Kennedy feels Tipp glass is 'half' full
SEAMUS Callanan shifts awkwardly in his seat and bristles slightly at the question. It's a week before the May Munster championship clash with Cork and it's the same old chestnut. Are Tipperary's half-forward line good enough? The articulate Drom and Inch man pauses before answering.
"I definitely think it's unfair," he says. "Considering the three of us (Callanan, John O'Brien and Pat Kerwick) were nominated for All Stars last year, yet we're still 'the bad Tipperary half-forward line'."
There's little doubt that it's a line of the side that has seen huge upheaval this season with the starting triumvirate from last year's All-Ireland final falling by the wayside. After anchoring that line last year and the early part of this season, Callanan has been pushed out of the number 11 shirt.
John O'Brien started the ill-fated Munster championship clash against Cork, but has been confined to appearances from the bench since, while Kerwick has missed out through a groin injury.
In all, a total of 11 different players have started in the half-forward line for Tipperary in league and championship, while another five have put in shifts there at various stages.
Patrick 'Bonner' Maher wasn't used at all until the qualifier clash with Wexford but he has started every game since and is likely to get the nod on Sunday. Gearoid Ryan was also drafted in after the Munster final defeat and hasn't looked back.
The chopping and changing could be interpreted as a weakness in the team, while others maintain that Liam Sheedy has cut his cloth to suit -- particularly in recent matches, as when Noel McGrath was pushed out to centre-forward to discommode Waterford's Michael 'Brick' Walsh.
In last year's final, Lar Corbett drifted out from the full-forward line to snaffle up possession.
Whether they'll pull a similar trick this year remains to be seen, but it's widely agreed that Tipp will have to curb the influence of Kilkenny's half- back line, which, with the reinstatement of JJ Delaney, looks even more formidable than in 2009.
"They have a serious line there, even without Brian Hogan," agrees David Kennedy, who was centre-back on the side that won the county's last All-Ireland title in 2001 and now lines out for Kildare.
"But whoever Tipperary play there, they are going to be fine hurlers and good stickmen. There's a lot made of that half-forward line thing, but they'll be brave and committed. Tipp will be looking to at least break even there and vary their own puck outs, but they can do it, there's no doubt about that."
Tipp's form has been solid rather than spectacular since their defeat at the hands of Cork. For Kennedy, they have only ever done just enough to get by this year and never really had to hit the heights of that 2009 final.
"Last year's final was the best (performance) by a Tipperary team in seven or eight years. They lost, but they had two goal chances which PJ Ryan saved brilliantly. There was the dodgy penalty and the sending off. That's four major things that went against Tipp on the day.
"I think people expected Tipp to just pick up from where they left off last year, but it's not possible to keep that level of performance. They haven't reached anything like that level yet. The only time they needed to dig deep was against Galway and they pulled that out of the fire."
Traditionally, Tipp have enjoyed the better of the All-Ireland final encounters between the sides (the score in currently 9-6 in the Premier's favour) and with the situation regarding Henry Shefflin's ability to last 70 minutes still unclear, Kennedy believes that Tipp would be best served by playing the strongest possible Kilkenny side.
"We won't really know until throw-in what the story is with Henry," said Kennedy, who marked Shefflin on a number of occasions before moving to Kildare.
"He's so clever and does a lot of his best work off the ball. To be honest, I think Tipp want him playing along with the likes of Tommy Walsh and Hogan and their full strength team. If they beat them, they know they have beaten the best and if they lose to a team like that, well, there's no shame in it."