WESTSIDE COLUMN 17 AUGUST 2012

 

 

The latest act in this ongoing Tipp/Kilkenny saga promises another hurling highlight on Sunday. The Munster champs go in as underdogs against back-door entrants Kilkenny. A repeat of 2010 will be required if Tipperary are to face buoyant Galway on September 9. The minors make it a double date as they face the Tribesmen in the opener; Dublin await in that decider following their late – and lucky – escape against Clare.

Elsewhere the home fires keep burning with more club action last weekend. Boherlahan and Moycarkey make it an all-Mid O’Riain Cup final while Upperchurch and Aherlow will square up in the Relegation battle.

Our U21s were the latest to bow out of championship action following that heart-breaking late strike by Clare at Ennis. I missed the game and haven’t had the heart to view the recording. It’s always bitterly disappointing to be caught by a late goal – Clare themselves know the feeling after their minor experience against Dublin. It would have been nice to complete the grand slam of wins in Munster but it was not to be. Still for a side that carried low expectations Ken Hogan brought them a long way.

Let’s hope, however, that the losing trend set by the footballers and now carried on by the U21 hurlers won’t infect either seniors or minors on Sunday.

I suppose Sunday could be termed act four in this latter day hurling drama between Tipperary and Kilkenny. We’ve had three memorable final instalments and this latest episode will either underline Kilkenny’s supremacy or leave the rivalry finely balanced at two apiece. The bookies have given Kilkenny the nod at odds of 8/13 while Tipperary are on offer at 6/4. Given Kilkenny’s slip in the Leinster final it’s significant that they’re still rated firm favourites to top Tipp.

Tipperary’s form all summer has displayed a steady, if unspectacular, upward curve. It all began very wobbly against Limerick, improved somewhat to edge past Cork and stepped up another gear to cope with Waterford in the provincial final. They’ve been steady and adequate but hardly displaying the type of zip that will be required to topple Kilkenny.

In fairness there have been positives that should be recognised. Lar’s return was crucial and he should be a central player on Sunday. Our defensive anxiety has eased somewhat after the early rounds. Michael Cahill returned to his best in the Munster final and Conor O’Brien too stepped up to the mark. Thomas Stapleton improved with every outing so overall there’s a more compact appearance to that defensive end now. Then the attacking end is seen as having real options with several impact subs likely to be sitting on the bench.

There’s a general assumption that the team will start as it did against Waterford. That means no place for Eoin Kelly or Gearoid Ryan or Shane Bourke or Seamus Callanan. It leaves a lot of firepower sitting on the bench, one area where we might expect to have a slight edge on Kilkenny. Given the importance of substitutes in the modern game it’s an area not to be underestimated.

The loss of Richie Hogan to Kilkenny is significant too. I note that Michael Cahill rates him his most difficult opponent and he would be an automatic starter for Cody if not suspended. One assumes T.J. Reid will fill the gap which will minimise the loss though obviously reducing Kilkenny’s options during the course of the game.

It’s been a strange season for Kilkenny; they’re not used to coming in the back door. That Leinster final whipping must have been a real culture shock to a team more accustomed to dishing out such punishment rather than receiving it. We waited for the backlash in the Limerick quarter-final and in truth it was more of a flick-back than a backlash. For forty minutes Limerick stayed toe-to-toe with the ‘cats’ and even then it was lax defending as much as powerful attacking which decided the game.

Does all of this suggest that Kilkenny are finally showing vulnerability? We hope so but I wouldn’t dwell on it too much. They’re still powerfully equipped and it will take something special from Tipperary to get through on Sunday.

It’s encouraging to hear that preparations have gone very well within the Tipperary camp and everything seems to be in place for a massive effort. The memory of last September should be a goading factor for the players. They know they misfired on that occasion and the motive must be strong to set matters right.

We’ll hope that the lessons of last year’s All Ireland will be part of the preparations too. Let’s face it on that occasion we let Kilkenny set the agenda and we were always chasing our tails thereafter. This time we need to lay down the markers as we did in 2010. We’ve been slow starters all season; start slowly on Sunday and the game is likely to be over before you can respond.

In last year’s All Ireland Kilkenny targeted our right flank of defence and I suspect they’ll try a similar ploy on Sunday. The Stapleton/O’Brien formation is new and they’ll probably see it as an easier avenue of approach than through Padraig Maher and Michael Cahill. Shefflin could be key in any manoeuvrings here and on the evidence of the Limerick match he’s still a central plank on this team. Eoin Larkin was poor against Limerick and Richie Power took that heavy knock but they’re both capable of being match winners. Eternal vigilance will be needed by our rearguard.

