Wednesday 26 September 2018

John Mullane: Sutcliffe and Rushe hold the keys to another Dublin shock but Cody will avoid complacency

Walter Walsh
seems to have
been re-energised
by the emergence
of young talent in
the Kilkenny squad Photo: Sportsfile
Walter Walsh seems to have been re-energised by the emergence of young talent in the Kilkenny squad Photo: Sportsfile

John Mullane

Kilkenny won't need reminding of 2013, as they prepare for tomorrow's Leinster Senior Hurling Championship opener against Dublin at Parnell Park.

Rewind to five years ago and the Cats were buoyant following a National League final victory over Tipperary at Nowlan Park.

They got past Offaly to kick-start their championship campaign but came a cropper in the Leinster semi-final against Dublin after a replay.

That defeat derailed their summer to such an extent that Cork ended their season early at the All-Ireland quarter-final stage.

Even though Kilkenny did beat Tipp in a titanic Nowlan Park qualifier, they were damaged goods and Cork hammered the final nail in their 2013 coffin.

One thing you don't associate with Kilkenny during the Brian Cody era is complacency - but their collective eye was very much off the ball back then.

Having snatched a draw from the jaws of defeat in the first game against Dublin, I'd suggest that complacency crept in ahead of the replay, and they were made to pay.

The general consensus was that Dublin had missed the boat - but far from it. The Sky Blues didn't read the script, adopted a sweeper system successfully and won out.

It was Dublin's first senior championship victory over Kilkenny since 1942 and the only time that Cody has suffered defeat in a replay as an inter-county manager.

Fast forward to now and both sides still have players who were involved in Portlaoise on that June evening.

immense Liam Rushe and Danny Sutcliffe were immense for Dublin five years ago and you feel that if there's to be any chance of a repeat upset, these two are crucial.

The word on the grapevine is that Sutcliffe and Rushe, at number 14, have been tearing it up in recent challenge matches, and that can only bode well for Dublin's chances.

I'd expect Dublin to flood the middle third, like they did in 2013, and turn that area of the field into a war zone.

They'll go with a sweeper too, I'd anticipate, and that will more than likely be Cuala's Seán Moran.

The return of Cuala's All-Ireland club winners will strengthen Dublin but Mark Schutte is one hell of a loss.

He's thrown in his lot with the footballers for another season but I can't get my head around this one at all, considering how little action he's seen with them.

Overall, this is a dangerous game for Cody and his men. Any hint of complacency will be pounced upon by Dublin and you could see the Leinster Championship kick off with a shock.

But one thing that strikes me about Kilkenny is how they've evolved in a year.

That was evident throughout the league, particularly their ability to counteract sweeper systems, which was previously an Achilles heel, while their variation of short and long ball was also impressive.

They're better equipped to keep the opposition thinking now and that course of action will be required against Dublin.

All counties coming up against Kilkenny will focus their attention on TJ Reid, and trying to nullify his influence.

That's easier said than done, however, and TJ played a massive role in Kilkenny's league win.

He really does make this side tick and has grown into a leadership role akin to DJ Carey and Henry Shefflin during their playing days.

If you look closely at them, TJ, Walter Walsh and Cillian Buckley seem to be re-energised by the sprinkling of young talent in the Kilkenny squad. The question Dublin will consider is who they'll put on TJ?

sticky For me, it has to be Eoghan O'Donnell, a tight, sticky marker who's good in the air and who can also track TJ if he switches with Walter Walsh and moves into the full-forward line.

If O'Donnell is successful, the Dubs are in with a good chance of upsetting the odds. Will we see Paul Murphy, Colin Fennelly and Richie Hogan for Kilkenny? Unlikely I'd say, but one player who will be involved is Conor Fogarty. He looked very sharp when introduced against Tipp in the league final and he's my dark horse to emerge as a Hurler of the Year contender.

He's long odds for the individual prize at this point in time but if Kilkenny get on a roll, this fella will play a huge part.

Kilkenny were due to reveal their hand last night and the make-up of not only the team, but the squad itself, would make for interesting reading. Cody now has a squad again, and a squad that can challenge for the big prize.

Whenever he's been in that position previously, with players champing at the bit and pushing each other for places, he's been successful.

If the animalistic Kilkenny that turned up in the second half of the league final against Tipp turns up at Parnell Park, they should win with a bit to spare.

If it's a below-par or complacent Kilkenny, they could be derailed like 2013 - but I expect them to jump this fence and kick on into the summer.

With momentum behind them, I wouldn't bet against Cody adding national title 21 to his collection in mid-August.

As the season gets into full swing, we'll see reigning Leinster and All-Ireland champions Galway for the first time.

I'm heading for Tullamore this evening and their clash with Offaly is a game I'm looking forward to. It's an intriguing tie, to see where both counties are at.

There's been vast improvement in Offaly, and in a short space of time, with one of their own, Kevin Martin, spearheading the revival.

You can always gauge by the handicap betting how likely or otherwise it is that a team will be competitive.

The handicap is down to 12 points, when last year you were talking about 18 or 19 points when Offaly met Galway.

Offaly scored 1-11 in 2017 but Galway racked up 0-33, a 19-point difference.

I don't expect the gulf to be as wide this time but you'd have to admit that Offaly haven't made enough progress yet to get close to Galway.

Having the use of the new centre of excellence in Kilcormac has been a massive boost for Offaly but Galway are the kingpins and manager Micheál Donoghue will have will have his charges primed for a big performance.

They'll aim to hit the ground running and, just like Kilkenny, they'll grow in confidence and momentum as the season progresses.

Irish Independent

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