Tuesday 6 December 2016

Cats can overcome loss of Fennelly and extend stranglehold over their old rivals

Published 03/09/2016 | 02:30

Kilkenny hurler Michael Fennelly. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach / Sportsfile
Kilkenny hurler Michael Fennelly. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach / Sportsfile

The form lines are quite confusing. Tipperary demolished Waterford, who recovered to stretch Kilkenny to the limit of their resilience over two inch-for-inch struggles in the All-Ireland semi-final.

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In early July, Kilkenny imposed their trademark second-half press on Galway, driving to victory even more comfortably than the seven-point winning margin suggests.

Six weeks later, Galway were equal to Tipperary in every way except in the nod of the head at the finish line.

It was a near-replica of last year's semi-final clash when Galway got their noses in front in the closing seconds.

So ignoring the many other considerations which form such a fascinating backdrop to tomorrow's clash, what are we to make of the 'paths to the final' evidence?

Tipperary's advance through Munster was smooth and focused, albeit in a campaign where Cork, Limerick and Clare were disappointing.

That was borne out by the manner in which the trio later fared in 'back door' territory, where they all exited at various stages after sloppy performances.

As for Waterford's wipe-out in the Munster final, it was so bad that it had to be seen as an inexplicable one-off, which indeed turned out to be the case.

That took Tipperary into the All-Ireland semi-final and a very close contest, which might well have gone to a replay if David Collins hadn't fumbled a routine pick-up out over the sideline just as Galway wound up for a last-ditch attempt to snatch the equaliser deep in stoppage-time.

The breaks, which went against Tipperary in the 2015 semi-final, fell their way this time, but there are still doubts about their real worth, ones that will persist until they re-acquaint themselves with the Liam MacCarthy Cup.

Kilkenny's relatively easy retention of the Leinster title suggested they would be much too slick for Waterford, only to become dragged into two fearsome battles, during which they were very nearly shot down.

In a sense then, it's honours even in the run-up to tomorrow. That requires further peeling of the many layers which have wrapped around each other in over a century of Kilkenny-Tipperary rivalry.

Tipp used to hold the advantage but that has changed in the Brian Cody era when Kilkenny have remained unbeaten except for the 2010 All-Ireland final.

Tipp have lost four and drawn one of five championship games with Kilkenny since then, which can now be seen in two ways.

Critics will claim it's a sign they just can't figure out the Kilkenny question but, alternatively, there's a view that the longer a sequence runs, the more likely it is to end.

That theory won't make much of an impression on Kilkenny or Brian Cody, who always insists that every game is won on its merits and that what has gone before is irrelevant.

Still, the more often teams play each other, the greater the knowledge base. And since Tipperary are trying to bridge the gap, that's especially important to them.

Inexplicable

Michael Ryan believes that the key difference between the teams in recent years has been in the levels of intensity.

"Kilkenny have trumped us each day on intensity. That is the initial bar we have to reach. I don't know when I have seen recent Kilkenny teams not reaching a very high level of intensity. We've got to do the same," he said.

Unfortunately for Kilkenny, they have lost one of their big pressure providers in Michael Fennelly, who almost always played well against Tipp.

His absence is a huge plus for Tipperary, as not only does it rob Kilkenny of a major powerhouse, it limits their options off the bench since he has had to be replaced.

Tipp will be very encouraged by the manner in which Waterford came so very close to unseating Kilkenny, believing that they have even more to bring to the battle.

They are probably right but will Kilkenny raise their game too? They usually manage to do that in All-Ireland finals, as Tipp know well.

If they do that again, the title will be theirs for a 37th time.

Irish Independent

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