Sunday 19 November 2017

Cyril Farrell: Players respond to demands of boss's revised battle plan

Record-breaking Henry Shefflin made his introduction for Kilkenny during the second half of the All-Ireland final against Tipperary. Photo: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE
Record-breaking Henry Shefflin made his introduction for Kilkenny during the second half of the All-Ireland final against Tipperary. Photo: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE

Cyril Farrell

After last season we wondered how the establishment would react. Most pointedly, we looked to Brian Cody and Kilkenny to see how they would try to restore themselves to the top of the pile after Dublin, Limerick and Clare claimed all the championship silverware and hinted that a new order was around the corner.

We expected some kind of reaction from the Cats. They were never going to take it lying down and go away for a few years after a glittering period of success but their response to last year's upheaval has been devastating.

After their shortest summer in years in 2013, they went and won every competition they entered this year from the Walsh cup, the league as well as the Leinster and All-Ireland championships.

At the centre of it all was Brian Cody. Make no mistake, he made some huge calls with his starting team, ones that could have back-fired. Changing a fifth of the side that drew the first day was a brave move. And once again he got the calls right.

Each of the players he introduced proved their worth. And Kilkenny had clearly done their homework from the drawn game as they laid down a marker in the early exchanges.

The game was only minutes old and we'd already seen a handful of hooks and blocks from Kilkenny. Tipp were giving it back too but you sensed the Cats had a plan.

Rhythm

Eamon O'Shea's men were playing with the advantage of a slight breeze in the first half and I think Kilkenny just wanted to frustrate Tipp in that half and make sure they didn't get into the rhythm that so nearly brought them the big prize in the first day.

Kilkenny set up like a boxer, willing to absorb the pressure that Tipp would bring and hope to squeeze the life out of their forwards.

The plan worked because only three Tipperary forwards scored over the 70 minutes. All six starting Kilkenny forwards got on the score sheet and that tells its own story.

That being said, Tipp did threaten to cut loose in the first half and they got a little bit of joy at times as they attacked the heart of the Kilkenny defence.

But sometimes the passes didn't quite go to hand and with Kilkenny clogging the middle, they picked up most of the loose ball.

And when the Premier did break through, some excellent last-ditch defending, especially JJ Delaney's last-gasp hook on Seamus Callanan, bailed them out. In the form that Callanan is in, you'd bet that would have ended up in the net.

Kilkenny also made a subtle but important change by going man for man. Paul Murphy went with Lar Corbett and followed him.

Kieran Joyce was tasked to track Patrick 'Bonner' Maher, the man who had caused Kilkenny so many problems in the drawn game, and he did it well despite not seeing that much action over the course of the year.

As well as the changes, Cody demanded more from his players and once more they responded. On the restart they had one of their traditional power surges and a five-point swing. And from that stage I felt they were going to win.

And if they set up a little more conservatively in the first half that they might normally, it was one of the more traditional skills associated with Cody's teams that helped break the game open.

The high-fielding of Richie Power created a goal chance and he finished. His brother John got another a few minutes later and even though Callanan managed a response for Tipp, Kilkenny saw it out comfortably enough.

Brian will always point out it is the players who do the business on the field but you can't underestimate his influence.

He's always been his own man and made the big calls. For me, he's the Alex Ferguson of the GAA world.

Comments

On Saturday night, he racked up a 10th All-Ireland win for both himself and Henry Shefflin. It's an incredible achievement.

I have no doubt that Brian will be back. He doesn't strike me as a man who has any plans to go anywhere judging by his comments after the game. That's good news for Kilkenny supporters because he is so important to them.

I'm not so sure about Henry or what his plans are. His injuries have been well-documented and they are sure to take their toll.

If he departs the scene, he'll do so with applause ringing in his ears. There's little more that can be said about him or his contribution to hurling. A place in history as the only man with ten All-Irelands is a fitting tribute.

So after last season's mini-revolution, we're back in very familiar territory. Kilkenny are All-Ireland champions with Brian Cody masterminding another All-Ireland for the Cats.

And you get the impression that they have no intention of going anywhere for a while yet.

 

O'Shea the man to finish the job he started

There's no point in dancing around it: this one will sting for Tipperary. And not just in the way losing an All-Ireland final stings, but because they could, and maybe should, have won the first day.

Giving Kilkenny a second chance is dangerous business and Brian Cody was likely to bring about a significant improvement in his side for the replay, as he did against Galway in 2012.

Tipp were in a difficult spot. While the changes Kilkenny needed to make were obvious in terms of tightening up their defence, Tipperary were in a different situation.

They would have been happy with an awful lot of what went on in the drawn game and they named the same team. But to get those players back to the same pitch again was a huge ask.

They would have wanted to limit the influence of Richie Hogan after his performance the first day and they managed that to an extent. But the problem with Kilkenny is that if you keep one of them quiet, someone else can pop up. On Saturday evening, the Power brothers, John and Richie, delivered - and so did Michael and Colin Fennelly.

You couldn't really say any of the Tipp lads didn't play well but they didn't have anyone to take the game by the throat either. Shane McGrath had his moments in midfield early on before running out of puff.

Seamus Callanan had another good day but he didn't have enough help up front to share the scoring burden.

But if you look at their season as a whole, they certainly made progress. They could have been down and out on a couple of occasions but they kept coming back and finding a way to keep their season alive. That's something that Eamon O'Shea will have been proud of.

He has a long-standing relationship with many of those Tipperary players going back to their 2010 All-Ireland final win and they seem to respond to him and talk very highly of him.

I think he's the man to try and bring them one extra step.

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