Saturday 24 March 2018

Cats & Tipp to bring out best in each other yet again

Expect more close encounters in the All-Ireland Hurling replay
Expect more close encounters in the All-Ireland Hurling replay
Sinead Kissane

Sinead Kissane

There will be no talk of espionage. Or of tree-climbing. Or helicopters. Or bogey teams. There will be no sense of novelty about this final line-up. Or any obsession over sterile shadow-boxing. Or the system. Or the blanket.

There will be no groans about the game being the ultimate loser. Or any gripes about the low scoring. Or the poor finishing. Or the miserly, conservative play. There will be no narrative about this being an All-Ireland final to forget.

This final could be unforgettable. Again. There will be talk of the matrix of inside information pocketed from the drawn game. Of momentum-possessors. Of match-ups. Of familiarity. Of free-scoring, free-flowing hurling.

Tomorrow's All-Ireland hurling final replay will run off a different riff to last Sunday's football final; a game where the winning team had to eviscerate its own natural creativity to win. When the scoring instinct of a maverick like James O'Donoghue was sacrificed for the team tactics. When beauty was stifled to beat the blanket.

Donegal were accused of bringing out the worst in Kerry. Of forcing them to produce an ugly but ultimately winning game-plan.

The dynamic between Kilkenny and Tipperary tomorrow is different. Their chemistry reminds me of that scene from 'As Good As It Gets'.

"You make me want to be a better man," confessed Jack Nicholson.

"That's maybe the best compliment of my life," replied Helen Hunt.

I'm sure this is the tone of any trash-talking between a Tipp forward and a Kilkenny back.

But seriously, they bring out the best in each other. The final between these two three weeks ago transcended into a sensational shoot-out. With 54 scores. With only nine wides. Nineteen players scored from play in a game which boasted cutting hooks, blocks and tackles.


The teams were level 12 times. It was hailed as one of the best All-Ireland hurling finals ever - and maybe the greatest.

One sequence of play in particular was pulsating: it started in the 26th minute and lasted 95 seconds. It (nearly) had everything. Turnovers. TJ Reid's sidestep and shot for goal. A point-blank save from Darren Gleeson. Ferocious tackling. A broken hurley. A brilliant hook (is there ever any other kind?) by Eoin Larkin on Noel McGrath. It climaxed with a great point from Michael Fennelly. It was 95 seconds when you almost forgot to breathe.

Just like last week, the "will he, won't he" question hangs over a flame-haired, one-off superstar. Turned out, there was nothing in the rumours that Colm Cooper could play some part in the football final. This week the question is over Henry Shefflin, and whether he will start as he hunts down an incredible 10th All-Ireland medal. It could be his last game. Please, let's retire the word "effortless" after this and just savour his contribution tomorrow.

Just like Kerry, Kilkenny will fire off their own version of the empire striking back. Kerry reinvented themselves last Sunday. Brian Cody hit away any suggestion of this Kilkenny team being past their peak earlier this summer. Their peak is winning an All-Ireland. They have the experience of winning an All-Ireland final replay against Galway two years ago. Could this give them an inch? Not so, says Cody.

Just like Kerry, will Kilkenny and Tipp need to zone in more on defending - despite it being brilliant in the draw? Can it be another anything-you-can-do-I-can-do-better sing-a-long? Conceding 1-28 and 3-22 (as thrilling as it was for everyone else to watch) will have given Cody and Eamon O'Shea plenty to mull over.

Tipp need to be more callous in front of goal. Gearoid Ryan must have had replays on loop of his goal-scoring chance in the 45th minute.

They're not the only questions. Will Richie Hogan be moved to centre-forward after illuminating the drawn game? Will he get the same space this time? Will Jackie Tyrrell mark his old mate Lar Corbett? After Tipp failed to score two penalties, will a player think twice about shooting for goal considering the dilution of the conversion rate with the new interpretation of the rules?

Kilkenny came face to face with defeat before the 'Miss' verdict. How will they react to this? And Tipp? Considering their stronger finish, what does it do for their confidence knowing they nearly had these boys' number?

Tipp and Kilkenny players probably watched last Sunday's All-Ireland final. They would have noted Kerry manager Eamonn Fitzmaurice's ethic of this being all about the team.

They would have thought about Second Chance Saturday. They would have seen Aidan O'Mahony stretched out on the pitch after, entangled in gold streamers. And they would have recognised that look.

This is as good as it gets.

Emotional moment on day to remember for the Kingdom

The best ever? The most celebrated ever? It led to one of the biggest turnouts ever for a Kerry homecoming.

Yes, it was a dull, dour game for the neutrals. But when has that ever bothered the winning team or their supporters?

The outpouring of emotion from Kerry players and fans at the final whistle didn't just come from those 70-plus minutes.

It was a release from finally beating an Ulster team in an All-Ireland final. It was a release from losing that damned All-Ireland final to Dublin in 2011. It was a release from folk questioning the depth of talent in Kerry.

It was a release from everyone talking about Dublin - and Donegal before them - dominating the Gaelic football landscape for years to come.

It was a release of emotion pent up from the moment you heard that Colm 'Gooch' Cooper was going to be out for the year with that awful injury. And the fear that this season was going to be a write-off.

It was a release of emotion for players like David Moran, who has been hounded by injuries but fought back to play such a key role in the All-Ireland success. It was for his family and his father, with eight All-Ireland medals, who looked so incredibly proud of his son.

It was an release of emotion for people with family and friends who're no longer with us. For Páidí Ó Sé. For Donal Walsh. For Kerry star Paul Geaney, who lost his mother earlier this year. And the look he gave up to the heavens after he lifted the Sam Maguire.

Football has never been just about the game. It's also about the people you share it with.

Inspirational speech sums up rebelettes' spirit

One of the greatest teams ever will grace Croker on Sunday for the TG4 All-Ireland Ladies Football finals.

Cork, who play Dublin in the senior final, are looking to win their ninth All-Ireland in 10 years. Briege Corkery and Deirdre O'Reilly have played every minute of each of the eight finals and both are set to start on Sunday. Not only that, but Corkery, Angela Walsh and Rena Buckley are looking to do the double after winning the camogie title a few weeks ago.

One of the Cork captains also produced one of the best speeches at Croke Park. After winning the five-in-a-row in 2009, Mary O'Connor gave a good-natured dig at the Kilkenny team who had just won their fourth straight Liam MacCarthy. "Kilkenny hurlers. We'll see your four and raise you one," O'Connor said.

But my favourite line from O'Connor came earlier in her speech. There was annoyance when the Cork County Board decided not to reschedule the men's county final even though it was on the same day as Cork's bid for a five-in-a-row.

O'Connor summed it up perfectly, saying: "For some people, in the greater scheme of things, ladies football is not important. But for us, this is the greater scheme of things."

Tickets for all three finals are available though and

Irish Independent

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