Sunday 22 September 2019

Tipperary can live up to favourites' tag and take 28th title

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

Martin Breheny

On the Saturday before the start of the hurling campaign last May, I predicted in our championship supplement that Tipperary would win the All-Ireland title on the basis that there was a lot more to them than they showed last year.

Fourteen weeks later, I see no reason to change my opinion, even if Tipp are playing Kilkenny, whose achievements under Brian Cody have been beyond remarkable.

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Eleven wins, two draws and four defeats in 17 All-Ireland finals since 1999 prove how difficult it is to beat Kilkenny in finals. The 11 wins were by an average margin of almost eight points, further reinforcing the extent of the momentum Kilkenny usually bring to the big days.

Conversely, their down days in finals tend to be surprisingly low, as underlined in 2004 when they lost to Cork by eight points and in 2010 and 2016 when Tipp beat them by eight- and nine-point margins respectively. None of which they regard as relevant now, no more than they will see their outsiders' rating as anything other than figures.

Besides, it's the third successive game they will start as outsiders, but it counted for little as they beat Cork and Limerick, wins that made those who portrayed the Leinster Championship as a poor second to the Munster action look idiotic.

If Kilkenny now complete a treble against southern opposition, it will further the theory that because the Munster Championship attracts larger crowds than Leinster, the quality is often misjudged.

Kilkenny can certainly make the case that their quarter-final and semi-final wins over Cork and Limerick respectively were more impressive than Tipp's successes over Laois and Wexford.

They can contend too that Tipp's defeat by Limerick in the Munster final was so comprehensive as to leave real doubts about their value.

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Stronger

Why then are Tipp starting as favourites? Essentially, it comes down to the view that they have stronger forward power than Kilkenny. The stats support that, but then Tipperary may not have encountered as gritty as defence as that which fronts Eoin Murphy.

It was quite an achievement to restrict Limerick to 2-17, especially since John Kiely's men hit Tipperary for 2-26 in the Munster final. Wexford took them for 3-20 in the All-Ireland semi-final, and while it wasn't enough to win it certainly raised questions about the reliability of the Tipperary defence.

The Kilkenny attack will have noted how well Wexford did and with TJ Reid, Colin Fennelly and Adrian Mullen all enjoying excellent seasons, they will be confident of running in a sizeable score.

Of course, the same applies at the other end where Séamus Callanan, Jason Forde, John McGrath and John O'Dwyer, backed up by midfielder Noel McGrath, have accumulated large yields.

Callanan has enacted his goal-a-game routine in all seven outings and also has happy memories from his last All-Ireland final encounter with Kilkenny in 2016, when he scored 0-13 - 0-9 from play.

The big defeat by Limerick in the Munster final brought doubts flooding back about Tipperary, not least on their ability to cope with opposition who close down space.

"We lost too many individual battles - therefore we lost the game," was Liam Sheedy's stark summation. The battles and the war will be even fiercer tomorrow, which is why Kilkenny supporters are so confident. They have seen their teams impose themselves on opposition so often in the past that they always expect it to happen. Tipperary will need to be ready for that.

Presumably after the Limerick experience they will be, in which case their attack can shoot enough to land the title for the 28th time.

Verdict: Tipperary

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