It's all teed up for Dubs ambush
Published 13/08/2011 | 05:00
AS any player or manager will tell you, the smoother the path through the championship, the better you like it. If you can reach the presentation podium in September without having your limits tested, so much the better.
It's all about securing Liam MacCarthy or Sam Maguire for the winter and how it's achieved doesn't actually matter. Of course, very few teams win All-Irelands off an easy route. Somewhere along the line the big examination arrives and, when it does, you've got to be ready for it.
If you pass it, you're better prepared for the next one. The real risk comes when a team coasts through a few games only to run into a tornado next time out and find that the calmer days left them hopelessly unprepared.
Tipperary have been boating on tranquil seas this summer. Cork tried to raise a few squalls, but Tipp powered away to still water; so too with Clare, while Waterford didn't even raise a ripple.
Many people believe it will be plain sailing for Tipperary again tomorrow against Dublin, in which case they would find themselves in against Kilkenny without ever being extended. Not a good idea. The last thing Tipp need is to face Kilkenny, whose motivation levels are at a record high, without having been checked across every line.
I believe Tipp will be tested tomorrow. Dublin's only defeats in competitive action all year were against Galway in the league (unluckily it must be said) and against Kilkenny in the Leinster final, yet they're being written off as no-hopers.
The reaction to Kilkenny's win last Sunday was insulting to Dublin as it suggested that they would be no more than facilitators in the grand plan for 'Kilkenny v Tipperary Round 3'.
Anthony Daly knows that and, what's more, will milk it for every last drop. Not that indignation is a tactic, no more than setting out to prove people wrong helps you achieve it. It's pretty obvious what Dublin need to do to give themselves a chance, but less easy to put in place.
Tipperary play a direct game, driving the ball long into full-forwards Lar Corbett, Eoin Kelly and John O'Brien. That's followed by a charge from the half-forwards, so that if their inside men haven't won possession, there's always a decent chance there will be breaking ball to be won.
Kilkenny have been doing that successfully for years and now Tipperary are onto it. The response to that is to clog as many channels as possible, forcing attackers to work in confined spaces, which increases the chances of curbing them.
Daly set up that type of defensive alignment very well at times during his days with Clare and I'd be surprised if he doesn't opt for it again. It's vital for Dublin not to concede early goals, leaving them chasing the game against such a confident outfit as Tipperary; hence the need to close down space.
Those who claim that setting up a team like that is merely an exercise in keeping the margin of defeat down are missing the point. It's about giving yourself the best chance to work your way into the game and also about raising doubts among the opposition.
Tipperary are well able to wage war with whatever intensity is required, but, at the same time, this is their first real test since last year's All-Ireland final.
The Tipperary players will have heard nothing for weeks except how the semi-final is a formality and while they will do their best to ignore it, hype is dangerous. As for Dublin, it's beautifully teed up for them. At 9/1, nobody gives them a chance, but that's based as much on history as anything else.
True, they were well beaten by Kilkenny in the Leinster final, but the rest of the year has been an outstanding success.
Unfortunately, they are without Conal Keaney, Tomas Brady and Stephen Hiney, men who could make a big impact on a game like this, but, even in their absence, Dublin will offer a ferociously focused opposition. Apart from blocking channels in their defensive half, it's crucial that they hold a consistent shape. Tipperary's attacking movement can be mesmerising at times, but they still have only six forwards, so defences shouldn't be panicked by their rotating positions.
I doubt very much if Dublin will make that mistake. Nonetheless, it's unlikely that they will be sufficiently secure all day to prevent Tipp running in enough scores to win, although the margin will not be as wide as some would have you believe.
Cody sitting pretty as Premier caught in a no-win situation
Brian Cody will, no doubt, be sitting in the Hogan Stand tomorrow, hoping for one of two things. A Dublin win would go down nicely, but if Tipperary are to win, he would like it to be by a big margin.
Tipp are already favourites to take the title and if they win easily tomorrow their odds will shorten again, which would suit Kilkenny. After all, they have lost just one championship game in six seasons and will still be outsiders (if Tipp are the opposition) in the final.
Kilkenny have got everything right again this summer, starting against Wexford in a game which was more significant than many thought. Kilkenny needed to make a statement down in Wexford Park, which they did, and things have progressed solidly from there. They're back in the All-Ireland final, and that's all that matters for now.
A final point on Kilkenny. I share their surprise at the small number of frees they got against Waterford last Sunday. Six frees in 70 minutes and only two in the second half? Waterford were disciplined, but no team is that law-abiding.
Murphy's minor majesty gives Tribesmen much-needed boost
GALWAY hurling needed a boost after another miserable senior campaign and it arrived last Sunday when the minors turned in a great second-half/extra-time display to beat Clare in their All-Ireland semi-final.
Galway hurling is still producing high quality raw talent, but the mystery of how it disappears continues. Matt Murphy has a remarkable record with the minors and while he and some of his selectors took their time strolling across Croke Park during the various breaks, their minds are obviously a lot quicker!
They have a good squad and they're doing very well. Mind you, it was difficult not to feel sorry for Clare that they didn't get a second chance. Surely all drawn semi-finals should be replayed.