Sport Hurling

Monday 20 November 2017

All-Ireland Hurling final preview

Damian Lawlor

Tipperary v Kilkenny: Croke Park, 3.30: The opening salvos are likely to be ferocious; space will be at a premium, tackles will be shuddering and there will scarcely be room to breathe or even look up.

Referee Brian Gavin might have to produce his notebook a few times early on to settle things down.

The stakes are exceptionally high for both teams. Kilkenny are hurt after last year, there's talk of retirements if they don't win, while Tipperary want back-to-back titles for the first time since 1965. Word is that Jackie Tyrrell will shadow Lar Corbett but we just can't see that happening. Patrick Maher did just dandy on Tommy Walsh last year so expect that tussle again. Seamus Callanan gets the vote of confidence ahead of Brendan Maher but may start on Noel Hickey or somewhere in the full-forward line.

Michael Rice has been moulded for a crack at Pádraic Maher but Brian Cody listed Rice at midfield when he picked the team on Friday night. You could also see Eddie Brennan moving from wing- to full-forward with Eoin Larkin going in the opposite direction. Expect Henry Shefflin to pop over and see how young John O'Keeffe is feeling in his first senior All-Ireland appearance at some stage too.

Kilkenny have been working extremely hard in training at taking opponents on. That will be their tactic today -- running at Tipp. They'll hardly deploy an extra man in defence as aggressively as Dublin did, to good effect, but they'll drop Brian Hogan back a little deeper.

It will be compact and crowded in midfield and in the half-back lines. Last year, Gearóid Ryan and Patrick Maher dropped back to tussle with Rice and Michael Fennelly and both sets of half-forwards will revert back this afternoon to create more space inside.

There's something else pundits forgot to factor in -- frees. A total of 22 were awarded against Tipperary in both of their games against Cork and Waterford and Tipp have been conceding frees more frequently this season. With Shefflin standing over a placed ball, they had better rectify that. Shefflin was sublime in the 2009 final whereas Richie Power wasn't as dependable last year.

The weather is another consideration and the forecast quite poor. Still, when the Dublin footballers played Tyrone in similar conditions recently we reckoned it would favour the Ulster side and yet they were blown away. Who knows who the conditions will favour?

Despite the expected rain there should be a few goals to enthuse over -- Tipperary have scored 15 in four games and Kilkenny seven in three. From the Premier County point of view, John O'Brien is likely to move out to open up gaps inside while the rest of his forward colleagues will be handed a licence to roam. That must be done intelligently, however, with runs made in the right areas. There's an impression that Brian Cody has changed his team from last year but seven of the Kilkenny team that won the 2006 final against Cork start here, while the Tipp team have an average age of 24. If the game is close in the final 10 minutes, logic suggests Tipp might enjoy the greater surge home.

On the sidelines, Tipperary appear to have the edge in strength in depth. Brendan Maher, Pa Bourke, Benny Dunne, Shane Bourke and Brian O'Meara all want game-time. For Kilkenny, Aidan Fogarty will come in if the attack misfires, John Dalton will be first defender in while Cha Fitzpatrick was close to the starting 15 anyway.

Kilkenny will open strongly and will go for the jugular. They'll be ferocious, tight and ruthless. But if Tipp can keep with that, displaying the hunger of the 2010 final, they would hope to enjoy the advantage in the closing straight.

Tipperary: B Cummins; P Stapleton, P Curran, M Cahill; J O'Keeffe, C O'Mahony, Pádraic Maher; G Ryan, S McGrath; S Callanan, N McGrath, Patrick Maher; E Kelly, J O'Brien, L Corbett.

Kilkenny: D Herity; P Murphy, N Hickey, J Tyrrell; T Walsh, B Hogan, JJ Delaney; M Fennelly, M Rice; E Brennan, R Power, H Shefflin; C Fennelly, E Larkin, R Hogan.

Verdict: Tipperary

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