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Ignore the hay for a while -- this may be hurling's richest harvest

HE looked more like a comic book than a man. Every part of him was covered in tattoos. We met on the open spaces of Ballyheigue beach where the high sky is as wide as the world and the sunshine washed away all thoughts of the monsoon.

"Do you know what happened here one time?" he asked. I didn't even bother to answer because I knew human canvas was going to tell me anyway.

It was at the local pony races, years ago, and the commentator was trying to get the ponies and their riders to get down to the start.

But the jockeys were in no great hurry and the MC was getting very annoyed.

"Unless the ponies go down immediately," shouted out the MC over the public address, "we'll start the race without them."

Kilkenny, he said, would start without Galway. "It'll be all over after 10 minutes."

Kilkenny are red-hot favourites even though they lost to Galway by 10 points in the Leinster final.

It makes no sense at all unless you realise Galway is no longer in the west and Kilkenny are a law unto themselves.

Tim O'Brien Curran said as much. You might remember we wrote about Tim here a few months back. He was wheelchair-bound at 18 and was an excellent hurler for Kilmoyley, Causeway Comp and Kerry before his accident.

I hired out Tim as our hurling consultant.

"You wouldn't know who'd win it," is his frank assessment.

This Kilkenny team have built an almost mythical reputation and many teams, such as Tipperary in the semi-final, were beaten before they ever got out on to the field.

Scared managers will eventually try to even things up by playing 'puke hurling'.

At the moment, the man-marking in hurling is a bit like an open prison where the inmates are allowed wander around the grounds with a reasonable degree of freedom.

Check out the goals scored. The scorer's marker will inevitably be found sliotar-gazing.

If backs marked as loose in football, they'd be dropped as fast as a supermodel who was fond of white bread and curry chips.

By the way that's my opinion, not Tim's.

Joe Canning will take some marking. He is big, skilful and deadly accurate, but Jackie Tyrrell will be his second skin -- and he can hurl too. This match-up might decide who wins the 2012 All-Ireland hurling final.

Henry is such a big star he is known only by his first name. If his team win, Henry will have won more All-Ireland medals than any other man in the history of the game.

No player deserves it more.

So says young Tim. Ah, but he's in great form. Stand-ups would hire him just to park his chair on the front row.

Tim's favourite hurler has always been Lar Corbett.

Tipp people seem to have forgotten Lar scored a hat-trick in what will eventually be remembered as the most famous All-Ireland of all time. It's only two years since his goals denied the Cats hurling's first five-in-a-row.

If the Cats win tomorrow, they have only three more to go to get to the five and they will go at it hard from the very start.

BOOKED

The referee could have booked 10 players in the first minute of the Tipperary game -- had it been football, he would have.

Footballers who push a notebook out of a ref's hand get six months, whereas Tommy Walsh inadvertantly hitting a ref on the head with a hurl in last year's final was just explained away.

We hope the ref does the game justice tomorrow.

Kilkenny are the greatest hurling team of our time and Walsh is the best wing-back of his era.

Tommy might dart like a trout but he bites like a shark. Fit and fast, sinewy and slippery, he can leap over a weir as tall as a house without getting wet.

Galway have been some years in the making and will be hard enough to beat.

It's very rare indeed to get an All-Ireland out of one good underage team, but the odds are better if you have, say, five good underage teams over seven or eight years, which is what Galway are made up of.

Tim says it's a toss-up, but I have a nephew and a niece in Kilkenny and they will disinherit me if I go against the Cats.

Anyway, I love the Cats. I love their class and their delicious cynicism. I love their courage, their cradle-to-the-grave dedication and that bred-into-them confidence based on tradition, ferocity and artistry. If you duel with the Cats, they'll give you the choice of weapons.

If you want to play hurling, they'll play hurling and if you want it tough, well then they'll play you tough.

Galway will run at Kilkenny and try to find out if Time, the old team thief, has finally caught up with the champions of our age and every age.

Don't miss it.

Postpone the hay for a while, give the corn a last few waves in the soft breeze. The fine weather will wait up.

For Tim says this could well be hurling's richest ever harvest.

Irish Independent