It all comes down to this. The traditional All Ireland Hurling final is in place with perennial rivals Kilkenny and Tipperary one fixture away from lifting Liam McCarthy. Hawkeye Sidekick looks at the final showpiece and what to expect.
It is as you were for Tipperary as Liam Sheedy names an unchanged lineup from the side which came back to beat Wexford in the All Ireland semi-final. Kilkenny make one personnel change from the side which held on to topple reigning All Ireland Champions Limerick. Richie Leahy makes way for fit again Cillian Buckley.
Puckout Strategy Key:
The early puck out exchanges are going to be fascinating viewing. Kilkenny looking to crowd out the middle third and forcing Brian Hogan to be deadly accurate with his distribution. Hogan will need to look to keep the tempo high, look for easy out balls from the corner back and half-back lines to launch attacks.
Eoin Murphy has excelled Kilkenny this season; his opening half puck out strategy was the best I have seen all year against Limerick. His decision making to hit short or go long had Limerick scrambling for answers, a key foundation for Kilkenny’s victory.
Full Forward Threats Aplenty:
This final could be a game for the full forward positions on either side. TJ Reid has been a standout and will be exemplary but the role of the two full forwards in opposition is a keynote pregame commentary.
Colin Fennelly in recent months has provided the additional scoring and attacking leadership that Kilkenny have craved; to supplement and reduce the burden off TJ Reid who for me is HOTY candidate heading into this final.
Fennelly in the All Ireland Series has been a player with a point to prove; an extraordinary comment given vast his medal haul for club and county. The Ballyhale Shamrocks full forward has provided attacking threat aplenty and chipped in with some key goals.
His ability to take his full back marker on and create goals has been a hallmark of this Kilkenny campaign down the stretch and it is going to be interesting how Seamus Kennedy combats the threat. Does Ronan Maher drop in the pocket to nullify the threat but then leave space for Reid to score at will and deliver a man of the match performance?
Seamus Callanan at full forward as well has been exemplary. His goal scoring prowess seen throughout the year; give the Drom-Inch clubman a half a chance and he will bury it into the net.
Huw Lawlor has grown into the full back role but he faces the ultimate test. His corner back colleague Joey Holden knows firsthand what happens if Tipperary manage to supply Callanan with increasing frequency on All Ireland finals. You are chasing shadows.
Whoever wins the battle of the full forwards could be decisive in the final outcome when it all said and done.
Tipperary Midfield / Half Forward Units:
If there is a vulnerability in this Tipperary outfit, it is in the midfield and half forward line. Will they win enough primary and secondary ball to provide for their dangerous inside full forward line?
Michael Breen is a player who I rate extremely highly but he has failed to fully fire on all cylinders this season. The stage is set for the Ballina clubman to demonstrate his powerful running game and set the platform for Tipperary. If he does not, then Kilkenny have negated a key player for Tipperary.
The half forward line without Bonner Maher is a work in progress. There have been flashes of brilliance in open play but given Kilkenny’s setup and their ability to crowd out opposition, will the likes of O’Dwyer, McCormack or O’Meara get sufficient primary possession to be a factor in the contest? It is a major concern.
Kilkenny combating the run game?
The Limerick All Ireland semi-final was a strange contest; an emphatic first quarter and that was the foundation for victory but Limerick when they established the run game posed serious issues for Kilkenny defensively.
Limerick carved out goal chances in that second half; a superb Shane Dowling strike and then the late David Reidy effort where Kilkenny’s defensively were stretched to breaking point.
For Tipperary to win this contest, the run game has to be a key factor. The direct ball route to the full forward line is their strength but they will need the Maher’s in the half back line to drive forward from deep.
Michael Breen has to be ferocious in the run game; provide key deep runs at different intervals to ask the question of Browne and Buckley to allow Noel McGrath to sit in the pocket and orchestrate in the midfield and pick out colleagues with accurate distribution.
Kilkenny will pack the middle third; expect Donnelly, Mullen and Walsh to counter attack and attempt to pack out the Tipperary middle third allowing the likes of Deegan and Fogarty to sweep the threat of the direct ball to the inside full forward line? Intriguing stuff.
Tipperary combating the run game?
The two finalists have shown vulnerabilities in combating the run game. I am not convinced on the full back and center back positions in the side. Seamus Kennedy ably deputized at full back.
Ronan Maher was superb when switched to half back in the second half. This has to happen again to allow Padraic Maher to game read and provide a match winning contribution.
Tipperary though were exposed by the explosive Wexford run game in the first three quarters of their semi-final game. McGovern was giving acres of space and expect Kilkenny’s half forward line to test the defensive shape of Tipperary by making lung bursting runs from deep.
Given the vulnerabilities of both sides in the run game, this game could suddenly open up in the third quarter and goal chances could be created given the defensive struggles.
This is a tough final to call. Both sides have key strengths but also have vulnerabilities. The final lineup’s look strong and this could well be decided by the bench. Kilkenny were impressive against Limerick but were made hang on at the end. Tipperary battled well with fourteen players to advance to the final.
This final ultimately comes down to who will be defensively sound on the day. The Kilkenny stifling work rate without the ball against Limerick is something that Tipperary could struggle to combat. Tipp squad bench impact looks good with Kehoe and Morris in sparkling form.
I would not be surprised if this was a draw and a replay but if you had to ask me to pick a winner. I think Kilkenny have the aces in the attack. Reid, Fennelly and a player called Richie Hogan hold the key. The others will follow suit. Kilkenny to win by two / three points in my opinion as Tipperary’s lack of half forward primary ball winners minus Bonner will rear its head.