We've asked three of the top hurlers in Ireland to preview today's mouthwatering All-Ireland final.
After last year's championship, there was talk of a revolution in hurling but this year we are back to a traditional final. Why do you think that is?
Joe Canning - That was more media hype than reality. It was good for hurling to have two different teams in the final but the top six or seven teams are coming closer together all the time. It was no surprise to see two new teams in the final as on any given day any of the top teams can beat each other. Back in '09 and '10 Tipperary and Kilkenny were far ahead of everybody else but that is no longer the case, the rest of the teams have closed the gap.
Gavin O'Mahony - I read recently where Brian Cody said the game hadn't changed at all and I think he is right. Technically, Clare played a similar style to Kilkenny last year. They try to keep it tight at the back and score goals up front. Kilkenny have been phenomenal in that regard. They concede the least amount of goals and are ruthless themselves in front of goal. Clare managed to do that last year but it still took five goals to win the final.
Podge Collins - I think the championship is fiercely competitive now and there are a lot of teams that could win it, so I don't think that just because this year we are back to a Tipperary versus Kilkenny final that it will stay that way. Losing out on Leinster and not getting to the All-Ireland last year probably spurred Kilkenny on this time but on any given day, any one of the top eight teams can beat each other. In the past maybe Kilkenny were more dominant but the top teams have come closer now and I don't think we have returned to those days of Kilkenny dominance. I think next season you could see two different teams reach the final again.
Who is the key player for both sides today?
Joe Canning - Richie Hogan has been the biggest player for Kilkenny this year and if Tipperary stop him then they will stop a lot of the supply into Kilkenny's forwards. Both of Kilkenny's midfielders will be vital for them and Pádraic Maher is the key player for Tipperary. He was able to deliver ball into the forwards for them against Cork but I don't think he will be free to mop up so much of the breaking ball today. Michael or Colin Fennelly will look after him.
Gavin O'Mahony - The Tipperary midfield were brilliant the last day against Cork and they will be the key again today. Richie Hogan is the main player for Kilkenny and so the key battle will be in midfield. Whoever comes out on top there will probably decide who wins the match.
Podge Collins - There are brilliant players all over the pitch for both teams. I think Tipperary have a couple of great forwards in Seamus Callanan and John O'Dwyer and their corner-backs have been very solid too. Pádraic Maher has dominated teams all summer so he is a big danger against Kilkenny this afternoon. For Kilkenny, Richie Hogan has been outstanding but Colin Fennelly is another who has stepped up . . . Kilkenny have a lot of firepower that just might edge it for them.
Who will win, and why?
Joe Canning - I think Kilkenny will win today because I don't believe Tipperary have met a team with the intensity and work rate of Kilkenny in their last two games. If they can deal with that, then they will go a long way to beating Kilkenny but I think the desire to win a tenth All-Ireland for Brian Cody and Henry Shefflin should spur Kilkenny on . . . There is an element of destiny about it. Finals can take on a life of their own but Kilkenny's work rate should snuff out the Tipperary threat.
Gavin O'Mahony - For me, Tipperary will win because they have improved with every game they have played this championship. They are going into the game in a good position, they have worked hard on their puck-out strategy and they dismantled Cork in the semi-final with their distribution. I think if they can get their puck-out strategy right again today then they will win.
Podge Collins - Honestly, I think this game is too close to call, but if I had to choose a winner then I think it would be Kilkenny who might come out on top, but only by a nose. They have looked stronger all year and even though Tipperary only had one bad game, against Limerick, they were extremely strong against Cork but I don't know if they can carry that into this match.
Sunday Indo Sport
In the 2010 All-Ireland final, Gearóid Ryan found his natural vocation, drifting out the field and delivering textbook ball into the forward line. He wore a forward's number but it was misleading. He didn't have a conventional forward's charter. He went after ball rather than waiting for it. When he had ball, he used it smartly. His manager Eamon O'Shea is asked about the tidiness of those quicksilver dispatches four years ago. "Yeah," he nods, "he's the best striker we have."
WEDNESDAY evening in Kilkenny and a brooding sky hangs over the city, but after recovering from two years decimated by career-threatening injuries, Mick Fennelly sees only brightness. He is suitably enthusiastic about today's All-Ireland final and animated at what the future might hold.
A Corkman approached a friend of his last week and asked what he thought of today's All-Ireland final pairing. His old pal, known locally as a wise old hurling sage, was supping a pint and didn't even lift his head, replied, "'Twill be like a war without the killing."