The Rice\Fennelly midfield has played itself back to fitness so we’ll need big displays from Brendan Maher and Shane McGrath as a counter. But it’s our attack which we’ll hope will deflate Kilkenny’s hopes. Last year Lar Corbett seemed too restricted in his duties; this time we’ll hope for a more mobile display to test Jackie Tyrrell or whoever is tasked with the job of policing him. ‘Bonner’ Maher can be a central player too running at the Kilkenny defence and it’s inevitable that the likes of Eoin Kelly and Shane Bourke will see action also. Once we don’t ‘sky’ the ball into that Kilkenny defence we have the potential to build up a significant score.

Overall it promises to be an intriguing battle. On past evidence this Tipperary side knows that it can match and beat Kilkenny if it hits the right note. The problem is that we haven’t hit that note since 2010. Wouldn’t Sunday be the perfect stage to revisit our best?

Meanwhile Galway are sitting pretty in the final watching developments on Sunday next. Could they put two displays back-to-back? Yes they could. Mind you it looked tentative in the first half but as the second period unfolded the Tribesmen really got to grips with Cork. This is new territory for Galway finally putting the right mix of players together; they’ll be very difficult opponents in the final.

For Cork the scene is less healthy. In the spring I thought they were shaping up nicely but the impression has revised somewhat over the summer. One wonders if some of their older players will still hang around – Gardiner surely won’t – and the younger element have yet to make their mark. Their attack was particularly disappointing on Sunday. A lot of work ahead for JBM.

Let’s not forget our minors too on Sunday next. They also carry our hopes and best wishes in their game with Galway. They took Munster impressively but Galway have a formidable record at underage level so we’ll expect tough opposition. Ironically the exit of the minor footballers will have helped the hurlers given the large overlap between the panels. The minors embody our future hopes so we’ll wish for a big display here. On a form line with Clare we’d probably be fancied to beat Dublin in the final so Sunday is a huge one for the under-eighteens. Good luck to Willie Maher and all his troops.

One of Willie Maher’s aides, fellow selector Brian Horgan, had an important date himself last Sunday evening as he lined out for Kickhams in their relegation battle with Aherlow. Kickhams wouldn’t have expected to be in the relegation shake up but a season of very patchy form left them vulnerable. They’d beaten Aherlow earlier in the West and managed to repeat the deed on Sunday, comfortably enough in the end but not without its difficulties en route.

Aherlow have been badly hit with injuries and emigration but they still put up a stubborn battle, one which Kickhams found difficult to shake off. The winners led nine-two at the break thanks mainly to the faultless free taking of Paudie Slattery and three points from Patrick O’Brien. They also managed a lot of wides but there was little threat from Aherlow.

The second half was far from routine for Kickhams as Aherlow dug in and kept that lead at around four points for long spells. In the end Kickhams closed it out with Alan Horgan coming on to score a useful pair of points.

It was pretty low grade hurling but that will hardly bother Kickhams who’ll be relieved to have secured their senior stripes for 2013. For Aherlow the picture is bleaker. They face Upperchurch now in the relegation final and will be odds on to drop back to intermediate after just one year in the upper level.

The O’Riain Cup – I suppose you could call if unofficially the senior ‘B’ championship – now rests between Mid rivals Boherlahan and Moycarkey.  Boherlahan had six to spare over Davins in a high scoring game while Moycarkey ran up a big score against Golden.

I saw the Boherlahan game at Fethard where the winners did most of the work in the first half. A goal rush from Lawrence Hickey at full forward had them fourteen ahead at the interval after Davins faced the stiff wind in that opening period. 3-13 to 1-5 the account stood at the break and when Seamie Leahy whipped in another Boherlahan goal shortly after resuming Davins really faced an enormous task. In fairness to them they did rally and pulled back two goals through Michael Coady and Mickey Whelan but ultimately the gap was too wide and Boherlahan held firm for a six point verdict.

This is consolation territory I suppose for both clubs and each was under strength for the job. Still Boherlahan will relish a shot at neighbours Moycarkey now in the final. There’s an interesting tie-up between the teams: Conor Gleeson manages Boherlahan this year after managing Moycarkey to O’Riain Cup success last year. He’ll certainly know what to expect in the final.

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