‘Last year was not good enough’ -- O'Mahony
Tipperary defender urges Tipp to lift intensity ahead of Cats clash
Kilkenny, Nowlan Park, national final. The lion's den, the Cats' lair. A challenge to be embraced, rather than feared, according to Tipperary defender Conor O'Mahony.
By Thursday evening, we should know where the Newport man will line out at Nowlan Park in Sunday's Allianz League Division 1 final, nominally at least.
He was named at centre half-back for the semi-final victory over Dublin, but occupied the full-back position. It was an experiment that went well as boss Eamon O'Shea is now sure, if he wasn't previously, that O'Mahony can also do a job on the edge of the square.
Not that O'Mahony is a stranger to the position. After all, he played there for two years at U-21 level.
With Paul Curran expected to return to the No 3 shirt, it's anticipated that O'Mahony will revert to the half-back line.
He'll face a battle for a spot, though, as Pádraic Maher anchored the central position last time out, flanked by Brendan Maher and Donagh Maher.
The host of options available to O'Shea, and the sheer significance of the game, means that he'll think more about this starting line-up than any other so far this year.
And O'Mahony insists: "It's a challenge – that's what you want.
"Everyone is driving on for a place and that's what you need, whether lads are there for the last two or three years, four or five years, or young lads in their first couple of months.
"If I had a choice I'd play full- forward but I don't think the management team would be too mad on that!" O'Mahony laughs. "I play there for the club – either full or centre-forward."
O'Mahony won successive Munster minor medals at midfield and centre-forward in 2001 and 2002 but he's made his name as a defender since making his senior championship debut against Limerick in 2005.
"It's a challenge – every day you go out you'll have a challenge and that was a different challenge for me (against Dublin)," he says.
"They mentioned it on the Thursday night, at training, that there could be a chance I'd be going in there, at full-back."
O'Mahony, who will be 29 in August, did just fine. And he knew that he had to, as O'Shea begins to bed down a team to face Limerick at the Gaelic Grounds in June.
O'Mahony knows that while possession of a shirt might be nine-tenths of the law, in such a fiercely competitive environment even one slip could prove fatal.
"It's probably the last really, really competitive game before June 9 and it's up to lads to lay down a marker. There is huge competition there in the backs and forwards so you have to take it," he says.
The Nowlan Park cauldron will test Tipperary's players in all facets – physically and mentally.
But O'Mahony believes that Tipp are good enough to withstand the inevitable barrage that will come their way from the league and All-Ireland kingpins.
Losing to Tipperary on home soil, with huge significance attached to the game, is something that Kilkenny will not countenance.
O'Mahony adds: "Kilkenny are always going to be there at the business end of the year but it's a great challenge for our team, our squad and management.
"It's ideal preparation for five weeks down the line after that, June 9 against Limerick. That's going to be a huge cauldron as well."
A test, too, of Tipp's intensity levels in the white heat of battle. Tighter confines than Semple Stadium or Croke Park will see space at a premium.
First touch, the ability to break tackles, quickness of thought and the ability to give and take the big hits are some of the key attributes required.
O'Mahony insists: "The thing is, the intensity has to get higher. The intensity, from our point of view, wasn't good enough last year.
"Our intensity has to be up this year – hopefully we're going the right way."
When the teams last met in a game of huge consequence, Kilkenny won by 18 points.
O'Mahony doesn't need reminding, but the introduction of O'Shea as manager and the influx of some new players has brought a "new lease of life."
O'Mahony reflects: "Myself and a few lads have been on the road a while now – we have contested Munster finals, All-Irelands over the last few years.
"You need to change things, to keep lads fresh. You can't be doing the same old tricks with the same dogs.
"You need to try new things but it's great that even the few younger lads coming in – the likes of Jason Forde, (John) 'Bubbles' O'Dwyer, John Meagher, they freshen things up and they've brought a new lease of life to the panel as well."