Wednesday 23 January 2019

Noresiders can exploit home advantage to winning effect

Kilkenny’s TJ Reid. Photo: Sportsfile
Kilkenny’s TJ Reid. Photo: Sportsfile
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

It seems a long time ago now since Clare led Kilkenny by 11 points after 20 minutes in Nowlan Park, having blitzed the home side as if they were juniors wearing senior jerseys.

Actually, it's only nine weeks ago but it will look like an irrelevant speck in the long-distant past for Kilkenny supporters as they head for tomorrow's game.

Tipperary's Jason Forde. Photo: Sportsfile
Tipperary's Jason Forde. Photo: Sportsfile

That's down to the massive difference between what happened in that one-sided period against Clare and last Sunday, when Kilkenny bundled Wexford out of the way.

In between, the Cats had staged a brave recovery against Clare, beat Waterford, Tipperary, Wexford and Offaly to qualify for a second clash with Davy Fitzgerald's men, this time in the League semi-final, which they won by nine points.

"They won every 50-50 ball, they won the hard tussles and the hard balls," lamented Fitzgerald afterwards.

He had seen his side do exactly the same against Galway a week earlier, but now they were the victims of an awesome counter-surge. Of course, they - and everyone else - had seen it all before.

Kilkenny lost the Round 2 clash with Clare, but only by three points, a performance which sparked their season into life.

Now they face Tipperary for a second time in six weeks, having beaten them by a point in late February. The stakes are much higher now, with the winners not only taking the League title but also making a sizeable deposit in their confidence bank ahead of the Championship.

Tipperary discovered last year that going into the Championship after losing the League final can leave a team vulnerable. Granted, the circumstances were unusual in that Tipperary lost to Galway by 16 points, which was bound to leave some residual doubts.

Still, history shows that losing League finals, even by small margins, isn't good for a team's Championship health. Indeed, only twice in the last 20 years have the League runners-up won the All-Ireland title.

Even then, it's important to point out that both years (2007 and 2011) featured the great Kilkenny team, complete with their remarkable powers. If anyone could do, they could.

Having lost four League finals since last winning the title in 2008, Tipperary badly need to win this one, although Michael Ryan has repeatedly emphasised that the League was all about broadening the squad for the new challenge that awaits in the round-robin Munster Championship.

He has certainly increased his range of choices and the next challenge is to sign off on the League as champions and begin work on the summer plans.

Tipperary will present a different type of challenge for Kilkenny than Wexford did.

They have a more potent attacking unit, capable of running up very large scores, even if they are without Seamus Callanan. In his absence, Jason Forde has thrived; not just as a reliable free-taker but also as an opportunist from open play.

TJ Reid is probably even better from placed balls, so defensive discipline will be crucial for both sides. Tipperary play a more direct game than Kilkenny these days so the contrast in styles will certainly make for an interesting confrontation.

While Kilkenny work the ball out of defensive with snappy passing and also work overlaps quite effectively, they can go long too, with Walter Walsh providing an imposing target man in a variety of attacking positions.

He could be a key figure tomorrow. There are still vulnerabilities in the Tipperary defence, which Walsh's height and strength could expose.

Tipperary are hot favourites to land their 20th title but Kilkenny's ever-growing momentum, backed up by home advantage, could sway it for Cody's side.

Irish Independent

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