Tipperary: Whether Tipperary would have won the All-Ireland last year without the foothold Brendan Maher gave them in the middle of the field is debatable. His form last year, up to and including the final, was outstanding, and I'd like their chances a lot more if he was playing.
In his absence, Gearóid Ryan has worked hard and played solidly, but without wielding the impact Maher had right throughout the 2010 championship. Beside him, Shane McGrath has been steady if not spectacular, but will need all the drive and energy he plays with when at his best for the battle ahead with Michael Rice and Michael Fennelly.
The Tipp duo should match the work-rate and mobility of their Kilkenny counterparts, but with Rice restored to his best position, it's hard to see Tipp now dominating this area.
After an outstanding Leinster campaign, Michael Fennelly didn't quite reach the same heights against Waterford, but has become a massive player for Kilkenny. Strong, athletic, mobile, aggressive, Fennelly is the prototype modern midfielder, and he was a massive loss in the league final.
He gives the team go-forward ball, as well as allowing the half-backs to sit that bit deeper, with his covering ability and work-rate.
Although it appeared he was being lined up to occupy Pádraic Maher, and had displayed All Star form at wing-forward, Michael Rice's selection at midfield looks to have tilted the balance of power in this sector towards Kilkenny. Similar in many respects to Fennelly, midfield is Rice's natural position and they make a formidable pair, who can drive forward and put the opposition on the back foot.
Sunday Indo Sport