Cyril Farrell: Tipperary's talented underachievers can make most of Cats dip
By 5.30 tomorrow evening, I expect Tipperary and Clare to be in the next round of the hurling qualifiers, Galway to be in the semi-finals, Dublin in the quarter-finals and the rest of us in a state of wonder at the delights this most interesting of seasons has produced.
We knew that Kilkenny v Tipperary was always more of a probability than a possibility again this year but we assumed it would be an August/September treat, not a July shoot-out to decide who became the sixth team eliminated from the Liam MacCarthy Cup race.
It is hard to believe that there is a strong likelihood of Kilkenny being out of the championship before the Leinster final.
As ever, tipping against Kilkenny is a tricky business, probably more so when they are playing for championship survival in Nowlan Park. You can imagine the passion it will engender, not just in the dressing-room but also among the supporters, who will do all they can to become the 16th man.
Knowing Kilkenny, it's possible that they could win quite well, leaving everybody wondering what all the fuss was about. However, this time, I have a feeling that Tipperary's freshness could be decisive.
It is not that there are not doubts about Tipp. They exited the Munster championship at the same stage as the Cats were beaten in Leinster but have had nearly a month to address what went wrong.
Kilkenny, meanwhile, have been involved in two wars with Dublin. There is a big difference between being busy when you are winning and when you are not. And, for a team like Kilkenny, who aren't all that old in actual years but well advanced in hurling terms, it's a big ask to face three games in 13 days.
Lads like Tommy Walsh, JJ Delaney, Jackie Tyrrell and Brian Hogan still have plenty of hurling in them, but when you're operating at the top for so long a dip is eventually inevitable.
Just as the Cats have been hurling's great achievers – something that can never be taken away from them irrespective of what happens this evening – Tipperary have been under-achievers. Given the talent in the county, they would have expected to have won more than one All-Ireland over the past five seasons.
On days when they turn up with all systems firing, they are very strong but that hasn't happened often enough to make them a really consistent force. In many ways, they need to win this match more than Kilkenny.