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Cats to feel backlash of Tipp's thirst

WHO would you rather be just now, Brian Cody or Liam Sheedy?

Or to be more exact, which pressure would you least prefer to have? The expectation of a county and country primed to go berserk at the somewhat expected completion of the five in a row -- something never accomplished at senior level in ether code -- or the manager of the team for who, many feel, their overtaking of said Kilkenny team is a some kind of fait accompli.

Both managers were keen to dampen the hubris at the recent launch of the Allianz National Hurling Leagues, but it's highly likely the pair will again lock horns when the major pots and pans are being dished out.

For Tipp, it's yet another 'make or break' season. Local opinion has it that they hammered into Kilkenny in the league and All-Ireland finals of last year, narrowed the gap on the big Cats and this year will see their rightful spot on the Hogan Stand podium restored.

Simple.

The problem with the above thesis is that to even get to the brilliant level at which Tipp hurled last year is a massive challenge, let alone to better it.

The unearthing of Noel McGrath and Padraic Maher in last year's league was about as good as it gets for any manager, and, with that extra year's experience, those two should go on to give an even greater contribution to the cause. But nothing is ever that simple in hurling.

And then there's Kilkenny. What do we expect from Brian Cody's men this year? Same old same old? Perhaps not.

In using the Walsh Cup and Shield to try out a host of the most promising youngster in the county, Cody looks like he's about to make greater changes to his all-dominating team than he has in the previous four glorious seasons.

Last year most of his big names were straight off the plane from a team holiday and thrust into a Walsh Cup opener in Parnell Park wherein they beat the living daylights out of a shell-shocked Dublin team.

A different tack was used by Cody this year, no doubt conscious that four full seasons on the spin is taking its physical toll on the spine of his team.

Defeats by Offaly and Laois will not stir him unduly. Nor, perhaps, would a defeat tomorrow evening, particularly given the absence of his Ballyhale Shamrocks players.

Michael Kavanagh is also given the week off after his intermediate club heroics for St Lachlain's at the weekend, while former Hurler of the Year, while Eoin Larkin is recovering from hip surgery.

For Tipp, Thomas Stapleton and Pa Bourke are both out due to illness while James Woodlock and John O'Neill will not play any part in the league, while captain Eoin Kelly is likely to be used only sparingly before the championship but, outside of that, Sheedy has most of the same warriors as last season to call upon.

It's as tasty an opener as you're ever going to have in the league and, while weighing the merits of both teams' potential for victory, the 'winter hurling' must be taken into account.

However, there's an overriding feeling that Tipp's thirst to lay down an early season marker will outweigh Kilkenny's.

ODDS: Tipperary 11/10, Draw 10/1, Kilkenny 5/6

VERDICT: Tipperary


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