After a 2013 championship which was heralded as the start of a newly egalitarian era for hurling, this year’s incarnation has reverted to type with a pairing no less traditional than Tipperary and Kilkenny set to face off once again for All-Ireland glory.
Clare may have broken Kilkenny, Cork and Tipperary’s collective stranglehold on Liam McCarthy, however this year either the black and amber or blue and gold will lift aloft that famous trophy, making it 15 All-Irelands out of 16 for the Holy Trinity of hurling.
That’s not to say that the likes of Clare, Limerick and Wexford won’t continue to resonate as major contenders, but rather a reminder that the consistent production lines and depth of talent in the hurling strongholds will keep that trio in near-perennial contention.
Kilkenny’s constant ability to introduce readymade Seniors to the team give them a fresh look as well as vital power on the bench
If Kilkenny and Tipperary can serve up the sort of fast and physical thriller that wowed the country between 2009 and 2011, then September 7th will prove a red-letter day for supporters.
Unlike those games, Kilkenny come in without the cloak of invincibility they once wore, while still being a top-rate side. Meanwhile Tipperary are still Tipp, with some doubts, no lack of skill and huge game-breakers.
The manner of their semi-final win may have been no surprise, after all the side is managed by the man who delivered the final words before the 2010 final that denied Kilkenny their five-in-a-row; “attack, attack, attack.”
Facing that attack will be a Kilkenny full-back line that has seen it all before. However that won’t stop Tipp trying to isolate the likes of Seamus Callinan and John O’Dwyer in one-on-one scenarios.
But as good as Callinan, O’Dwyer and Patrick ‘Bonnar’ Maher have been, they will also need Lar Corbett to fire if he is to repeat his rivalry with Jackie Tyrell. Galway captured six goals across two games against this defence and you felt that Limerick, like Dublin, left goals on the Croke Park field; something which Tipperary will hope to avoid.
In the semi-final it was Tipperary’s fringe players who stood up. Shane McGrath grabbed his chance, while Paddy Stapleton and, UCC hurling captain, James Barry embedded themselves in the full-back line. Tipperary will have a selection headache in the full-back line but, for once, it will be a good one.
That said, Cork did hit nine wides in a close first half and no matter how good the inexperienced Barry or Cathal Barrett have been, Kilkenny will still target them with the likes of TJ Reid and Colin Fennelly. Fennelly along with his brother, Michael, add a physical and ball-winning presence to the Kilkenny frontline which Tipperary lack.
In the middle, Kilkenny will know that they can force errors on Darren Gleeson’s precise puck-outs and the battle for midfield superiority will be fierce.
Kilkenny’s constant ability to introduce readymade Seniors to the team give them a fresh look as well as vital power on the bench, where Henry Shefflin, Tommy Walsh, Richie Power and Walter Walsh sat out the semi-final.
If it is close, then we will see whether Kilkenny’s experience can swing it or if Tipperary’s young subs can bring an unexpected X factor.