disorientated by the two ante-post favourites having to meet at this stage.
There is excitement in Tipperary that their time has come and whereas here, that seems the more likely outcome, confidence in the Munster champions is based largely on ambiguities.
Firstly there is the belief that they have structured their challenge more coherently than last year when a raging hot provincial campaign left them in declining form as the All-Ireland series progressed.
This time around a poor league – started in truly awful style with a trimming in Kilkenny – achieved equilibrium and a Munster championship, marked by steady improvement.
There is a grey area around the extent of that improvement from the Cork to Waterford matches but whereas the team was extended to win in Cork, they looked to be less than flat out in the final. At its most conservative the trajectory of their performance has plenty of upside. But even that is ultimately a presumption.
Secondly there is the belief that Kilkenny are in a tailspin. Having been consigned to the qualifiers for the first time in eight years the champions were clearly spooked.
Ultimately they won comfortably. Yet for the 40 minutes that Limerick were still in the match there was still plenty to remind the spectator of the Leinster final, including in Tommy Walsh’s display before he found a way back and demonstrated his best form of the year in the second half.
Concerns about Kilkenny are however tangible. Too many players are struggling with their form and although a player-by-player assessment comes to worrying conclusions for Tipp that is based on rating their opponents at their best, which isn’t where all of them – for example captain Eoin Larkin and Richie Power – are at the moment.
It’s not all negative, though. Michael Rice and Michael Fennelly were just running in their injury-disrupted partnership in the quarter-final and Tipperary’s centrefield have a big job to ensure their opponents don’t run the match like they did last year.
Brian Hogan’s return from injury strengthens the defence in which Richie Doyle is displaced by Kieran Joyce. Against Limerick Aidan Fogarty showed good form on his long-awaited return and TJ Reid played well on his introduction. Recalled to the team due to Richie Hogan’s suspension, Reid will now have to locate the consistency that has eluded him.
The challengers have the incentive of having lost that All-Ireland final and more than that, the fact that so many of them under-performed. Lar Corbett’s return has been cautiously managed but his performance levels are rising – unlike the situation going into last September.
Tipp have the confidence of knowing that, playing well below par last year, they were still within a score of Kilkenny last year with less than 10 minutes remaining and only lost by four.
This match still isn’t out of Kilkenny’s reach were they to recover their best form but based on the evidence of the season the teams have contrasting momentum and direction and that can get Tipp to a fourth successive final for the first time in the county’s history.
TIPPERARY: B Cummins; C O’Brien, P Curran, M Cahill; T Stapleton, C O’Mahony, Pádraic Maher; B Maher, S McGrath; P Bourke, Patrick Maher, L Corbett; B O’Meara, J O’Brien, N McGrath.
KILKENNY: D Herity; P Murphy, JJ Delaney, J Tyrrell; T Walsh, B Hogan, K Joyce; M Fennelly, M Rice; H Shefflin, TJ Reid, E Larkin; C Fennelly, R Power, A Fogarty.
Referee: C McAllister (Cork).
Previously:The counties will be meeting in the championship for a 23rd time with Tipp leading the head-to-head count by 13-9. The trend in recent matches has however swung to Kilkenny, who have won four of the last five. It’s the first time in nine years they’ve met in the semi-finals having contested the last three finals. Whereas the All-Irelands of 2009 and ’10 were considered exceptional matches, last year’s was more prosaic.
You bet: Kilkenny are 4/6 with Tipp 6/4 and the draw at 10/1.
Just the ticket: Stand tickets €40. Student and OAP refund of €15 available for Cusack and Davin stands. Terrace €25. Accompanied juveniles in Cusack and Davin €5.