Sport Hurling

Friday 15 December 2017

John Mullane: Tipp ready to inflict even more pain on hurting Cats

Cody's men vulnerable to knockout blow – but beware the sting of a dying wasp

Dublin manager Anthony Daly and David O'Callaghan celebrate their win over Kilkenny
Dublin manager Anthony Daly and David O'Callaghan celebrate their win over Kilkenny

TIPPERARY will relish the opportunity to hammer the final nail in Kilkenny's 2013 championship coffin next Saturday evening. The chance to win at Nowlan Park and wipe out the memories of last year's crushing All-Ireland semi-final defeat is more than enough motivation for the visitors.

Tipp would gain serious momentum with a victory and I expect them to play with huge intensity and work-rate.

I felt after the league final that they were holding something back and now the acid test has arrived.

In that Nowlan Park decider, Tipp deployed Noel McGrath as a third midfielder and I'm anticipating serious movement from their forwards. And if the Lar Corbett-Jackie Tyrrell match-up becomes a reality again, expect Lar to bring Jackie to where he's least comfortable – on the edge of the square.

Whether or not Jackie will start is another question as he clearly wasn't fit last Saturday night. So the vulnerable All-Ireland champions could be without Jackie, Paul Murphy and Henry Shefflin. They might try to rush Michael Fennelly back because they have no other option but to.

Expect Tipp to focus on conceding no goals and I also expect to see a more animated Eamon O'Shea prowling the touchline. This is too tempting a chance for Tipperary to pass up – and I believe they'll get the job done. If Kilkenny do win this match, they are some team. At the moment, they look mentally drained and victims of their own success.

Time waits for no man and age is definitely a factor. But to dismiss them totally is dangerous because the Cats will use that as a source of motivation.

These players owe Kilkenny nothing but if there is a sting, it's the sting of a dying wasp. I fear the well has run dry. I stressed in this column, on more than one occasion, the importance of Shefflin and Fennelly to their chances.

The Cats are eminently beatable without the pair and don't have that strength in depth any more. Tipp are available right now at 6/1 to win the All-Ireland and they'll have a very good chance if they beat Kilkenny.


There are parallels between next weekend's two biggest hurling clashes. Tipp are fresh while Kilkenny have built up intensity levels with three games under their belts. And it's a similar story in the Leinster final as Galway face a Dublin team preparing for a fifth game in as many weekends.

With the benefit of hindsight, those two Wexford matches stood to Dublin as it steeled them for a successful tilt at Kilkenny. But are Galway the big winners after the attrition of previous weekends?

They're lying low with little being said about them. And next Sunday morning, they'll prepare for a Leinster final with one of their biggest rivals for the All-Ireland title knocked out.

It's an electric championship and when I checked the odds on Saturday evening, I saw Kilkenny available at 5/2 to lift the Liam MacCarthy Cup. When is the last time that we've seen those kind of prices?

People laughed at me during the week when I suggested that it wouldn't be a surprise if Dublin beat them in the replay. I went with the Dubs on the handicap betting, but my only regret is that I didn't lump on them at 6/1 to win, or grab the 12/1 on offer for Dublin to lead at half-time and win the game. Anthony Daly knows that if you play a conventional 15 v 15 against Kilkenny, you're asking for trouble. It's a tactic he's tried as far back as 2004, when he was Clare manager and Alan Markham was played in a sweeper role in the All-Ireland quarter-final.

Daly has acknowledged over time that a well-worked game plan, combined with a great attitude and serious work-rate, can be successful against the Noresiders.

We saw that in abundance on Saturday as Dublin played seven at the back with Danny Sutcliffe retreating at times to provide extra cover. That condensed space and gave the Dubs a great chance. These, combined with clever use of the ball and constant running at the Kilkenny defence, were the reasons they came out on top.

I hope the All Star selectors took note of Liam Rushe's performance at centre-back. He was immense and it was great to see 'Dotsy' O'Callaghan return to his best form.

I watched the game in Bolger's and it was a bumper weekend with the Viking Marathon and Madness in town. But the real madness was the decision not to televise the replay. The TV power brokers really missed a trick here.

Dublin have a massive challenge ahead of them in next Sunday's Leinster final. They've become used to provincial venues en route to the final and the wide-open spaces of Croke Park will test their tired legs against a Galway side that will look to open it up.

If Dublin can devise a plan to shut down Joe Canning, they'll be right in there but for me, it's Galway to hold onto the Bob O'Keeffe Cup.

Golden Browne deserves Waterford freedom

A productive few days for Waterford hurling began on Wednesday evening when our minor hurlers claimed a landmark win on Cork soil.

Austin Gleeson and Patrick Curran were among the standout performers on the night. These are two guys you will be hearing plenty about in the future – in the same mould as Ken McGrath and Paul Flynn. Watch this space.

The seniors completed a nice double on Saturday and while great credit goes to Westmeath for putting it up to us for 35 minutes, Waterford were always likely to push on and win the game by as much as they wanted.

The real highlight for me was the appearance of Tony Browne (pictured), who celebrates his 40th birthday today.

There's a new mayor appointed in Waterford and when he's settled into office, John Cummins should give the freedom of the city to Tony.

Still going strong in his 22nd championship season (he missed 1993), the guy is a phenomenon, a one-off. This is the stuff of legend, a throwback to the exploits of Christy Ring. What makes Tony special is his honesty, dedication to his craft and the way he looks after himself off the pitch.

And from talking to some of the younger members of the panel at the moment, I know how big a part Tony played in lifting heads following the Clare defeat. Happy birthday, Browner – one of the all-time greats.

You can't look beyond the next game

WEXFORD will have taken great heart from Dublin's victory over Kilkenny.

The fact that the Dubs pushed on and scalped the Cats will fill Wexford with renewed optimism. Following a line of form, Wexford will believe that they're not too far off the mark at all and we're in for another tasty qualifier if, as I'm expecting, Clare get past Laois next weekend to set up a clash with Liam Dunne's men.

Dublin's victory has changed the entire hurling landscape. People dismissed Wexford's performances against Dublin, but they should have won the first game at Wexford Park. And Carlow put in an incredible shift themselves against Wexford. By all accounts, they were unlucky to come out on the wrong side of a two-point defeat and the unluckiest manager of the year has been John Meyler.

But he has organised Carlow and put systems in place that should enable them to push on and become even better. What this championship has really opened my eyes to is the fact that you can't look beyond the next game.

Clare simply cannot take Laois for granted, but they will get through. And then I'd expect Wexford to really test Clare in a physical sense. Yet another potentially brilliant match in a thrilling championship summer.

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