Cats there for taking, say legends

Cats there for taking, say legends

Wednesday, July 03, 2013  Irish Examiner

Two of Tipperary’s greatest hurlers believe Kilkenny under Brian Cody have never been more vulnerable as now.

By John Fogarty

Ahead of Saturday’s phase two qualifier in Nowlan Park which was yesterday confirmed as a sellout, Pat Fox and Johnny Leahy differ on their county’s ability to take advantage of the Cats’ difficulties.

However, the two-time All-Ireland winning team-mates agree Kilkenny are teetering due to a multitude of reasons, having exited the Leinster championship last Saturday when they lost a semi-final replay to Dublin.

“It is the best chance that any team has now (of eliminating Kilkenny),” stated Fox. “Their form has dropped a lot. This is Tipp’s chance and everyone else’s chance. I think everyone else will be watching and hoping to see Tipp beat them.”

Leahy questions Tipperary’s ability to grasp this opportunity but concurs with Fox that Kilkenny are in a seriously weakened position.

“It’s an interesting game because Tipperary haven’t performed the way supporters would have hoped for in the last couple of games. Kilkenny haven’t been performing either of late and there’s talk of them being on the backfoot. Their appetite seems to have gone and their belief doesn’t seem to be there. There are a lot of factors with injuries, they’ve been on the go a while and things are not happening for them.

“They’re not creating many goal chances either, which is not something you would usually associate with Kilkenny teams. It might not be a great game of hurling because of the amount of tension and mistakes will be made. Tipperary will be travelling in the hope of beating Kilkenny but they will need to up the ante on what they’ve shown in the last 12 months.”

Tipperary trained in Galway last weekend with reports Lar Corbett is flying having fully recovered from the rib injury he picked up in the Division 1 final defeat to Kilkenny in May.

Leahy believes they will benefit from all the focus being on Kilkenny since they drew the first Leinster semi-final against Dublin.

However, he warns Tipp must learn from the intensity of Dublin’s defence in Portlaoise.

“The media attention has been on Kilkenny the past couple of weeks so the pressure hasn’t been on Tipp in that way but deep down, there is pressure on them to perform.

“Supporters were disillusioned after the Limerick game and they lost faith but now here’s a big match where the team could revitalise themselves. But it’s in Kilkenny’s backyard and I feel Tipperary will have to take a leaf out of Dublin’s book and close down the Kilkenny forwards. What Dublin did last weekend was the best performance by a back-line I’ve seen against Kilkenny. If you said before they would win scoring only 1-16, you would say they needed to score more to beat Kilkenny but their defence won it for them.

“Another thing is the Tipperary team has chopped and changed and there has been no consistency in what’s being put out onto the field.

“Eamon (O’Shea) now has one game to get that right. The team’s being named on Thursday and right now no Tipperary supporter is able to pick the team and I don’t think that’s a good position to be in.”

Fox, one of the best corner-forwards of his generation, says he would recall Leahy’s fellow Mullinahone clubman Eoin Kelly to the full-forward position.

“I definitely would say they need his (Kelly’s) leadership,” continued Fox. “Eoin has had a lot of injuries. His back was at him for a good number of years but I think he’s not as bad now as he was. But I think definitely, if I was involved, I’d love to see Eoin in at full-forward. He’s big and strong and he’s brainy and takes watching the whole time. His pace may be gone but he’s still a big threat.”

Call him a doubting Thomas but Fox won’t believe Henry Shefflin is unavailable for Saturday’s All-Ireland qualifier until he sees him sitting on the sideline. Based on all known evidence and the medical reports of both Shefflin himself and, as recently as last Saturday, Brian Cody, the 2012 hurler of the year stands no chance of playing this weekend after his ankle and metatarsal setbacks.

The sight of the Ballyhale Shamrocks man pucking a ball around with team-mates before both games against Dublin in Portlaoise has naturally lent to speculation that he could be ready for a playing role.

“Whatever Shefflin has within that team, he gels them together,” said Fox. “I think they look up to him and when he’s playing, they just seem to gel better. He’s definitely been a huge loss. I have no idea what way he’s feeling but I think if it’s a close game, I wouldn’t be surprised if he made an appearance.

“He has always been a serious player and he won’t want to go out of the Championship without being involved.”

Aside from Shefflin, Michael Fennelly and Paul Murphy, all of whom Cody has ruled out of the phase two encounter, there are big question marks over the fitness of TJ Reid, Jackie Tyrrell and Cillian Buckley after the defeat to Dublin. Both Tommy and Walter Walsh are understood to be carrying knocks.

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