New-look Tribe attack a real threat, warns Cats legend Henderson
Published 04/09/2015 | 02:30
Kilkenny legend John Henderson believes Sunday's All-Ireland final may well hinge on whether or not a potentially undercooked Cats defence can subdue Galway's young forwards.
The three-time All-Ireland winner has been impressed by Jason Flynn, Cathal Mannion and Conor Whelan, the attacking trio promoted by Anthony Cunningham from the U-21 squad prior to the Tribesmen's disappointing league campaign.
Having lost to Kilkenny in the Leinster final, Galway were forced to take a more arduous route to Croke Park for their first shot at the Liam MacCarthy cup since 2012. However, Henderson says that will have been of benefit to the squad.
"They (Galway) have the players, the proven track record but sometimes they don't have the patience to bring a team through. But that's what happened this year with the number of games they had.
"He's (Cunningham) probably got a settled team and I think that's their big plus this year, and discovering the young forwards from the U-21s, the likes of Jason Flynn and young (Conor) Whelan," he said.
In comparison, the champions' title defence has been smooth, with only a moderate challenge from Waterford in the semi-final. Henderson can find little fault in the Cats' attacking play, but has reservations over the back-line.
"I'd say people will be asking has the Kilkenny defence been tested enough. I think the worry when looking at Kilkenny is will Jackie Tyrrell be in or will (Shane) Prendergast be in? And you have Joey Holden playing in his first final at full-back, on Joe Canning probably.
"The rest of them, like Cillian Buckley and Paul Murphy, they're all quality players and proven. But you're as strong as the weakest link, and that's what Galway will be trying to find out, where is the weakest link and where can they exploit it in play."
Understandably, there will be doubt regarding the ability of Cunningham's callow charges to perform in an All-Ireland final.
Yet, when looking back at his own storied career, Henderson recalls that of the five All-Ireland finals he played in, the first was least disconcerting.
That was in 1979 when, as a 21-year-old, Henderson helped Kilkenny overcome Galway. He believes the fearlessness of youth can keep the nerves at bay.
"I think the first final is the easiest one because it's new territory. When I go back to my own experience of that, I say the first one is the easiest.
"For Galway to win, it would be a major, major thing. For Kilkenny to win everyone will just say, 'Ah, it's another one'."