THE OLD ORDER has been restored, for now at least.
Wexford, Clare and Limerick showed promising form during stages of the league, while Galway remain All-Ireland champions, but two of hurling’s traditional powerhouses will contest the first showpiece final of the year.
The pairing of Tipperary and Kilkenny has a familiar look to it. Sunday’s clash at Nowlan Park will be their 10th meeting in a national final between league and championship since 2009.
It’s the first time they’ve met in a league decider since 2014, when the Cats triumphed on a scoreline of 2-25 to 1-27 after extra-time.
The Kilkenny team has undergone significant transformation since that tie. A glance through their team-sheet that day shows the household names that have since stepped aside – JJ Delaney, Jackie Tyrrell, Michael Fennelly, Richie Power and Henry Shefflin.
Brian Cody has accelerated the transition this year by giving significant game-time to quality youngsters such as Paddy Deegan, Conor Delaney, Enda Morrissey, Richie Leahy, Martin Keoghan, John Donnelly and Bill Sheehan.
Kilkenny’s ability to quickly respawn shouldn’t be a major surprise given the dominance of local hurling nursery St Kieran’s on the schools scene. St Kieran’s won their fourth All-Ireland senior A hurling title in five years over the weekend and continue to be a breeding ground for future inter-county talent.
Tipperary boss Michael Ryan shared minutes around the rookies in his squad too, with an eye on the upcoming Munster campaign where squad depth will be significantly tested.
Kildangan defender Alan Flynn is one player who has impressed during the league and he’s looking forward to another crack at Kilkenny.
“It would be nice to get down to Nowlan Park and play Kilkenny,” said Flynn. “We haven’t beaten them (there) in a long time. We didn’t do ourselves justice down there the last time. We kind of let the foot off the pedal again. We’ll watch that and we’ll get ready on Tuesday night again.”
The Premier went down by 2-22 to 2-21 in Nowlan Park back in February, but they didn’t have the services of Padraic Maher, Jason Forde, John McGrath, Cathal Barrett or John O’Dwyer on that occasion.
Flynn is enjoying his run in the team and is determined to hold onto his corner-back place for the summer.
“I’ll stay going as long as I get the jersey, give all I can and hopefully come championship I’ll still be there. We’ve a league final to forward to.
“If you get the jersey, it’s up to you to hold it down. You’re not a bad hurler if you’re in there with Tipperary — that’s the way we look at it. Every day we go up to Dr Morris (Park), we put in the hard work.
“It’s good to have competition. I think we’ve used nearly our whole panel this year. You see Willie Connors, my club man, he came in and had a great game. Whoever gets the jersey, it’s up to yourself whether you want to hold onto it or not.”
The Cats have beaten Tipperary in all three of their league final meetings in the last decade, while the Premier haven’t defeated their rivals in a competitive game at Nowlan Park since 2008.
Breaking that duct and winning a first league crown since 2008 is motivation enough for Ryan’s side, even if there’s also the carrot of a trip to Australia for the winners. The Division 1 champions are set to face Galway in Sydney this November, but Flynn says that prospect hasn’t entered his head.
“I haven’t even thought of it. It would be nice to go to Australia but we need to win a league – it’s been a long time. I think only Seamie Callanan has a league medal.
“I’d like to start the year with a league medal and I know the rest of us would. You see Galway last year, they drove it on after they won the league so that’s the way we want to go.”
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