Saturday 7 December 2019

Cyril Farrell - Brian Cody's gamble to trump Eamon O'Shea

Kilkenny manager never stands still when it comes to the plotting game

Brian Cody has shown he wants to re-set the agenda by changing his Kilkenny team to face Tipperary
Brian Cody has shown he wants to re-set the agenda by changing his Kilkenny team to face Tipperary

Cyril Farrell

Apologies to everyone who heard me predicting a Tipperary win in the Irish Independent's marquee at the ploughing championships last Tuesday.

That was then, this is now! I was leaning ever so slightly towards Tipperary at the time on the basis that they might come out of the drawn game a little better than Kilkenny, but things changed with the announcement of the teams. Now, I fancy Kilkenny to edge it.

The named Tipperary team - and I presume it's the 15 that will start - points to an overall level of satisfaction with the job they did three weeks ago. That's understandable up to a point, although I'm surprised Michael Cahill is not aboard.

Difference

He made a big difference when brought in the last day. I thought they would start him this time, giving him a specific marking job on Richie Hogan. Instead, they are going with the same starting team, which, in fairness, is the more usual route in replays.

Not so, Kilkenny. By making three changes, Brian Cody has shown that he wants to re-set the agenda. Two of the adjustments are in the half-back line, where Joey Holden and Brian Hogan are replaced by Padraig Walsh and Kieran Joyce respectively. Holden found his first All-Ireland final a tough experience, while Hogan struggled at times in the first three-quarters but finished strongly.

He's obviously paying the price for the high number of attacks Tipperary brought straight down the middle, with 'Bonner' Maher and Lar Corbett causing all kinds of problems. It was unusually fertile territory for any team playing Kilkenny.

I'm told that the training matches in Kilkenny were furiously intense in recent weeks, but then players knew that places were up for grabs. That included Henry Shefflin, who played only a bit part in the drawn game.

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He loses out again, this time to John Power, who displaces Walter Walsh. Power is more mobile than Walsh and is good in the air too. Shefflin would have expected the call, but obviously Cody believes he is of more value as a sub. I would expect Shefflin to get more action than the last day.

Cody is going for broke, which is typical of how he operates. Kilkenny are League and Leinster champions and remain unbeaten after six championship games, yet he makes three changes, whereas Tipperary, who have no titles and lost once in the summer, are happy with what they saw the last day.

From an attacking perspective, that's understandable, since they scored 1-28. Defensively though, they were just as open as Kilkenny. The fact that Cody has re-jigged the defence so substantially shows how unhappy he was at the amount of space the Tipperary attack enjoyed.

Tipp's interchanging definitely rattled Kilkenny, who aren't used to having their defenders dragged all over the place.

Tipperary will feel - and rightly so - that they are improving all the time and that another small top-up will get them over the line. That's assuming that Kilkenny won't improve, which is quite an supposition.

In fact, it's too much. Cody has made a bold statement with his selection and could well be rewarded.

Kilkenny to shade another great game.

Chasing bunch are very close to leading pair

It's amazing how easy it is to fall into the trap of being overly impressed by the last thing you've seen.

When Clare beat Cork in last year's hurling final replay, all the talk was of how they had revolutionised the approach to hurling and how they would dominate for the next few years.

It didn't quite work out like that this season and now you'll hear claims that Davy Fitzgerald and Clare really weren't all that good and won a soft All-Ireland. Not true, of course.

The brilliance of the drawn final three weeks ago has brought its own theories, chiefly that the bar has been raised to new levels again. Yes, it was a fantastic game but that's not a solid basis for insisting that Kilkenny and Tipperary are well clear of the rest.

After all, Limerick beat Tipperary last June and came within two points of Kilkenny last month. Galway drew with Kilkenny, before losing the replay and were six points clear of Tipperary in the second-half of their qualifier clash.

Cork beat Limerick in the Munster final, having ousted Clare in the semi-final. Earlier, Waterford had taken Cork to a replay.

And then, there's Wexford, who knocked Clare out of the All-Ireland race.

Dublin had a flat year by their standards, but the basics are still sound and they'll be back as a major force.

So while Kilkenny and Tipperary might have appeared to be hurling in a different orbit to everyone else in the drawn final, there are several other teams out there who fly very close to that circuit.

That's why it's such an exciting time for hurling. Standards are rising at the highest level, not just in Kilkenny and Tipperary, but across several other counties too.

Hurlers from the top band of counties will tune into this evening's game, believing that if a few breaks go their way, they could be there next September.

What's more, they are right.

Steady Gavin the right fit for final replay

Three successive All-Ireland hurling finals replays have provided a real boost for the refereeing fraternity.

Every referee aspires to get the big September gig, but only one can land it.

Unless, of course, there are three successive replays. That has given Barry Kelly, James McGrath and Brian Gavin the distinction of refereeing finals in two successive years, which is a nice honour.

I thought Kelly started nervously in the drawn final but worked his way into the game. Mind you, that was one hard call against Kilkenny right at the death. They would have felt very aggrieved if it cost them the game.

Gavin takes over today and, hopefully, can keep his nose clear of trouble, unlike the Kilkenny-Tipp final in 2011 when Tommy Walsh's hurley drew blood!

Gavin likes to let play flow as much as possible, but I'd expect him to be very vigilant early on when markers are being put down.

In fairness to both sides, they hurled with wonderful honesty the last day and I'm sure they will do the same again.

Nonetheless, it's important that the right tone is set early on when lads who know each other so well as trying to assert themselves.

Gavin is steady and doesn't rush into making decisions. Okay, so it all has to be done very quickly, but he always seems to have that extra second to make the call. It can be crucial in getting it right.

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