Cyril Farrell: Cats getting balance right but Tipp's need is greater
Given that Brian Cody has overseen so many All-Ireland successes, it might seems strange to suggest that if Kilkenny win the League title tomorrow, it will be right up there among his finest achievements. Actually, it will.
The League can never compare with the All-Ireland in terms of prestige, but it's still a very difficult competition to win. All the more so when a squad in transition loses its first two games as Kilkenny did.
The defeats by Cork and Clare were by narrow margins and weren't going to rattle Cody but, at the same time, players can get edgy if a losing pattern sets in. That's more of a concern when you have inexperienced lads who are trying to nail down places and results are going against them.
It was important for Kilkenny to beat Waterford in their third game, and they did it with quite a bit to spare. And in Walsh Park too, which added to the confidence dividend.
Four games and four wins later, Kilkenny are in the final and, as luck would have it, the home and away arrangement with Tipperary takes it to Nowlan Park, where they don't lose very often.
So how have Kilkenny undergone a major transition and still managed to reach a League final? It's important to put things in context which, for some reason, wasn't happening after Kilkenny lost to Waterford in last year's Championship and in the first two League games this year.
Talk of a serious Kilkenny decline increased and, as happens when a din gets louder, it can be hard to think properly. But once people did that, the reality was quite apparent - except for those who hadn't a clue what they were talking about. Kilkenny were not the force of nature they used to be, but that didn't mean they would tail off into the distance.
Their underage teams may not have been accumulating titles at the rate they used to but that should not be mistaken for a sign of serious decline either.
A well-balanced squad can win minor or U-21 All-Irelands, whereas a less successful outfit, which has a lot of average players and a few really good ones, might give you more at senior level later on. It happens all the time.
Anyone who kept an eye on Kilkenny colleges hurling - or indeed how their slightly older players were doing in the third-level game - would have spotted plenty talent, many of whom have done very well in this League.
And with the likes of Eoin Murphy, Padraig Walsh, Cillian Buckley, TJ Reid and Walter Walsh providing invaluable experience, the balance is good.
Reid has really stepped up as a leader. The less experienced lads can bank on him doing the right thing, which makes it that bit easier for them. And when it comes to frees, he doesn't miss.
Walsh has had a fine League campaign too, especially as a consistent ball winner. That's very important for Kilkenny now as they don't have as many of that type as they had in the past.
Consequently, their approach has shifted somewhat. They have been working the ball through the lines this year, rather than going the direct route which was always the first option when they had ball winners in every position.
Mind you, they won ball in the air and on the ground against Wexford last Sunday in what you might term a typical performance by a Cody team.
The personnel have changed but the attitude has not. The drive and determination which has always permeated Cody teams was very evident, even to a degree that seemed to surprise Wexford, who had looked so comfortable in the physical exchanges against Galway in the quarter-final.
So will Kilkenny win tomorrow? Obviously, they have a good chance but I feel that Tipperary will test them in a way Wexford didn't.
After what happened Tipp in last year's League, they badly want to win this final. Losing to Galway really rattled them, and the uncertainty carried into the Munster Championship where they fell at the first fence.
They don't want to go into the Championship off another League final defeat. Michael Ryan will be delighted with how this League has gone. He has given players who had been on the fringe plenty opportunities to advance their Championship claims, while at the same time maintaining the basic framework.
They need to win more than Kilkenny tomorrow. I think they'll do it.