Many hurling supporters have been eagerly anticipating this repeat of the 2009 Senior Hurling All Ireland Final since the commencement of the Senior Hurling championship.
Tipperary has yet to reach the heights of 2009. Indeed the performance against Cork in the Munster Championship was one of the poorest from a Tipperary team for quite sometime. Nevertheless there was a silver lining. Tipp had two wins over Leinster opposition in the qualifiers, as Wexford and then Offaly were disposed of. Tipp defeated Waterford in the semi-final by seven points. The Tipperary team for the final is unchanged. There are question marks over this Tipperary team. Undoubtedly it is highly talented. However there is a strong suspicion that the team lacks the steel to finish off the opposition. The 2009 final was the one that got away for Tipperary. There are some glaring weaknesses in defence. Galway and Cork scored three goals apiece, while Waterford could have scored three.
The Tipp half-forward line has yet to strike fear into opposing half back lines. The Kilkenny team announced tonight contains John Tennyson at centre back. Brian Cody would not have selected a half fit Tennyson. The Kilkenny half backline has 5. Tommy Walsh, 6. John Tennyson, 7. J.J. Delaney. Each one of those three players is physically powerful and highly skilled. This line will take no prisoners. The Tipp half forward line of Gar Ryan, Bonnar Maher and John O’Brien clearly lacks the physical power to compete. In addition doubts surround the fitness of Eoin Kelly at full forward. Kelly could struggle against a backline, which has been strongly influenced by the defensive tactics employed by Tyrone in Gaelic football. The Kilkenny defence crowds out opposing players. It is superior to that of Waterford.
If Tipperary is to defeat Kilkenny it must aim to open up the Kilkenny defence by using the wings and the angled ball. Any effort by Tipperary to just go out and soften up Kilkenny is doomed to failure. A scrap will suit Kilkenny fine. This is not to say that players should shirk challenges. Bunching will suit Kilkenny defenders. Tipp forwards must move the ball at speed. Some ground hurling would not go amiss. Tipp forwards will run at the Kilkenny defence also. This may work.
It is difficult to find weaknesses in the Kilkenny team. However doubts must surround the fitness of Henry Shefflin. How will the cruciate ligament injury affect the confidence of the player? Whilst Brian Cody will have endeavoured to focus attention on the task at hand some Kilkenny players may feel the five in a row pressure. John Tennyson and Tommy Walsh have had injuries. Could these recur?
Kilkenny demolished Cork in the semi-final. Did Kilkenny peak for that match?
In addition Kilkenny enters the final as favourites. This eases the pressure on Tipperary. Tipperary has yet to peak this year.
If Tipperary is to win its backline must tighten up and not concede soft goals. In addition the half forward line must improve. On balance assuming that Kilkenny players are fully fit the advantage appears to be with Kilkenny. However Tipperary could spring a surprise.