Nicky English: Kilkenny and Tipperary poised to make final

Cats’ goalscoring threat gives them edge while improving Tipp can end Galway hopes

I didn't give Waterford much of a chance last Sunday. Rediscovering top gear after the Munster final trimming from Tipperary seemed too great a leap and their showing against Wexford didn't change that view.

But, for about 67 minutes against Kilkenny, they played the best hurling I have seen from them under Derek McGrath. Just a shame they were unable to close it out.

They took it to Kilkenny from the word go and fully utilised the element of surprise. They seemed to be driven by a need to right the wrongs of previous days.

Repeating that type of intensity six days later is a huge ask. But a repeat performance is essential.


It was not only the best game of this season but some of the best hurling we’ve seen for many years. Had Waterford stuck with their orthodox system for the entire 70 minutes of the All-Ireland semi-final, and not retreated, Kilkenny would be out of the championship. So I can’t see them returning to a double sweeper system any time soon.

They need the same standard of accuracy, same physicality, same man on man dominance. With such a young team they should not lack for energy but without the same free-scoring return, and at least 25 points, they cannot expect to beat what will be an improved Kilkenny.

You can always count on that.

This wasn’t just off the cuff hurling from Waterford. There was clear intelligence to their play – especially how they worked ball into the right man in the position most likely to yield a score. This was helped by having options up front, again, because they played orthodox hurling.

The key worry, and it may prove their undoing, is despite dominating so many individual battles and winning so much contested possession they never really threatened to score a goal. On that premise they won’t be able to put Kilkenny away. That means it will go down to the wire. I give them a real chance this time – but Kilkenny usually win close matches.

Shining light

And there will be improvement from many Kilkenny individuals but it must come from within the starting 15. Kieran Joyce needed to be replaced while they had to bring TJ Reid to centre forward to get him into the game. That meant moving Richie Hogan, who had been their shining light with four points each greater than the one before. But besides Pádraig Walsh in the second half and Eoin Larkin's arrival, nobody else got up to their usual level.

Their panel is a bit shallow. In a crisis Brian Cody only turned to Larkin and Lester Ryan, who shored up midfield, from his bench. That's not a good sign for Kilkenny.

If the four-week gap impacted on their first-half showing then that will be eradicated this evening. Maybe there is a pattern there.

Limerick had them under serious pressure in the 2014 semi-final as well until goals from Richie Hogan and Larkin got them through.

The head edges towards a Kilkenny win because they have proved they won’t fade – and their goalscoring threat.

I also expect Tipperary to prevail but only if they are at their best. For whatever reason they do not always reach expected standards against Galway.

There must be a higher belief mechanism at play when Galway face Tipperary as opposed to Kilkenny. That can go all the way back to the 1993 All-Ireland semi-final, the 2000 and 2005 quarter-finals, along with last year’s semi-final.

Tipp have other more tangible problems. The gap since the Munster final could hinder their first touch, like it seemed to affect Kilkenny last Sunday.

A burden

They are repeat Munster champions. No other county has done that since Cork in 2006 but that success has become a burden in itself. The Munster holders have not been able to capture Liam McCarthy since 2005 (Cork again). That’s a generation of provincial success not being transferred into All-Ireland titles.

This impediment tends to have something to do with Kilkenny or Galway. Tipp, as repeat provincial champions for the third time since 2009, may have learned a way around that by now. They certainly have the experience.

After the Leinster final I did not believe Galway were All-Ireland contenders this year. The manner in which they pulled away from Clare tells me they have the ability to learn and improve.

Fatigue, more than a lack of leadership, contributed to the manner in which they faded against Kilkenny. They appear to have improved in this department although it is hard to consider the beating Clare as a barometer of building for success.

So while Galway have been learning Tipperary have been forced to lie in wait. Daithí Burke going to full back has strengthened their resolve. Burke is one of the best defenders around and he will surely pick up Seamie Callanan. That will be a telling match up. Their midfield, with Johnny Coen in there, improved significantly against Clare.

Scoring forwards

Joe Canning’s goal set them on their way in that quarter-final. When Joe was shut down in the Leinster final, for all the talk that they possess a greater spread of scoring forwards, that’s when they seriously struggled. Joe remains their leader. He brings the others with him.

I feel that leadership would be better utilised at centre forward on Ronan Maher.

I still expect Tipp to win. They have a better cut to them this time around, they are more direct, the midfield work of Michael Breen and Brendan Maher in particular has yet to be matched. If that duo get on a wealth of ball then Tipp will make full use of their find of the championship, John McGrath.

Midfield has been winning hurling matches all summer.

Galway dominated the Clare midfield but Conor Fogarty and Mick Fennelly took hold of that area in the Leinster final. That duo struggled for parity last Sunday against Waterford's Jamie Barron and Kevin Moran, who were comprehensively outplayed by Maher and Breen in the Munster final.

By those unscientific calculations, Tipperary and Kilkenny to renew acquaintances in September.