Tom Kenny Previews this Weekends All Ireland Hurling Final

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If one was asked at the start of the season who would contest the All Ireland Final, it is likely that most observers would have gone for Kilkenny and Tipperary. People of Waterford and Galway might have something to say about that but it is very hard to look beyond these two teams as the benchmark that others must strive towards. Waterford came very, very close to dethroning Kilkenny but the Cats showed all their class and experience to first eek out a draw and to then win out the replay.

Those two games were gripping, exciting and had people on the edge of their seats. It is a pity that we had to wait until the All Ireland semi-finals and, hopefully, the All Ireland Final to get some high quality games. I believe the GAA need to do something inventive to reward teams that go out to play instead of going out not to lose. We are only seeing a handful of top quality games in both hurling and football every year, and it is a great shame because there are many talented players in each code.

Getting back to the hurling showpiece this coming Sunday. The big talking point is of course the absence of Michael Fennelly to Kilkenny. There is no doubt about it but his loss could be a deciding factor. He stands at 6ft 3in and his presence on the Kilkenny team is huge. Even though Brian Cody will be stressing that they need to drive on and that it is for such instances that a panel is essential, deep down he will be worried that Fennelly is missing. Given the form of the Tipperary pairing of Brendan Maher and Michael Breen, Cody will need to give his midfield pairing some serious thinking. I don’t believe he will deploy TJ Reid there again but I could see Richie Hogan join Conor Fogarty in the middle of the park. Given Hogan’s ability to be in the right place at the right time allied to his scoring prowess, this will give the Tipperary duo plenty to think about in terms of curbing their own natural style of going forward.

Tipperary have been hugely impressive this season and seemed to have taken the best of what they had under Eamonn O’Shea and mixed with the old traditional virtues of Michael Ryan. However, if you look further beneath the surface, their Munster championship campaign was a relatively easy one. First up was Cork and it was clear to all that it wasn’t even a contest after 10 minutes. Even though Tipperary lost John O Dwyer early on against Limerick, it never looked like they were going to lose that game and again Tipperary won without having to exert themselves. Then in the Munster Final, Waterford just didn’t show up and the game was won well before the end. Their one serious performance to date came in the semi-final against Galway and the pleasing aspect for Michael Ryan will be that he now has serious options for his forward division.

All-Ireland Final Day is a special day and occasion. The whole GAA fraternity will be tuned in to see can Tipp topple Kilkenny or can the Cats bag another hat-trick of titles. The build up at training can be different. There is gear to be got, tickets to be handled – and all the while you must keep your focus on training and the task at hand.

I believe Michael Fennelly’s loss could be the deciding factor. Not having Fennelly results in one less option that Brian Cody has around the rest of the field and this could be the downfall of Kilkenny. It may be a case of robbing Peter to pay Paul unless he can unearth another All Ireland Final hero.

Tipperary should sneak over the line for a first title since 2010. It’s going to be a serious game though.

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