THE RIVALRY BETWEEN Kilkenny and Tipperary has shaped the hurling landscape over recent years.
The sides have served up memorable finals for the past three years with Kilkenny most recently ending Declan Ryan’s first season in charge of the Premier in Croke Park heartache last September.
Ryan will lead his charges into an All-Ireland semi-final against the Cats this Sunday at GAA HQ, insisting there’s only a hop of a ball between the teams again.
“It’s a massive game for both counties. There is a huge prize at stake for the winner, to get to an All-Ireland final and that’s what both sets of players and management teams will be looking for,” he told TheScore.ie. “[Hunger] was a word that was used a lot after the All-Ireland final last year. The fact that Kilkenny were hurting from the year before and that they had the hunger going into the game.
“It’s all down to the day now and whatever little edge you can get and wherever you get it from, that could be vital score or vital period of dominance that will win you the game and that’s the way it was in last year’s final. We will certainly be looking to improve our performance from that. The guys have trained hard enough and will be extremely hungry going out on the 19th.
“We played in an All-Ireland semi-final last year against Dublin and there was a lot of talk about the game at the time, there is a lot of talk about this game. All we are doing is concentrating on our own performance and hoping that we turn up and play as well as we can on the day and if we do that then we’ll get through to the final
“It’s all on the day now. These guys train very well, there has been very little between Tipp and Kilkenny over the last few years. Maybe it is an overused phrase but certainly this game is all on the day and both managers and both sets of players will want to turn up and play their best on the day,” he added.
Kilkenny see themselves facing their old foes having been humbled in a Leinster decider defeat to Galway and then getting past Limerick in the quarter-finals. And Ryan admits if there’s any lessons to be gleaned from the Cats’ provincial capitulation, he’s learned.
“The one thing that was obvious was how well Galway played and the fact that Kilkenny were missing a couple of their vital players. Obviously those guys will be back for the semi-final,” he said. “Certainly there are lessons to be learned from the game but every management team focuses on their own players and how their own squad is going and I think there is a big performance in them and we are expecting to see a huge performance out of them on the 19th.”
Last year in the showpiece game in September, Tipp attempted to reel in an early deficit after a sluggish start; Ryan hopes for a better start this Sunday.
“Those things can happen. I don’t think we got a score for the first 10 minutes in the senior final last year. We were blitzed for the first 10 minutes but I think we are in a much better frame of mind this year going into this game, every game we have played so far this year we have been improving steadily and going on the performance in training over the past two weeks we are expecting further improvement in performance in the semi-final.
“I think the guys have put in a massive effort into their physical preparation. I think mentally we are in a better space than we were last year. That is all down to working very hard together and the guys know they have put in the massive effort. Any day you go out not properly tuned in you are not going to get the results for the hard work put in and I think all those things have added to the fact that these guys are in a good space at the moment.
“It is going to be a massive battle the next day and if we are on top of our game we have a massive chance. To win the All-Ireland final you are going to have to beat all the best teams in the country no matter where you meet them along the way. That’s no different for any county and the fact we are playing Kilkenny in a semi-final just means that we are going to have to be at our very best to win.”