Sunday, Croke Park, 3.30pm, (Ref: Cathal McAllister, Cork)
Latest from the medics and management…Tipperary have stuck with the side that swept to Munster championship glory. John O’Brien, whose brother passed away earlier this week, is named at full-forward while there is no place in the attack for Shane Bourke and Eoin Kelly who struck 1-4 between them when introduced during the Munster final.
TIPPERARY SH: 1. Brendan Cummins (Ballybacon-Grange); 2. Conor O’Brien (Éire Óg Annacarty), 3. Paul Curran (Mullinahone), 4. Michael Cahill (Thurles Sarsfields); 5. Thomas Stapleton (Templederry Kenyons), 6. Conor O’Mahony (Newport), 7. Padraic Maher (Thurles Sarsfields); 8. Brendan Maher (Borris–Ileigh), 9. Shane McGrath (Ballinahinch); 10. Pa Bourke (Thurles Sarsfields), 11. Patrick Maher (Lorrha & Dorrha), 12. Lar Corbett (Thurles Sarsfields); 13. Brian O’Meara (Kilruane MacDonaghs), 14. John O’Brien (Toomevara), 15. Noel McGrath (Loughmore Castleiney).
Kilkenny will name their team tonight and will be pressed into at least one change as Richie Hogan is suspended after being shown a red card during their All-Ireland quarter-final win over Limerick. TJ Reid is the most likely replacement.
KILKENNY SH: TBC
Checking the odds…Kilkenny are 4/6 favourites with Tipperary 6/4 and the draw available at 10/1. The handicap betting has Kilkenny (-2) at 11/10 while in the first goalscorer markets, Henry Shefflin at 6/1 and Noel McGrath at 12/1 look well placed.
Clues from the form guide…Tipperary entered last year’s All-Ireland series on the back of that Munster final destruction of Waterford and it did them little favors with a patchy performance against Dublin before they faltered in the final against Kilkenny. Now they are in better shape after a 2012 provincial campaign that really tested them with wins garnered over Limerick, Cork and Waterford. They are well placed entering this match.
Have Kilkenny recovered from their Leinster final mauling by Galway? The first-half of the quarter-final over Limerick indicated that there were still concerns. Henry Shefflin bailed them out with the key scores in that period as they were unsettled by the ferociously physical challenge Limerick posed. The second-half was more encouraging with their half-back line an impregnable unit, Michael Fennelly getting vital game time at midfield while Colin Fennelly and TJ Reid stood up to prise open the Limerick rearguard.
The game breakers are…How much have Tipperary learnt from last September’s final defeat? Comparing their current line-up with the side that started that day indicates that their management were educated by that defeat. Conor O’Brien and Thomas Stapleton form a new right flank of their defence yet will Kilkenny target those areas?
Tipperary will hope to reap a better dividend from their midfield fortunes this year with Brendan Maher back in play and Shane McGrath back to form. And their reconfigured attack seeks to get more out of Noel McGrath at corner-forward and Lar Corbett at wing-forward, hope Patrick Bonner Maher’s angles of running cut open the heart of the Kilkenny defence and that Brian O’Meara’s heft will be a useful weapon inside.
Tipperary’s Patrick Maher surrounded by Kilkenny trio Noel Hickey, Tommy Walsh and JJ Delaney during last year’s final. Pic: INPHO/James Crombie
Kilkenny’s defence looked to be in a far better structural shape against Limerick than it had been against Galway. Preventing their defence from being pulled apart is absolutely critical as last September they successfully flooded their back line with bodies whereas the previous year Tipperary created the space that ripped them open.
JJ Delaney and Tommy Walsh are coming into better veins of form while they need Michael Fennelly at the height of his midfield powers. Up front Henry Shefflin needs support but Aidan Fogarty, TJ Reid and Colin Fennelly all showed up well in that regard in the second-half against Limerick. A concern must be the options on the Kilkenny bench with Tipperary looking to be better stocked in that regard as they can call on Shane Bourke, Eoin Kelly and Seamus Callanan.
Gazing into the crystal ball..Kilkenny tactically outsmarted Tipperary last year and their players also held a huge desire to avenge the 2010 defeat. They should not lack motivation here either considering that the prize is a chance on September 9th to face the Galway side who humbled them in the Leinster final.
Brian Cody’s side are back on track since that loss and are primed for a furious battle. Yet Tipperary will be similarly steeled for a war and have trained extremely hard since the Munster final in order to get themselves in prime condition. It is a fascinating and potentially epic collision.
There is a sense in the Tipperary camp that given the young talent at their disposal, they cannot end up like the Premier outfit of 2001 who only won one All-Ireland title and they need to add a second crown to their 2010 success. That desire to prove themselves, the series of tests they have endured this season in developing a winning run and the ability to unleash Bourke and Kelly from the bench can tip the balance in their favor.
Join TheScore.ie live from Croke Park on Sunday at 3.30pm for minute-by-minute coverage of all the action between Tipperary and Kilkenny.