Wednesday 21 February 2018

Five things to watch out for in the All-Ireland Hurling final

A general view of the Kilkenny jersey and the Liam MacCarthy Cup.
A general view of the Kilkenny jersey and the Liam MacCarthy Cup.

Michael Verney

With the All-Ireland hurling final between Galway and Kilkenny less than 24 hours away, we look at five of the key factors which will decide the destination of the coveted Liam MacCarthy Cup.

Galway's plan to shut down TJ Reid and Richie Hogan

Reid and Hogan have stepped up to the plate in a manner not many predicted and they are Kilkenny's new driving force along with the likes of Cillian Buckley and Paul Murphy.

The retirements of many marquee names has been offset by the performances of the dynamic attacking duo, and for Galway to prevail one or both must be shut out of the game.

Ballyhale's Reid is operating menacingly close to the opposition goal this season and he has a unique ability to hit game-changing scores, particularly all-important goals. Will Daithí Burke be given another man-marking assignment after neutralising Bonner Maher in the semi-final?

Hogan was 'quiet' according to many spectators in their Waterford win but he still notched five points. His ability to find space and dictate matters is telling, will Galway risk leaving holes further back to reduce the Hurler of the Year's effect on proceedings?


A potential masterclass from Joe Canning

The expectation on the Portumna man's shoulders is greatly reduced from 2012 when his performance was the key indicator to a Galway victory. The scorer-in-chief has become the creator-in-chief, as indicated by his pass for Shane Moloney's match-winner against Tipperary.

Canning's abject display against Cork still resulted in a landslide win for the Tribesmen with Anthony Cunningham's forward line hitting 2-28 and illustrating a strength in depth absent in previous years.

His positioning will be interesting as he is still the most likely goalscorer and if a stint in the full-forward line in the opening quarter were to bare fruit then Galway could be on the pig's back.

There are some seriously talented forwards alongside Canning so his burden is reduced. If he can take the shackles off and produce another one of those scintillating displays, then the west could truly be awake come Sunday evening.


The battle of the full-back lines

The minders of the house will be under the microscope tomorrow with both full-back lines widely regarded as potential areas of weaknesses. JJ Delaney has retired and Jackie Tyrrell is named among the substitutes so the reigning champions have a raw last line of defence.

Joey Holden has settled in with aplomb at number three but tomorrow is the acid test while Shane Prendergast, a late bloomer at 29, makes just his second championship start on the biggest stage of them all.

Similarly, Seamus Callinan went to town on Padraig Mannion the last day and it will be hugely surprising if Kilkenny don't look to exploit the same holes tomorrow, especially with Reid and Ger Aylward on fire all year.

John Hanbury has been mooted as a weak link in the Galway rearguard but in fairness he has done everything that's been asked of him. Whichever full-back line performs best will likely be on the winning side come 5pm tomorrow.


Jostling for position on the sideline

The managerial joust between Cody and Cunningham is a very interesting aside with passion-fuelled sideline encounters almost guaranteed between the two bainisteoirs.

The St Thomas's club man truly wears his heart on his sleeve and he made good on his promise that he would once again meet the greatest GAA manager of all time in the All-Ireland final. 

Former Tipp boss Liam Sheedy is the only other manager who has stood up to Cody as much as Cunningham and he realises that a tone must be set early in the final, not only on the field but also walking the line. 

Cody is the true iron man of hurling though and he seems almost impervious to pressure. The mental, tactical and possibly physical battles which will be waged come 3.30pm tomorrow are a salivating thought.


Young guns versus old hands

The attacking trio of Conor Whelan, Jason Flynn and Cathal Mannion have been a revelation this season but on Sunday their youthful exuberance will collide head first with the brute force of a mean Kilkenny defence.

Mannion is scoring for fun and his utilisation in the open spaces of Croke Park against Tipp resulted in five crucial scores. However, he was held to a single point in the Leinster final and scoreless against Limerick in the U21 semi-final, can he handle Kilkenny's physicality?

Whelan played no part in the provincial decider while Jason Flynn was sprung from the bench to bag a goal and they are relative rookies, how will they deal with the occasion? And how will they cope with a barrage of hits from a variety of defenders over 70 minutes?

Any other player wouldn't have returned when Johnny Glynn poleaxed him in the Leinster final but Kieran Joyce is teak tough. Murphy is the total package at corner-back while Buckley is a contender for Hurler of the Year, intriguing battles await.

Online Editors

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