Kilkenny v Galway: Big match preview
Expect Kilkenny to go for the jugular straightaway. It's likely they will send either Walter Walsh or TJ Reid to the edge of the square from the throw-in in an attempt to further haunt a full-back line that couldn't cope with Seamus Callanan in the All-Ireland semi-final.
The preferred option could be to play Walsh at 14 and Reid off the midfielders' shoulders where he can run onto breaking ball, infiltrate the Galway defence and carve out goalscoring opportunities.
But Galway will know both of these assaults on their rearguard are coming, and will surely be better prepared for it. John Hanbury could be left at number three, with Johnny Coen dropping in front of him to offer extra protection.
You get the feeling that if Galway can withstand the early onslaught they have a big chance.
Expect them to man-mark both Richie Hogan and Reid - and in a way that neither of them have been man-marked to-date. Certainly against Waterford, it didn't look like the Deise got tight enough to either. They can expect closer attention this afternoon.
Jason Flynn, the Mannions, et al, have been great finds this season. They can't wait to be let off the leash this afternoon. What they lack in experience they will compensate for in hunger. Galway have a fine bench too, one that looks well-stacked for the first time in a while, with Fergal Moore and captain Dave Collins itching to come in, along with the match winner the last day, Shane Moloney.
More will be forthcoming from Joe Canning and Cyril Donnellan. Canning will deliver today. Donnellan loves playing Kilkenny and he could cause all sorts of bother too.
As for Kilkenny, well they do not appear to have the bench of old. They waited until the 62nd minute to bring their first sub on against Waterford. If Richie Power is out of the equation that's a massive blow. John Power will probably be the first man they look to.
Defensively, there will be two targets for Brian Cody's men - concede no space in their own half and go to win the ball first. They will retreat, then individually follow all of Galway runners, while the others will monitor incoming traffic from deep. They will soak up the opposition, turn them over and counter-attack - that's usually how they beat Tipperary, and Galway's style would be similar.
While there is no doubt that they will try the long, high ball, you get the feeling that they will have no problem running through the Galway midfield and piercing their half-back line either. They will target the central spine of the Galway defence and keep Anthony Cunningham guessing with their two-pronged game-plan.
Along the way to this final Cillian Buckley has grown in stature, Padraig Walsh too. Eoin Larkin never lets them down either and while there is a perception out there that this team is not as strong as others of recent vintage, it will still take a fair old side to beat them nonetheless.
Galway's hunger is one thing but their touch and striking from distance is also good enough to beat Kilkenny on its own - provided they show up, and you can never be guaranteed of that. From the off, they will have to lay a huge challenge down to a team they know they are capable of beating. But it's hard to bet against a Brian Cody team in an All-Ireland final.
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