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Dublin: 8 °C Tuesday 26 March, 2019

A week on from Tipperary's triumph, 5 questions after the 2016 hurling season

Are the Premier on the cusp of domination and will Brian Cody perform surgery on this Kilkenny team?

1. Can Tipperary go on to dominate hurling?

IT SEEMS THE dust had hardly settled on Tipperary’s All-Ireland final victory and the conversation turned to whether this team would go to dominate for the next few years.

Brendan Maher with the Liam McCarth cup Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Perhaps that’s because the public are so sick of the vice-like grip Kilkenny have held on the Liam MacCarthy since the turn of the century. Or maybe it’s because of the talent and age-profile of this Tipperary group with a promising scattering of minors on the horizon.

There are a few big differences to their last All-Ireland win six years ago. Firstly, Kilkenny are no longer the beast of old. And secondly, Michael Ryan isn’t going anywhere. That provides a continuity that was lacking when Liam Sheedy left in 2010.

The youthful injection of Seamus Kennedy, Ronan Maher, Michael Breen, Dan McCormack and John McGrath into the starting XV gave Tipperary a hard-working edge that turned them the most outstanding team in the country.

“We are going to have to refocus,” Michael Ryan said in the team hotel the day after their All-Ireland win. “We will certainly keep our feet on the ground. We are renowned in Tipp for getting carried away with ourselves when we win – we’ll see how we get on with that.”

Former star player Eoin Kelly has already predicted a heavier pre-Christmas training program for the Premier and a curtailed period of celebration. Tipp are making all the right noises, but it will be quite a while before we know for sure if things will be different this time around.

Brian Cody Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

2. Will Brian Cody take an axe to this Kilkenny team?

The hallmark of Brian Cody’s genius has been his ability to rebuild his teams while consistently contending for All-Ireland honours. This winter, he’s facing into one of his biggest challenges as Kilkenny boss.

A sobering All-Ireland defeat to Tipperary highlighted a number of flaws in the Kilkenny team. The spine of Cody’s team requires major surgery, with centre-back and midfield the most pressing concerns. He needs to introduce more ball winners into the middle third, as well as some scorers to take the burden off TJ Reid and Richie Hogan.

“And there are players on our panel who haven’t been seen yet who will be top players, and quickly,” Cody said a week ago. “You can rest assured of that.”

Before we get to new players, the return of Michael Fennelly, Ger Aylward and James Maher from injury will immediately strengthen the team. Given Kieran Joyce’s dip in form this year, there’s every chance Cody will look to mould Rob Lennon into a regular at No. 6.

A number of the 2014 All-Ireland winning minor crop helped Kilkenny’s intermediates to All-Ireland victory this year. Luke Scanlon, Richie Leahy, John Walsh and Jason Cleere are youngsters that could be blooded next spring.

Reconstructing this team is a challenge Cody will relish.

Conor Whelan with Shane Bennett Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

3. Can Galway or Waterford take the final step?

Galway and Waterford have every reason to be optimistic heading into 2017. Both were unlucky to come out the wrong side of their respective semi-finals and both appear to be teams on the up.

Galway and Waterford contested the All-Ireland U21 final on Saturday, indicating a healthy pool of young talent emerging in either county. Galway are big and powerful with skillful hurlers littered throughout the squad.

Waterford have a precious generation of young hurlers breaking through. They’ve got the right age profile to challenge for All-Irelands for the next 5-8 years at least.

If Derek McGrath can continue to build a team around the talented core of Austin Gleeson, Tadhg De Burca, Jamie Barron and Pauric Mahony, we’ll be seeing an awful lot of this team over the coming seasons.

Davy Fitzgerald Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

4. Will we see something different from Clare?

Clare’s approach under Davy Fitzgerald yielded enormous success in ’13, but since then they flattered to deceive in the championship.

It’s been three long years for a side we assumed would be competing at hurling’s top table since they lifted the Liam MacCarthy.

While they might have some of the most gifted hurlers in the land, Fitzgerald’s reluctance to play more conventional hints at one of two things: A) He was a lack of faith in his forward unit to win their own ball, especially in the air; or B) he doesn’t trust his defence to go man-on-man.

Whichever it is, Fitzgerald needs to try something different next year or that victory in ’13 will continue to look like an anomaly.

Spectators look on Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

5. Is the ‘new-era’ of hurling over before it started?

From a tactical standpoint, hurling finds itself in an interesting place. Tipperary’s All-Ireland final win was a victory for the purists and might be pointing the way to the future.

Cork, Clare and Limerick all employed sweepers to shore up their defences this year, but it’s no coincidence that all three teams endured short summers. Unlike Gaelic football, defensive tactics in the small ball code will always struggle to negate the power of a strong attack.

Meanwhile at the far end, sides that play with seven defenders and crowd the middle third will always struggle to outscore their opponents at the far end. The sight of Shane O’Donnell fighting a losing battle against two or three defenders should be enough to convince managers that this isn’t the way.

Using a sweeper in hurling might be enough to make a team competitive, but it’s a case of attempting not to fail, rather than trying to succeed. That approach ultimately won’t be successful when it comes to playing against the Tipperarys, Kilkennys and Galways of this world.

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This stunning Shelly Farrell goal was worthy of winning any All-Ireland final

Another All-Ireland for the Fennelly family as Keeva and Kilkenny nick intermediate cracker

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About the author:

Kevin O'Brien

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