Tuesday 6 December 2016

The Great Debate: Should Kilkenny, and not Tipp, be the All-Ireland hurling favourites?

Martin Breheny and Jackie Cahill

Published 19/06/2015 | 02:30

Brian Cody's men have survived the departure of big name stars before; Tipp boss Eamon O'Shea has seen incremental improvement under his watch SPORTSFILE
Brian Cody's men have survived the departure of big name stars before; Tipp boss Eamon O'Shea has seen incremental improvement under his watch SPORTSFILE

'Yes' says Martin Breheny

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Since facts provide the most persuasive argument-decider of all, here's a selection that show how the bookmaking fraternity are wrong to have Tipperary, rather than Kilkenny, as All-Ireland hurling favourites.

Kilkenny have won 10 All-Irelands since 2000 and seven of the last nine. They have lost only once to Tipperary in their last nine SHC meetings.

Tomorrow, they are at home to Wexford, who haven't beaten them in the Championship since 2004, whereas Tipperary are away to Limerick, who beat them twice in the last two seasons.

That suggests that Kilkenny are less likely to find themselves in the first round qualifier draw, which could be very significant.

That apart, there is no logical reason why the defending champions are not favourites to retain the title.

That raises the question: why aren't they? Is it because they flirted with relegation from Division 1A this year? Surely not.

Injuries combined with Ballyhale Shamrocks' All-Ireland club engagements to leave Kilkenny seriously under strength during the League, which was important in a competitive group where margins were so tight.

The real reason why Kilkenny have been edged from the favourites' slot is because of the retirement of so many high-profile players since last year.

At face value, that's understandable, given the pedigree of the departed sextet, Henry Shefflin, JJ Delaney, Brian Hogan, Tommy Walsh, Aidan Fogarty and David Herity.

Delve a little deeper, however, and it becomes apparent that if all six had stayed on, Delaney is probably the only one who would be starting tomorrow.

The others - even Shefflin - were peripheral last year, so why should it be any different this time?

That brings us to Delaney. There's a view that as well as leaving a massive void in the Kilkenny defence, his departure will be psychologically advantageous to the opposition.

Yet, if you reflect on the incident which attracted so much praise for Delaney last year, you wonder if it was, in fact, the moment that convinced him to move on.

His hook on Seamus Callanan, which almost certainly prevented what might have been a match-turning goal in the All-Ireland final replay, came after he had been out-run by the Tipperary full-forward.

Delaney's superb recovery resulted from a combination of the many skills he brought to his defensive craft for so long, but it also suggested that he would be troubled even more by speedy opposition this year.

Bottom line: Kilkenny have survived departures before and until such time as it is shown that the latest exit list has seriously weakened the squad, they deserve to be All-Ireland favourites.

'No' says Jackie Cahill

Remember 'Beds are Burning', that catchy old number from Midnight Oil?

The one with the lyrics: 'The time has come, to say fair's fair, to pay the rent, to pay our share.'

It's time for the Tipperary senior hurlers to cough up now and rid themselves of the 'underachievers' tag that has hung around their necks since 2010.

They need to repay the faith shown in them by manager Eamon O'Shea, who has continued to work with a number of players who could have been binned by others.

The word is that these Tipperary players feel they 'owe' him one, and are desperate to achieve silverware for the Kilruane MacDonaghs man before he hands over the reins to Michael Ryan later in the year.

But emotion and sentimentality are dangerous motivators, distractions from the process required to get the job done.

If Tipp are fully tuned into their hurling, they're more than good enough, and progress since O'Shea took charge has been incremental.

Asking O'Shea to flick a switch and revive the glory days when he was coach was unreasonable in 2013.

The collateral damage from an 18-point defeat against Kilkenny in the previous year's All-Ireland semi-final was too great.

But Tipp took giant steps forward last year, going within a Hawk-Eye call of glory, and recent history tells us that getting to the steps of the Hogan Stand is a three-year process.

It took Nicky English that length of time before he reached the promised land in 2001, Liam Sheedy the same when he masterminded 2010 success.

This is O'Shea's third season at the helm and the burning question is, can history repeat itself?

Tipp need to go through the front door to do it. They're four steps from heaven and as O'Shea puts the finishing touches to preparations for Sunday's Munster semi-final against Limerick, he's well aware that Tipp haven't won a provincial Championship match on his watch.

That's something he'll want to rectify, and the decision not to engage with the written press ahead of the game is a clear example of shutting out external influences.

The doors were locked at training in Semple Stadium on Tuesday evening too.

Privately, O'Shea must believe that a glorious opportunity presents itself this summer.

Kilkenny are down JJ Delaney, he of the goal-saving hook on Seamus Callanan, as well as Henry Shefflin, Tommy Walsh and Brian Hogan.

To suggest that Tipp are in a stronger position because Kilkenny are shorn of experience is no slight on their own undoubted talent.

In a game of inches, Tipp need every one of them.

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