LAST year, Ryan O’Dwyer admitted that watching his native Tipperary beat Kilkenny in the All-Ireland final was "bittersweet" given he had only just recently flown the Premier coop and could have been part of the team which ended the Cats five-year small ball dominance.
This year, he reckons, should Tipp reclaim Liam MacCarthy, the victory will be bittersweet for a completely different reason.
“It will be bitter because there is part of you that thinks ‘we should be in the final,’ he says with regard to Dublin’s four-point All-Ireland semi-final loss. “But if they do win it, you’re thinking: ‘well at least we were beaten by the All-Ireland champions.”
O’Dwyer has been a bigger hit in his adopted county than in Tipperary but still he feels the Munster champions are best placed to win next Sunday.
“A lot of people are saying Tipperary are the better team and had the harder semi-final so they’ll be battle hardened but I don’t think it’s as straight-forward as that,” he notes.
“Kilkenny are like a wounded animal and you’ll never beat them easily anyway, but especially not when they have a point to prove. It’ll be a ferocious battle, but my bet would be that Tipp will win it by two points.”
“I can easily see Kilkenny winning. Just by sheer aggressiveness, and I don’t mean that in a bad way. Kilkenny always play on the edge and they’ll play a typical Kilkenny style of hurling on Sunday, full of aggressiveness and doggedness.
“They have the hurlers in the forward line as well who are all household names. Men like Henry Shefflin, Richie Power and Richie Hogan. Any of them could be match-winners and they have men like Cha Fitzpatrick to come in from the bench.
“Imagine having a great match and seeing your man go off only to be replaced by Cha. That would be so disheartening.”
“They’ve match-winners everywhere and if they win I won’t be surprised. But my gut feeling is still that Tipp will win by two points or so after an almighty battle. “
O’Dwyer predicts there won’t be the same glut of goals as in September of last year and he is basing that on first-hand evidence from Kilkenny’s Leinster final dismantling of Dublin.
“Their half-back line just sat deep right in front of the Dublin full-back line to prevent the ball from going in there and I think they’ll try something similar on Sunday,” he offers.
“Tipp’s full-forward line is their most dangerous line so they’ll do something like that to counteract it and I’d be surprised if there was more than two goals scored between the two teams on Sunday. It won’t be a goal-fest.”
Still, he notes with regard to Lar Corbett’s predatory threat “there is no inter-county as fast as Peter Kelly” with regard to the man-marking job the Lucan man did on the current Hurler of the Year in the semi-final but adds: “I might be shot for saying this, but I don’t think anyone in the Kilkenny full-back line has the same pace as Lar Corbett.
“But they have great hurling brains and the experience the likes of Noel Hickey and makes up for that. They’ll have their match-ups spot on, but I think their primary focus will be to stop the ball getting in there in the first place,” O’Dwyer concluded.