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John Gardiner column: Old rivals but there's a lot of new faces in their first All-Ireland final
TheScore.ie columnist lost his first championship decider to the Cats in ’03 before winning the next two.

A KILKENNY-TIPPERARY final is something we’re used to but for a bunch of players tomorrow is a new and major occasion.

The counties have met in three of the last five finals but there’s been a fair bit of change since 2011.

A lot of lads are getting ready for their first final. We’ve new Kilkenny names in Holden, Walsh and Kelly. Then Gleeson, Bergin, Barrett, Barry and O’Dwyer have come into the Tipperary team.

It’s a high pressure week before your first final but it’s enjoyable as well. We won the minor with Cork in ’01 and two years later I was getting ready for a senior final. The big thing looking back is that I was probably naive about how huge an occasion it was. The day of a final is completely different. You’re out on the field for longer for the warm up, you have to meet the President and there’s a lot of other distractions as you’re trying to keep your focus.

I was living at home at the time of the ‘03 final. You had people calling to the door sending cards and wishing you best of luck. Supporters meant well but as a player you’re trying not to get into too much detail about the game. To be fair our management were great as they shielded us and controlled the preparations.

It’s interesting how the new Tipp lads are coming into this game in really good form. They experienced a big setback in the Munster championship but they’ve got better and better since.

Eamon O’Shea has really put his stamp on his team yet Tipp have also redefined some aspects of their play. I’d be very impressed with their forward movements. They attack defences and go for the kill when it comes to getting goals. It’s a trait that Kilkenny do brilliantly and Tipp have shown an ability to do the same.

Cork were my fancy to win the semi-final but Tipp were deserving winners. Seamus Callanan’s second goal summed them up. Patrick Maher had the chance to tap over a point but he drew in the Cork defence and did brilliantly to offload to Callanan. The finish was great and that move ended the game.

Callanan has been Tipp’s leading light all year. For all the tests that he has passed this year, Kilkenny is the last and biggest challenge. Kilkenny will single him out, they’ll know he has been the main guy all year and if they quieten him, it’s a serious blow to Tipperary. Kilkenny will have JJ well primed and he’s an experienced campaigner. Callanan has all the tools to trouble him though — he’s tall, physical and quick. It’s a big match-up.

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John Gardiner and Eoin Larkin 3/9/2006 Lorraine O'Sullivan / INPHO Lorraine O'Sullivan / INPHO / INPHO

I think coming into the final, I’d be happier if I was with Tipperary with the teams they were after beating. Brian Cody is the type of manager who seems to win finals once he gets there. I feel Kilkenny’s main focus here will be to look to stay in this game. Kilkenny used to often target teams in the first 20 minutes of a game an All-Ireland final, get a good score up on the board and the match would then peter out. Kilkenny will want to keep this tight and reduce it to a battle. Then when they get to the 40-45 minute mark, they’ll wheel the artillery off the bench.

Kilkenny’s other players are really after taking up the mantle this year. TJ Reid, Richie Hogan and Colin Fennelly have stepped out of the shadow to become the main guys. Michael Fennelly is another huge player for them but I think Colin is the forward that really makes them tick. He’s going to take the most watching.

How will Tipp handle him? It’s going to be interesting. Cody’s theory generally has been to try to push his best forward on to the opposition’s best defender. Could that see them put Fennelly or Reid on Pauric Maher? Against Cork, Maher completely ruled the game. The way he plays, when he wins the ball and goes through contact, he sends in a brilliant long deliveries. That really lifts the Tipp players and supporters. If he’s in trouble though, that’s going to be a big blow for Tipperary as he’s their key defender. Tipp will want him to dominate and could look to Brendan Maher to pick up Colin Fennelly.

Richie Hogan Donall Farmer / INPHO Donall Farmer / INPHO / INPHO

Tipperary’s midfielders enter the game in really good shape. You can’t argue with their display against Cork, they completely dominated. Richie Hogan has been terrific though for Kilkenny. He can take a score, create a score and plays like a forward charging through from the middle. His stature means he’s difficult to handle.

There is a still mental question that Tipperary face when playing Kilkenny. Going back to the league final, Tipperary did most of the hurling but Kilkenny ended up winning the game. They would have been really hurt over that. Tipperary know Kilkenny won’t die and it’s going to take a massive effort to get over the line.

I’m going to stick with Tipperary to win though. I felt whoever would come out of the Cork-Tipperary semi-final would be favourites. Kilkenny have plenty motivation. They’ll want to put in the extra effort for Shefflin and try to get the 10th All-Ireland for him. But I feel Tipperary have showed enough hunger and composure so far. If they get another forward besides Callanan firing, they’ll put enough scores on the board and can finally turn the tables on Kilkenny.

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