Clash between these two great rivals looks too close to call
Latest Kilkenny v Tipperary showdown will produce its own, as yet unscripted, dynamic
Kilkenny’s Brian Kennedy and JJ Delaney in action against Tipperary’s Séamus Callanan. Photo: Cathal Noonan/Inpho
On the evening of the Cork-Tipperary semi-final I made a late afternoon visit to a well-known palatial Tipperary hostelry on Fleet Street on the south side of the Liffey. To say the place was buzzing would be an understatement. There was much discussion around trying to understand whether it was a case of Cork being very poor or Tipperary being very good .
“Have we a chance?” was the question I was asked most often. There was a kind of disbelief that they were so impressive in their demolition of Cork. Here they were back in the All-Ireland final after a very hesitant, tentative, dubious early spring.
Well, of course they have a chance. But how much of a chance have they? More about that later .
What an exciting time for the players though. However there’s a bit of a sideshow that comes to life in the build up to a senior final. The match ticket issue is a problem the players could do without.
The amount of items that arrive at training to be signed by the players has to be seen to be believed. The big numbers watching training creates its own atmosphere and can be problematic.
The post-match formal wear has to be attended to as well as the tickets for the Sunday night banquet. These are some of the added extras that can distract players in the lead up to the big day.
All in all though, for the players, this is how they want it to be. Preparing for an All- Ireland senior hurling final is almost as good as it gets. Better than that though is when Barry Kelly blows full time and their team is ahead.
The morning of the game can’t come quickly enough though and I always found that there was a heightened sense of the calm before the storm as Sunday dawned. We often hear of players in many sports speaking of being in a bubble in the lead up to big occasions.They’re away from the hype and the madness.
The hotel’s team room is a safe place. The team comedians help to keep the atmosphere light. After lunch is eaten a change gradually descends into the bubble . Many teams have their team talk now. This really signals the start of the serious stuff. A tension pervades the air. The medics are now at full tilt.The players get the game face on as they head for the bus.
The journey with outriders is special.The dressing room is always different on championship days. Players wish each other well with an earnestness that is reserved for the biggest occasions. But in reality, within the tight-knit group each player is alone. Alone with his own thoughts and coping mechanisms.
The final words are spoken as the designated time of entry onto the field of play arrives. Now it’s totally over to the players. I always tried to soak in the atmosphere as the warm-up progressed.
For most of Sunday’s players and management teams this isn’t new . They know or should know how to handle all the added protocol.
So what can we expect? Well unlike the Donegal /Dublin senior football game last weekend there isn’t an unbackable favourite to be ambushed. Kilkenny marginally carry the favourites’ tag but they aren’t the team of a few years ago and certainly don’t put the fear of God into their opponents like they did then. They were fortunate to win the league final.They have played well in stages in all their games but they haven’t been consistently good . There’s no certainty about what 15 will begin this game.
I could pick out facets of play from both sides to add weight to a particular argument but really I’d be only trying to camouflage the fact that I haven’t much of an idea how this game is going to pan out. This, like all games of hurling between teams that are evenly matched, will have its own, yet unscripted, dynamic .
The fact that both teams have played each other so often over the past six years , that many of the same players will play on Sunday and that many of the games have been so evenly contested means that it’s difficult to predict a winner.
Maybe it’s time that Tipperary took a bit of initiative and started a player Kilkenny won’t have planned for. Consider the influence that the hitherto unknown Walter Walsh had on the replayed All-Ireland final two years ago. He made his senior debut that day and also collected the Man of the Match award in the winners’ enclosure that night.
Last year saw a similar narrative with late replacement Shane O’Donnell scoring a hat-trick and later collecting his MoM accolade .
So maybe Eamonn O’Shea should parachute one of his lesser known training panel members into the white heat and hope that the ensuing Tipperary smoke will be white when Barry Kelly blows the final whistle for full time.
Or will the primal drive for the top spot in the history books project Kilkenny to such heights that the opposition becomes superfluous?
Then again maybe there will be a further similarity with the last two finals and we’ll have another draw. It’s certainly not beyond the bounds of possibility .
So many imponderables and opinions. No answers yet though.