KILKENNY V TIPP – BIG MATCH PREVIEW: Where tomorrow’s All-Ireland final will be won and lost
By COLIN BARTLEY
ONE thing to be put to bed is the idea that this is a new Kilkenny team, a team a couple of years in the making.
Because they ain’t! Take away Huw Lawlor and Adrian Mullen, two players thrown into championship battle for the first time this year, or Paddy Deegan, John Donnelly and Conor Browne, the only other starters not to have played in the final in 2016, then look at what you have.
The other 10 starters have 42 All-Ireland medals between them.
And this Tipp team, despite winning two titles this decade, are still at least a dozen medals shy of their opponents’ tally.
Granted, the Premier has not had the turnover of players in the three years since they last met in the final, yet this Tipp team is older and less-experienced medals wise. Only the full-back line has notably changed, and maybe all the better for the inclusion of Barry Heffernan at full-back.
As with Heffernan at Tipp, Huw Lawlor’s emergence at full-back has added greatly to this Kilkenny team. Wexford’s Liam Ryan is forefront of the full-backs evolution recently, and Lawlor and Heffernan have followed.
Long gone are the old Gandalf days of ‘you shall not pass’ – the modern full-back is expected to be all the things of yore and now a comfortable ball-carrier who creates an extra man to launch attacks, or even get into the attack.
Curbing the roar of the charging full-back could be a fruitful tactic, so who goes in on the square? Both teams have more than one option, and both teams will target the inexperience of the opposition’s full-back.
Kilkenny can put either Walter Walsh or Colin Fennelly, TJ at a push, in on Barry Heffernan, while Tipp can look to John McGrath or Seamie Callanan to quieten Huw Lawlor. And perhaps this is the key.
Kilkenny needs Walter’s size and presence around the half-line. Moving him into full-forward could have a detrimental impact on the game plan. Tipp on the other hand always start Callanan and McGrath inside so one of them will pick Lawler up, at times both will. It’s a ploy of Liam Sheedy and Eamon O’Shea and how they like to set-up, constantly rotating forwards.
Tipp will start with four out around the half-forward line, to both leave space inside and to have bodies out there to battle around the middle third.
Like against Limerick, the middle third is key for Kilkenny, and maybe even more so if they keep those battles in their half backs, and not Tipps. Probably the strongest line on both teams is the half-back line, whoever manages their impact on the game better will go a long way to winning the title.
Hurling is a beautifully brutal sport, and these teams match up well.
Cody and Sheedy will look to attack possible weaknesses in each other’s set-up and both may target the full-backs due to inexperience. Cody might want to challenge Tipp’s work rate in the middle third, while Sheedy will want to test Kilkenny’s backs one-on-one.
Bookies have Tipp marginal favourites, probably based on the greater potential explosiveness of the forward unit, but a lot needs to go right elsewhere to earn the opportunity to explode.
The build-up hasn’t caught fire just yet, but these old rivals will be happy to do their talking on the pitch and the stage is set for a ferocious battle of wills, mind and body.
Let the games begin!