| 13.6°C Dublin

Nowlan factor can inspire Cody-less Kilkenny to see off challenge of Tipperary

LEAGUE finals involving Kilkenny can go one of two ways: they can be over after 10 minutes (ask Cork!) or they can be thunderous epics, as was the case in 2009 when these counties previously let rip at each other on the last day of spring.

Actually, on mature reflection, Kilkenny league finals can have a third outcome – one involving shock-horror capitulation by the Cats – but somehow we can't countenance a repeat of that 2011 Dubs-inflicted demolition.

Why? Because Kilkenny are rarely so flaccid on final day, even when it comes to the league. Why else? Because the sight of that Tipp jersey is sure to inspire, not inhibit the competitive juices.

Here's another why: the "what's seldom is wonderful" location of a national final in Nowlan Park. Home-and-away arrangements don't always make sense but, on this occasion, it's a godsend.

Tipp and Kilkenny at a half-deserted Croke Park would have been so-so. Tipp/Kilkenny in Thurles would have rendered a more raucous atmosphere. But Tipp/Kilkenny in the Marble City? Magical.

It's not just the midweek predictions that tomorrow will go close to a 23,000 full house. It's the atmosphere engendered by those massed ranks in a pristine-looking stadium where spectators are tight to the pitch.

Amid the throng, one person will be notably absent. Kilkenny have already shown their ability to keep the show on the road without the formidable touchline aura of Brian Cody – in the semi-final – so there's no reason to suspect that his temporary absence from Team Kilkenny will be a reason to derail them tomorrow.

That said, the hosts can surely anticipate a more sustained challenge than the meandering one posed by Galway two weeks ago.

On the day, an early maroon flourish gave way to one of those oh-so-routine Kilkenny victories. The Black-and-Amber's remodelled midfield of Lester Ryan and Michael Rice was utterly dominant; as increasingly (after an uncertain start) were the Kilkenny backs; while Richie Hogan led the attacking orchestra with a compelling display of aerial strength (against a bigger man) and pinpoint point-taking.

Here's the thing: there was lots of positional movement in the Galway attack, principally involving Cyril Donnellan and Joe Canning, but the end product was negligible once you subtract Donnellan's 1-3 haul. The rest of the forwards were limited to one point from play – which is both an indictment of Galway and an endorsement of Kilkenny's rearguard resilience.

Tomorrow they'll encounter even more attacking movement, as this has been a trademark of Eamon O'Shea teams, both the one he coached to the All-Ireland summit under Liam Sheedy in 2010, and the one he has now managed to a league final.

It's all about the creation of space and, by extension, scoring opportunities. O'Shea has previously referred to this positional inter-switching as a "structured randomness" and the league stats (to date) confirm the impression that Tipp have rediscovered their goalscoring mojo in the past few months.

That said, it's debatable how much they will have learned from their 15-point cakewalk against Dublin in the semi-final. It is games like this for which the word "facile" was invented.

Yes, Tipp were generally impressive in aerial combat; and the half-back Mahers cleared plenty of ball; and Noel McGrath seemed to relish the opportunity to attack from a deeper midfield role; and all six forwards got in on the scoring act ... but how much did they learn in the process against the Division 1B standard-bearers?

More to the point, while Seamus Callanan & Co reaped a bountiful harvest in the open spaces afforded by Thurles (and Dublin), how much did it steel the Tipp forwards for a far more claustrophobic battle against JJ, Jackie et al?

Even the announced Tipperary team is instructive: 19-year-old Jason Forde was TG4's 'Man of the Match' after his four-point semi-final haul but now he has been held in reserve. Pa Bourke (who clipped three points from play against Dublin) also loses out as the relocated Noel McGrath and the recalled Eoin Kelly lend a more familiar look to Tipp's starting attack.

All told, in keeping with their expansive selection policy thus far, management make five changes. Given how they have rotated their two goalkeepers this spring, it's not a huge surprise to see Brendan Cummins making way for Darren Gleeson, but they have pulled a wild card by promoting Kieran Bergin (who impressed for DIT in this year's Fitzgibbon Cup) for his senior competitive debut at wing-back.

Against Kilkenny. In a league final. At Nowlan Park. No pressure!

This is no easy match to predict and, given some of the All Star cast missing from Kilkenny's attack, it wouldn't be a huge shock if Tipp pulled off a thrilling ambush. But, given both the location and occasion, it would be a mild surprise.

BOYLESPORTS ODDS: Kilkenny 8/13, Draw 10/1, Tipp 13/8

VERDICT: Kilkenny

pKILKENNY have made two enforced changes, with Richie Power and Walter Walsh both sidelined through injury. Fit-again former Hurler of the Year Michael Fennelly returns to midfield while Cillian Buckley makes his first start of the season at No 10, while Michael Rice switches from midfield to

centre-forward.

KILKENNY (SH v Tipperary): E Murphy; P Murphy, JJ Delaney, J Tyrrell; T Walsh, B Hogan, K Joyce; L Ryan, M Fennelly; C Buckley, M Rice, E Larkin; C Fennelly, R Hogan, A Fogarty.


Privacy