Saturday 26 May 2018

Tipp need to show Cody's new-look Cats who's boss

Kilkenny are starting to take shape again and Ryan's charges must lay down marker

Walter Walsh of Kilkenny tries to force his way past Tipperary’s Tomás Hamill during the teams’ league clash in February – there will be no quarter asked or given again on Sunday. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Walter Walsh of Kilkenny tries to force his way past Tipperary’s Tomás Hamill during the teams’ league clash in February – there will be no quarter asked or given again on Sunday. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Donnchadh Boyle

Donnchadh Boyle

It is one of the game's great rivalries but also one that - and this won't be lost on Tipperary as they ramp up preparations for Sunday's Allianz HL final clash with Kilkenny - has leaned significantly in favour of the Cats.

There are plenty of statistics doing the rounds to prove that the traditional blue bloods of hurling are still just that.

For all the change to championship structures and the talk of risings brewing in the likes of Wexford, Limerick, Clare and other places, the spring threw up a familiar pairing of Kilkenny and Tipperary for a league decider.

And there's nothing revolutionary in that.

After all, this is the tenth national final the teams will have contested in the last decade but, when all is said and done, the silverware usually ends up on the Kilkenny bus. Tipperary's only wins in that nine-game period came in the All-Ireland finals of 2010 and 2016 while there was one draw.

So Tipp are up against recent history if they are to claim league title number 20 for the county and extend their lead that the top of that particular roll of honour.

Sunday's final will be played in Nowlan Park and while Tipp have struggled in finals against Brian Cody's side, their record in Kilkenny is even less impressive.

None of the Tipp panel that togs out on Sunday have first-hand experience of beating the Cats in their own back yard. Seamus Callanan came off the bench to help Tipp do just that back in 2008 but he'll miss Sunday's final.

Other than that, no one else in the squad can claim to have achieved that feat. In fact, Callanan is the only member of the Premier panel with a league medal.

Memorable

Since that '08 win, Tipperary have been to Nowlan Park on eight different occasions and failed to win each time. They have come close, like in this year's league clash where the minimum separated the sides, while there was only a goal between them in the league final clash of 2013 and the memorable qualifier showdown later that same year which lit up the hurling summer.

However, there have been some chastening days for Tipperary too in the Kilkenny city venue as they shipped defeats of five, six, eight and even 17 points in the remaining fixtures.

And it's not something that 2016 All-Ireland-winning captain Brendan Maher is trying to hide from as the build-up to the weekend picks up pace.

"It's definitely a factor and it's an added motivation for us, we want to put that right," he said of their poor record in Kilkenny's back yard.

"We don't want to be known as the team that hasn't had a win in Nowlan Park. It's extra motivation but it can't be our sole focus.

"It would be foolish for us to think about those things because at the end of the day it's a game and 15 on 15.

"The rivalry and the tradition of the two teams will say this is going to be a belter of a game and something we can look forward to.

"But at the end of the day we want to win."

In terms of the summer that is fast coming into view, it's probably even more important for Tipp to beat a Kilkenny side that were said to be in transition.

That talk looked well founded when they lost their opening two games in the league as, despite some flashes of good form, the host of new faces in the Cats' panel struggled to bed in to life at the highest level.

First time out they suffered a first league defeat to Cork since 2012, albeit after a close encounter on Leeside.

The following weekend Clare ended their fallow spell in Nowlan Park as they won on Noreside for the first time in 13 years.

That game actually saw the Banner lead by 11 points at one stage before the Cats summoned a revival that ultimately fell short.

At that stage of the competition, relegation looked a more realistic possibility than a league final appearance but Kilkenny felt their way back into things. And after five wins in a row, they welcome Tipperary to their home patch where some of the new faces such as John Donnelly, Richie Leahy, Enda Morrissey and Martin Keoghan will get a chance to add to the Cats' proud record in finals against Tipp.

They'll also know that Richie Hogan is to come back into the side along with Colin Fennelly and Paul Murphy. It all means that a potentially tricky year for the Cats after two rounds of the league has been turned around, and they are now guaranteed to bounce into the summer with plenty of optimism regardless of what happens in Nowlan Park on Sunday.

Tipperary have done some experimentation in this league too as they look to add depth to their panel ahead of their gruelling Munster Championship schedule. And they will be without Callanan on Sunday as he won't return until championship.

They lost by a point on their last visit but this time around they will be able to call on Jason Forde, who has been brilliant in attack to this point as he flourished when given extra responsibility in Calllanan's absence.

John McGrath will also be available to Michael Ryan as he looks to end their poor record in Kilkenny.

Both men missed the league match earlier this year as they were on Fitzgibbon Cup duty.

Their return to the set-up, along with Tipperary's need to re-set their record in both Nowlan Park and against Kilkenny in finals, might be enough to see Ryan's charges grab the first piece of national silverware ahead of what could be a brilliant summer.

Let the battle begin.

Irish Independent

Sport Newsletter

The best sport action straight to your inbox every morning.

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport