Monday 27 March 2017

The attack

Jamesie O'Connor

Tipperary: Should be bracing themselves for as intense and physical an afternoon as any forward line is ever likely to experience, but I think there's enough character there to withstand whatever Kilkenny throw at them.



At their mesmerising best in Munster, and especially in the Munster final, they were surprisingly well contained by Dublin's sweeper system, three weeks ago.

They are unlikely to open up Kilkenny as easily as they did last year, and may have to show a lot of patience before the dam eventually breaks, if at all.

The key will be their work-rate and willingness to keep making the hard runs off the ball that created the holes 12 months ago.

Lar Corbett remains the talisman, and has carried the form of last autumn into 2011. Eoin Kelly too, up to the semi-final, had been enjoying genuinely good form, and in a contest where scores may very well end up at a premium, can boast the proud record of having never missed a free in an All-Ireland final. As well as the leadership they provide, this pair set the standard for the rest of the Tipperary attack, and if they get enough of the ball, in the right areas, Tipp will win.

That of course will be the challenge, because space will be at a premium. Outside of Kelly and Corbett, Tipp have genuine class in both Noel McGrath and Seamus Callanan.

McGrath's selection at centre-forward creates a headache for Kilkenny, because he takes watching and will punish Brian Hogan if he plays a covering rather than tight-marking role. Callanan is capable of brilliance but producing it in the type of environment Kilkenny are likely to create is another thing.

In the end, it could be John O'Brien or Bonnar Maher who ultimately cracks the code and makes the difference.

Kilkenny

Looking at the Kilkenny half-forward line that took the field in each of the last two games, it's easy to imagine Brian Cody picking the team with today in mind. The Tipp half-back line have hurt Kilkenny in the last two finals, and a similar level of dominance today would be fatal to Kilkenny's chances. Eddie Brennan's selection is a surprise, given Michael Rice's form at number ten all year, but he's obviously worked hard and brings a ton of experience. It may also reflect the management's lack of faith in TJ Reid, who appears to have lost form at the wrong time. Kilkenny may well shuffle the deck anyway and if Eoin Larkin starts on the wing, it's a clear indication they have decided to load the middle third with their best ball-winners, gamble on winning the lion's share of possession, and take their chances from there.

While Shefflin may have lost a half yard of pace, he's still a phenomenal player. Looked back to his best in the Leinster final, and is still the main man in attack. While Richie Power has been a provider rather than a finisher to date, there's no doubting his scoring ability. He assumed a lot of responsibility in last year's final in Shefflin's absence, and has become a central player. A key battle looms with O'Mahony on the 40.

As ever, Richie Hogan remains frustratingly inconsistent -- capable of brilliance one minute, with superb goals against both Wexford and Waterford, and woeful decision-making and shooting the next. He can't afford to be wasteful today.

Hogan, Colin Fennelly and whoever else Kilkenny deploy in the inside line are likely to have more space than their Tipp counterparts at the other end. If that's the case, goals may be on the agenda.

The bottom line is that if the Kilkenny half-backs and midfield get on top, these forwards will see enough ball to amass a winning tally.

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