Cyril Farrell: Tipp firepower can leave blue-and-gold glistening all over Croke Park
Kilkenny have great record in finals but if Premier withstand early onslaught their prolific forwards can steer them to glory
So then, traditional business as usual. Kilkenny and Tipperary started the decade as the top two and they’re ending it the same.
The only remaining issue is who finishes No 1 after a campaign where neither managed to win their respective provincial titles. That will be irrelevant to Sunday's winners, but the losers will be left with an empty feeling, having no silverware to show for their efforts.
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Neither of them were fancied pre-season to get this far, but that will be no consolation to the losers. Today, both teams are within touching distance of the summit, but by 5.05pm Sunday, one of them will be back down at the bottom, unable to even see the peak amid the clouds that descend immediately on losing camps after All-Ireland finals.
I had that feeling five times with Galway and, believe me, it’s not something you want to experience. Of course, it’s not something you consider before a final.
It’s positivity all the way for Kilkenny and Tipperary, while the rest of us look on in fascination, trying to figure out how the game might unfold.
KILKENNY’S BIGGEST CONCERNS
They would never admit it, but they would have preferred if Wexford won the semi-final. They lost to Fitzy’s boys in the Leinster final, but would fancy themselves to reverse things in an All-Ireland final.
Instead, they’re facing Tipperary, whose style will raise specific problems. Kilkenny will want to turn the game into an arm-wrestle, using the ferocity which empowered them to beat Cork and Limerick as the main weapon.
Don’t get me wrong – Kilkenny are hugely skilful, but as a squad they are more suited than Tipperary to an in-your-face type of game. Question is – will they be able to shape it that way?
There’s a perception that Kilkenny aren’t the quickest in defence, something Tipp will test to the limit. Another concern for Kilkenny is how to stop Noel McGrath exerting as much control at midfield as he has been doing. They will need to curb him, because otherwise he’ll fire over long-range points and/or pick out inside forwards with slick deliveries.
TIPPERARY’S BIGGEST CONCERNS
How do they stop Kilkenny repeating the quick start they made against Limerick? They were eight points ahead after 14 minutes and while Limerick fought back, their energies were being drained by chasing a lead rather than trying to build one.
When Kilkenny get a lead, they are like badgers – their grip tightens. In many cases, there’s no escape, but even when there is, it can leave the victim drained.
Tipperary had a difficult first half against Wexford, who should have been more than two points ahead at half-time. Liam Sheedy knows that if Kilkenny have as much control in the first half on Sunday, Tipperary will be left with a lot more to do.
Another concern for Tipperary is that they conceded 3-20 (it should have been more) against Wexford, who hadn’t been the most prolific of outfits up to then.
Sheedy and Co will have spent a lot of time analysing that. They know they have forwards capable of running up big returns, but that can’t be allowed to gloss over the defensive issues that manifested themselves against Wexford.
They know too that Brian Cody will have worked out their sources and devised plans to add to the discomfort.
TACTICS AND MATCH-UPS: Kilkenny
Both sides will play fairly straight up. Those who like the sweeper system can look away on Sunday because they won’t see it. Kilkenny, under Cody, have always operated on the principle that match-ups are more general than specific.
In other words, you win your own battle. It will be the same on Sunday Take Huw Lawlor against Séamus Callanan. Of course, Kilkenny will work at cutting off the supply lines to Callanan and will do everything else they can to help Lawlor, but, ultimately, it’s down to him. He’s full-back. Kill or be killed.
Similarly, it will be down to the Kilkenny half-forwards to stop the Mahers picking their passes and Noel McGrath can expect constant company around midfield too.
TACTICS AND MATCH-UPS: Tipperary
What to do with TJ Reid – that is the question. Wexford sent Matthew O’Hanlon on the case, whereas Limerick mostly left it mostly to whoever was in his area. Declan Hannon wasn’t quite right that day so Kyle Hayes dropped deep, which weakened the attack.
Tipp might opt to put Brendan Maher on Reid duty if he moves across the half-forward line, but it will be up to the midfielders to deal with it if he goes deeper.
The Tipp attack will keep rotating, sometimes clockwise, sometimes anti-clockwise, hoping to cause confusion.
Kilkenny will hold a solid shape and won’t allow themselves to be dragged all over the place, irrespective of what Tipperary do.
Tipp won’t be fazed either if the Kilkenny forwards interchange. They’ll back themselves to take on whoever comes their way.
You can plan for everything as you see it, only to find something different popping up – that’s the nature of sport. You look at the two teams and wonder who’s going to produce something special.
There’s a tendency to look at the big names, but it doesn’t always turn out that way in All-Ireland finals. Kilkenny have quite a few players who are playing in their final for the first time, which adds to the intrigue.
Some lads rise with the occasion – others don’t. Remember Walter Walsh in 2012? Selected for the first time in the Al-Ireland final replay against Galway, he scored 1-3 and won the man of the match award.
Nobody is making their debut in two days time, but some are in their first seasons so there’s no way of knowing how they will react to the massive challenge.
In a tight game – and this game looks certain to be close – borderline decisions by the referee can often make all the difference.
Teams in an All-Ireland final always like to have a referee who has been there before, so they will be happy with James Owens. He has been there a few times before, which is a help. He’ll treat it like any other game and won’t let the occasion get to him.
When he blows the final whistle, I expect the blue-and-gold to be glistening all over Croke Park.