Tipp v Kilkenny, part four: Three things to watch
Have you ever looked forward to an All-Ireland semi-final as much as this weekend? We certainly haven’t. Here are three things to keep an eye on.
The battle for midfield domination
Brian Cody is far too diplomatic to admit it publicly, but Kilkenny suffered hugely in the absence of Michaels Fennelly and Rice against Galway and were often brushed aside in very un-Kilkenny like fashion in the middle of the park in the Leinster Final.
Both players enjoyed a low-key return to action against Limerick last time out, but while that was a fairly tough test, it was nothing compared to what they are likely to face this weekend.
In last year’s All-Ireland Final, Benny Maher didn’t even start and Shane McGrath was withdrawn early doors, but both are back to somewhere approaching their 2010 form and if they can influence proceedings from the start – watch how fired-up Shane McGrath will be if he wins an early free, nobody celebrates winning a free in hurling like Shane McGrath – we could be in for some battle.
Stretch it out to the middle eight for both teams and you’re adding the likes of Tommy Walsh, JJ Delaney and Bonner and Paudie Maher into the mix; it won’t be a place for the faint-hearted.
The Lar factor
He might not have scored in the Championship this season, but it’s hard to get away from the fact that Lar Corbett remains Tipp’s box-office player. Whether it’s because of the rumble caused by his departure earlier in the year or not, he seems determined to keep a lower profile this season and appears to be happier hooking, blocking and tracking back rather than doing the business in front of goals.
The longer this season goes on, the more influential Lar will be
There’s nothing wrong with that on the surface, but there were times during the Munster Final when he went out of his way to try and set others up rather than take scores for himself. It has to be borne in mind that Corbett only returned to the panel in the summer, but he’ll have gradually been regaining confidence on a weekly basis and that is reason enough for Kilkenny to fear his presence this weekend.
The outcome of the last two All-Ireland Finals has been largely dependent on Corbett’s influence. In 2010, his memorable hat-trick made the difference whereas the fact that Kilkenny managed to nullify him completely a year ago went a long way towards their victory.
He’ll have just as big a role to play again on Sunday.
Who wants it more?
It might seem outrageous to question the hunger of either side before Sunday, but when two titans meet it is often the tiniest of details that eventually separate them and one could argue that in the last two years particularly, it was greater desire that proved crucial for the winners.
In 2010, Tipp were driven to right the wrongs of 2009 and in the process derail the huge bandwagon that had built up around Kilkenny’s five-in-a-row bid. Last year, Tipp had limped their way to the final and were incredibly vulnerable against a Cats side that wanted to prove they weren’t over the hill and that they weren’t yet ready to be overthrown as hurling’s kingpins.
If one was to look at the game in that light, then Sunday’s encounter is set-up very nicely indeed. Tipp will be eager to atone for last year’s All-Ireland Final performance, their weakest of the last three finals, while the carrot of another crack at a Galway side who humiliated them in July is dangling in front of Kilkenny.
Just another sub-plot to a fascinating encounter which rarely fails to disappoint.