Sunday 20 May 2018

Five key clashes that will decide All Ireland hurling final

Kilkenny's Conor Fogarty Picture: Sportsfile
Kilkenny's Conor Fogarty Picture: Sportsfile

Michael Verney

Hurling is no longer as simple as picking up the man that trots into your area before the first whistle and all eyes will be on where Tipperary and Kilkenny opt to deploy their troops in this Sunday's decider.

Positions are often deemed redundant as players are assigned specific duties and one of the most intriguing areas will be personnel match-ups. Here are five clashes which are likely decide where Liam MacCarthy will reside next.

Joey Holden (Kilkenny) v Seamus Callanan (Tipperary)

Callanan has become one of the game's most consistently brilliant forwards in the past two years and has the ability to rip defences to shreds almost singlehandedly.

The Drom-Inch sharpshooter has been predominantly parked at full-forward in recent seasons and is likely to be picked up by his direct opponent, Joey Holden, who has filled JJ Delaney's enormous boots with aplomb. The Ballyhale defender is far from flashy but he gets the job done and some of the games best attackers like Conor McDonald and Joe Canning have bitten the dust when coming up against the crafty ciotóg.

Kilkenny's full-back line is regularly thrown out as their Achilles heel but it has rarely been exploited. If Callanan can cause uncertainty and rattle the onion bag, Tipp will on the front foot.

Maurice Shanahan of Waterford in action against Joey Holden of Kilkenny. Photo: Sportsfile

Conor Fogarty (Kilkenny) v Michael Breen (Tipperary)

Quietly efficient while getting through enormous work all over the field and chipping in with vital scores, Fogarty has become a rock at midfield for the Cats. Such was his loss when reverting to centre-back in their replay win against Waterford, Brian Cody felt the need to bring star forwards Richie Hogan and TJ Reid into the sector.

Minus his midfield partner Michael Fennelly, Fogarty will be expected to pick up even more slack but he rarely disappoints and the winner of the physical battle with Tipp powerhouse Breen could be the game-changer.

The Ballina clubman has been a breath of fresh air in the engine room and his ability to break from deep and get on the end of attacking moves has taken a weight off the Tipp attack. A fascinating confrontation awaits between the two linchpins.

Michael Breen of Tipperary celebrates after scoring his side's third goal as Waterford players despair. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Walter Walsh (Kilkenny) v Padraic Maher (Tipperary)

Walsh has been foraging much deeper than previous seasons and has becoming indispensable in Cody's plan. His physicality could trouble Maher, who set the tone for Tipp's semi-final win with a thundering shoulder on Canning. If the Tullogher Rosbercon forward can put Maher on the back foot, it'll be job done because the Thurles Sarsfields defender regularly drives the Premier forward and a Maher clearance is worth two from any other defender. He inspires team-mates and spectators and shutting him down is essential for Kilkenny.

Aggression will meet aggression with two imposing players meeting each other head on. Whoever blinks first could decide the winner.

Walter Walsh of Kilkenny in action against Cathal Mannion of Galway during the Leinster GAA Hurling Senior Championship Final match between Galway and Kilkenny at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Piaras Ó Mídheach

James Barry (Tipperary) v Colin Fennelly (Kilkenny)

After lighting up Thurles with two magnificent goals, it's unlikely Fennelly will be relocated from full-forward and a direct showdown with the rock-solid Barry awaits.

Kilkenny will be looking to create space in front of Barry to utilise Fennelly's lightning pace and goalscoring touch but Barry is no slouch, however, and after stints at centre-back and wing-back, he has slotted into the No 3 shirt with the minimum of fuss.

His acid test will come against a forward who has delivered time and time again in the biggest games.

Brian Cody (Kilkenny) v Michael Ryan (Tipperary)

Possibly the most important duel of them all. Cody has gone man-for-man on several occasions in big games against Tipperary and rarely come off second best. His ability to get the match-ups on the money is uncanny; case in point Walter Walsh on Johnny Coen in the 2012 replay and Kieran Joyce on Patrick 'Bonner' Maher in the 2014 replay

His counterpart Ryan is often credited with an old-fashioned philosophy but this is far from the truth and his tactical masterclass made a mockery of Waterford's sweeper system in the Munster final. The sideline battle could reach boiling point between them.

Irish Independent

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