Tipperary’s momentum to help them clear final hurdle
Fluid movement of potent forward line the Premier County’s primary weapon against Kilkenny
Kilkenny’s Eoin Larkin clashes with Tipperaryh’s Paddy Stapleton during the drawn final at Croke Park. Photo: Ryan Byrne/Inpho
Follow that. The current All-Ireland hurling championship concludes – barring another replay – in Croke Park this evening having gifted posterity one of the truly great finals in the drawn encounter of three weeks ago.
It’s already had to live up to – and largely disappoint – the legacy of last year’s championship with its historic provincial champions and novel All-Ireland final.
Yet it did save the best until last and if there was a sense of ennui about the prospect of Kilkenny and Tipperary meeting for the fourth final in six years that was blown out of the stadium with the energy, drive and virtuosity of the match that unfolded.
Now the finalists have to live up to more expectations, this time created by themselves; is it in fact a pity that we’re back for more?
As opposed to neither side deserving to lose the original match is there a case to be made that such a spectacle deserved to produce champions rather than a replay, which at the dawn of its staging has to be of as yet unknown quality?
In the third successive year of replayed All-Ireland hurling finals this evening’s match is no more conducive to general guidelines than the deadlocked contest that necessitated it?
Psychologically who emerged stronger? Kilkenny, fuelled by the relief of coming within inches of losing at the very end or Tipperary, who hurled so well and pulled back a three-point deficit in a couple of minutes?
They went into the first match carrying the baggage from a sequence of dispiriting defeats by their opponents and the strong – if not panicky – sense that they had in the four years since winning their last Liam MacCarthy Cup squandered what promised to be a great era for the county.
On the day they responded with all the furious energy of a team that was making up for lost time.
Once again, manager Eamon O’Shea – who had coached Tipp to season’s best displays in the 2009 and ’10 All-Irelands – judged the run to perfection.
The fluid movement of the forwards, which must have been expected by Kilkenny but proved so hard to counter, created space in the watertight environs of the opposition defence – not acres of it but enough to shoot 1-24 from play despite committed marking.
The big question for this evening is that having thrown the kitchen sink at it in the drawn match, has O’Shea another sink?
After all of the preparation and psyching up that went on to get Tipperary to that level, is it repeatable?
A further question: is it complacency or constraint for O’Shea simply to play the same team when the opposition have been sufficiently unhappy with the same draw to make three changes?
The thrust of that ignores the importance the Tipperary management attach to a settled, confident and enthusiastic team.
As a collective they did a good job the last day and although some of them – Brendan Maher, Pádraic Maher and Gearóid Ryan – have room for improvement, so did Lar Corbett and Noel McGrath going into the drawn match.
Kilkenny manager Brian Cody has rarely seen a team that he didn’t want to change before an All-Ireland.
But whereas in the past the wealth of resources and training sessions that he could run with the confidence of an assay master have made changes an almost certain improvement, at this stage there’s more of a sense of running repairs.
For four years there has been a belief that Kilkenny were in decline but Cody has taken them to two All-Irelands since. Aggravated by a question earlier this year about whether his team was past its peak, he replied that peaking was simply winning All-Irelands.
It is becoming more of a struggle, though.
Even the much-garlanded replacements bench is a bit of a mirage; there’s a pile of All-Ireland medals in reserve because a number of great players are nearing the end of their careers rather than that there’s a policy of holding proven performers in reserve.
Given how well-flagged Tipperary’s patterns must have been, is there any compelling evidence that Kilkenny have come closer than they did three weeks ago to solving these problems conclusively?
It worked quite well but the opposition then didn’t play well and the downside is a number of backs out of their comfort zone – which was often the problem the last day.
That proved a key switch the last day and Hogan will need to be marked more tightly, especially if he gets switched into the inside line.
But Tipperary have room for improvement themselves, especially under high-ball raids, so the scope for raising performance levels isn’t a one-way street.
As an aside it was noted last year that goals in drawn matches aren’t positive indicators.
Of the last six All-Ireland series matches (two quarter-finals, two semi-finals and the last two finals) to require replays, none of the winners had scored more goals in the drawn encounter.
In four of those years the team that ultimately lost out was the one that had raised more green flags.
The rationale here is obvious enough: teams that need goals to stay afloat are generally more vulnerable.
Most importantly, Tipperary didn’t just magic the recent final performance out of nowhere.
O’Shea’s team have been playing at a steadily increasing tempo for the past two months and the view here is that they haven’t yet reached crescendo.