When Kilkenny and Tipperary take to the field in their respective provincial finals, many people across the country will have already have pitted them against each other in a September showdown.
The facts speak for themselves. Two weeks ago, Kilkenny beat Wexford by 24 points, and Tipperary defeated Limerick by 16 points. Talk of a revolutionary summer like 2013 has all but been abolished for another year. It’s now time for the other teams to just throw in the towel, one supposes.
Absolutely not. What happened last Sunday, was merely just two teams stating their intent for the year ahead. They had to put in the performances they did in order to prevent being included in a very tough qualifier draw the next morning. As Brian Cody says, you can only beat what is front of you. Kilkenny had a lot of questions going into the Wexford game, who would fill JJ Delaney’s boots at full back, could they fill the void left by Shefflin, Walsh and co . So naturally, they wanted to silence the doubters. After all, it’s not in Kilkenny nature to dwell on the past. The show must go on.
You could say the same for their neighbours. It’s fair to say the pressure is mounting on the Premier county to land an All Ireland title after coming within a whisker of it last year. They, themselves have lost stalwarts such as Eoin Kelly, John O’Brien, Paul Curran and Noel McGrath. However, like Kilkenny, they simply got on with it, with John, O’ Dwyer and Seamus Callanan fast becoming the dynamic duo of their forward line. Where Kilkenny have Reid and Hogan, Tipp have Bubbles and Callanan.
So the questions have been answered and the chance of silverware is up for grabs, but supporters must thread carefully. The championship is a landmine, and one misstep could blow a county’s chances to pieces. It doesn’t come much more dangerous for Kilkenny than this Sunday’s Leinster SHC final meeting with Galway in Croke Park. Galway are now delivering on what they have been capable of since 2012. Their forward had enough firepower to match Tipperary and Kilkenny’s ammunition. The fact that they have scored 8-47 so far in the championship speaks for itself.
While Wexford set out with the best of intentions last Sunday, tactically they were very naïve. Playing a two man full back line gave Ger Aylward space and he punished accordingly. With the likes of Richie Power and Colin Fennelly to come back into the team, Kilkenny’s ability to get goals will increase tenfold. It is highly unlikely that Galway will be as loose defensively. The key thing, for them, is to curtail the influence of Richie Hogan and Tj Reid. Whenever either of them has the ball, the other is never too far away. If Galway can keep it tight and curb Kilkenny’s scoring threat, they are in with a fair chance of causing an upset.
The ultimate acid test for Kilkenny will be in their full back line. Assignments don’t come much harder than marking Joe Canning, so Joey Holden will have his work cut out. As will Paul Murphy and Jackie Tyrell, who will have to deal with the equally punishing Jason Flynn and Cathal Mannion. In these three, Galway have a lethal combination that could make this championship more than the perceived two horse race.
Tipperary’s opponents in the Munster final, Waterford is another emerging contender for the All Ireland title. They made nothing of the loss of their freetaker and talisman Padraic Mahony and have found themselves within touching distance of a Munster title. Their swift progress has impressed many and to beat Cork, not once, but twice is nothing to be sniffed at. At this point in time. Derek McGrath and his young team deserve to be in the top four. The tactically astute manager will have to replicate Kilkenny in last year’s replay and close down any sort of space that Tipp create, the type they thrive off of. Like Galway, they have the forward power to trouble Tipperary’s rearguard.
The defeated parties, Limerick and Wexford, will have to look to the qualifiers to try and salvage their season. Limerick will have to travel to Westmeath, where they will be expected to get a win, while Wexford play host to Cork. This will be an interesting one as both sides will be feeling pretty scorned by their previous performances and will want to get a bit of momentum going. It’s a hard one to call. Limerick are another side who will need to get the show on the road as quickly as possible. They have a tough road ahead, and will need to avoid the likes of Kilkenny should they want to still be in the reckoning come August.
As for Kilkenny and Tipperary, they are on the right track, but there is a lot hurling to be done yet.
(Hello everyone, long time no see 😛 I’ve been letting my brother make a few technical changes to the site, which includes a new subscription service where you will get notified whenever I upload a post. I’ve made a few changes to my writing schedule too so I’ll be hopefully posting every Wednesday and Friday. Stay tuned for Friday’s post!)