Martin Breheny: Pride and desire can spur Cody's wounded warriors to victory over arch-enemies
HERE'S what Brian Cody wrote in his autobiography about how he reacted to claims in late 2005 that after losing championship games to Wexford, Cork and Galway in 14 months, Kilkenny were headed for a steep decline.
"The more I thought about it, the more I wanted to come back stronger than ever. I swore that, by Christ, we'd prove Kilkenny weren't gone. And if people think we are, we'll bloody show them. And quite soon too."
Kilkenny won the next four All-Ireland titles, then missed out in 2010, before adding a further two. They started this championship as odds-on favourites to complete a second All-Ireland three-in-a-row in seven seasons. Today would normally be a routine pre-Leinster final Saturday with Kilkenny well fancied to win the title. And if even they didn't – as happened last year – there was always the longer route, via the All-Ireland quarter-finals.
Instead, the first Saturday in July is Kilkenny's D-day as they must win to avoid their earliest exit from the championship for 17 years. What's more, their route is being blocked by Tipperary, their most relentless pursuers for the past four years.
Of course, Tipperary are in the same pressure zone. Defeat would eject them from the championship earlier than in any year since 1999.
It has been fascinating to study the contrasting reactions to the defeats suffered by Kilkenny and Tipperary in their respective provincial championships. Kilkenny's loss to Dublin has been largely classified as a sign that they are a waning empire, whereas Tipperary's defeat by Limerick was put down to a bad performance.
Yet, on league form, Limerick and Dublin were evenly matched – so why the different interpretation of their wins over two major powers?
Because of their remarkable consistency for so long, any dip by Kilkenny is regarded as an indication of serious decline, which is understandable. However, it would be unwise to assume that indifferent performances in their last three games have left the Cats ready for plucking.
There will be an enormous sense of emotion around Nowlan Park this evening since it would be utterly repugnant to Kilkenny's constitution to lose their All-Ireland title on their home ground. Worse still that it should happen against Tipperary.
The desire to avoid that won't win the game on its own but it could provide the adrenalin shot required to launch Kilkenny out of what has been an unusually sluggish period. The reality is that Dublin didn't have to do anything especially brilliant to match Kilkenny two weeks ago and beat them last week. Basic efficiency was enough, when usually a whole lot more is required to trouble Kilkenny.
The last three games have been most unusual for Kilkenny. They conceded four goals for only the third time in 64 championship games in the Cody era while scoring only one goal. Never before in the Cody era have Kilkenny gone three successive games without scoring a minimum of three goals.
Put the two together and it offers an interesting perspective on where their problems lie.
Now, the big question is whether Tipperary have the power to further prise open the cracks or will Kilkenny secure them, as only they can?
It will take a much improved performance on anything Kilkenny have shown so far in the championship, but then Tipperary need a massive improvement on their display against Limerick, when they had a good spell between the 25th and 50th minutes but lost the other 45 minutes by 1-15 to 0-6.
Clearly, there are as many doubts about Tipperary as Kilkenny. In those circumstances, it's safer to back Kilkenny on the basis of their record against Tipp.
Verdict : Kilkenny
Kilkenny – E Murphy; C Fogarty, JJ Delaney, J Tyrrell; T Walsh, B Hogan, K Joyce; M Rice, L Ryan; W Walsh, R Power, E Larkin; C Fennelly, R Hogan, A Fogarty.
Tipperary – B Cummins; P Stapleton, P Curran, M Cahill; C O'Brien, C O'Mahony, Padraic Maher; B Maher, S McGrath; Patrick Maher, N McGrath, J O'Brien; J O'Dwyer, E Kelly, L Corbett.