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O'Connor warns 'end of an era' looms for Croker losers

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Eddie O' Connor , Kilkenny captain lifts the Liam McCarthy cup, Kilkenny v Galway, All Ireland Hurling Final, Croke Park, Dublin 5 September 1993.

Eddie O' Connor , Kilkenny captain lifts the Liam McCarthy cup, Kilkenny v Galway, All Ireland Hurling Final, Croke Park, Dublin 5 September 1993.

Eddie O' Connor , Kilkenny captain lifts the Liam McCarthy cup, Kilkenny v Galway, All Ireland Hurling Final, Croke Park, Dublin 5 September 1993.

The All-Ireland semi-final between Kilkenny and Tipperary could signal "the end of an era" for the losers, according to Eddie O'Connor.

Kilkenny's former All-Ireland winning captain reckons that there is very little to separate the teams and that there are question marks surrounding both of them going into the game.

Adding to the intrigue for O'Connor is his belief that a number of players on either side could retire if the result doesn't go their way, with the spotlight of speculation shining brightest on his own county.

"If you look at Tipperary's performance against Waterford, I don't think that'd be good enough to beat Kilkenny. And if you look at Kilkenny's performance against Galway, and in the first half against Limerick, that wouldn't be good enough to beat Tipp.

"It's a huge game for both counties and you'll definitely see a number of players retiring from the team that loses on Sunday. So it's possible that it'll be the end of an era for some of the greatest players that ever played hurling.

"The jury is out (on Kilkenny) after the Galway performance. A lot of people see it that Kilkenny maybe are coming to the end of their tether. They have been on the road a long time. They have a fierce amount of miles on the clock as regards championship hurling.

"At the end of the day, it's like Muhammad Ali, Sean Kelly: the end comes for everyone. There are doubts in Kilkenny. Questions are being asked. Is this the end? Only Sunday will tell."

O'Connor isn't reading much into the fact that Kilkenny are training behind closed doors, noting the "circus" of the five-in-a-row build-up and the futility of questioning anything that as successful a manager as Brian Cody does.

He believes that both teams have the capacity for improvement but progress is essential if they are to advance.

"With the exception of Richie Hogan, Kilkenny will have their strongest panel to pick from, with the return of Michael Rice and Michael Fennelly. For Tipperary, every extra training session Lar Corbett gets into him, there's going to be an improvement.

"For Kilkenny, against Limerick, Michael Rice and Michael Fennelly were improving immensely and with three or four weeks' hard training under their belt there'll be plenty more improvement. You'd have to say it's probably the same for Tipperary."

Other potential motivational tools include the Tipperary rivalry and the fact that Henry Shefflin is two games away from winning an historic ninth All-Ireland medal. None of them are relevant as far as O'Connor is concerned.

"I don't think they look further than the next match. I don't think they have ever set targets like that or use other motivational factors. It's an All-Ireland semi-final and they'll want to get to the final. Brian has always said that they'd take one game at a time and that's the way it will be for Sunday."

Irish Independent