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Talking Points: Kilkenny v Tipperary, All-Ireland SHC semi-final

Here are some of the key issues that arose after yesterday’s All-Ireland senior hurling semi-final.

Kilkenny's Kieran Joyce and Brian O'Meara of Tipperary.
Kilkenny's Kieran Joyce and Brian O'Meara of Tipperary.
Image: INPHO/James Crombie

Tipperary’s tactics up front
It is the nature of sport that it will keep evolving and challengers will always attempt to unearth fresh ploys in an effort to topple champions. That essentially was the thinking behind Tipperary’s attacking configuration yesterday but the central tenet of it was utterly bizarre. Two years ago Lar Corbett took Kilkenny down by blasting three shots to the net yet yesterday he was reduced to a sideshow role in attack, trailing Tommy Walsh around the Croke Park pitch with the thinking seemingly that the Tullaroan defender would be nullified and would eventually snap.

Neither happened of course. Granted it worked to an extent in the first-half as Tipperary edged ahead by a point and while Walsh was peripheral in that half, he because more prominent in the second-half. Pa Bourke’s free taking was excellent but he looked confused with the task that he was asked to perform in open play. Jackie Tyrrell relished the physical combat and Kilkenny profited as Brian Hogan mopped up possession throughout.

It became foolish and unseemly long before the finish yet Tipperary’s attacking strategy must have been devised by their management rather than a solo run that the players went on. There were other issues as well. Why did they not run at the Kilkenny rearguard in an effort to utilize their pace? Why was Patrick ‘Bonner’ Maher left marooned at full-forward for so long rather than returned to his natural habitat in the half-forward line?

After the criticism they received after last year’s All-Ireland decider, it appears that Tipperary sought to outwit Kilkenny but it backfired spectacularly and they suffered their worst championship defeat since 1897 as they lost out 4-24 to 1-15.

Kilkenny display their ruthlessness again
How much more praise can we shower upon this Kilkenny side? The lethargic bunch that featured against Galway in the Leinster final are a distant memory now. There was persuasive evidence in the second-half of their All-Ireland quarter-final against Limerick that they were tapping into a strong vein of form and they reaffirmed that in a powerful fashion yesterday. At half-time they would have been privately fuming to be behind on the scoreboard given that they had controlled the opening period and that anger was unleashed in the second-half.

In the 41st minute the match was evenly balanced at 1-12 apiece but then Kilkenny fired 3-8 over the next 21 minutes with a Pa Bourke’s 65 the solitary reply that Tipperary could muster. It was a phenomenal display, underpinned by that famous streak of ruthlessness when they were on top. They kept piling on the pressure with Aidan Fogarty, Eoin Larkin and TJ Reid all surging through for the kill to strike goals rather than tapping over points. The gap that emerged between the sides in the space of two years is extraordinary and a testament to the endurance of the Kilkenny players and management.

Aidan Fogarty and TJ Reid issue powerful statements
Brian Cody spoke after yesterday’s match of how his players are keenly aware that their inter-county careers are fleeting periods in their lives that they must capitalize on fully. The action on the pitch had seen Aidan Fogarty and TJ Reid best express that ideal. Fogarty’s form had dipped in recent years, enjoying fruitless afternoons personally against the Tipperary defence in 2009 and 2010, sidelined with a broken ankle last season and missing this year’s league final with a wrist injury. But yesterday he scaled the heights he had attained in the 2006 All-Ireland final with a terrific display. He built on his form against Limerick, hit 1-3 from play and is back as an attacking lynchpin in the team.

Aidan Fogarty scoring his goal for Kilkenny during yesterday’s game. Pic: INPHO/Donall Farmer

TJ Reid has always sought to make that jump in the Kilkenny squad, from a premier attacking substitute to a permanent fixture in the half-forward line. He has shown flashes of genius before like his pair of 0-4 hauls in the 2008 and 2010 All-Ireland hurling finals. Yet yesterday was different. Reid has never looked like he has fully convinced Brian Cody of his merits to be an established starter but he changed the game against Limerick with his intelligent distribution and yesterday he was magnificent. He scored 2-2 with both his goals rewards for bravery and opportunism, lofted over the best point of the match in the second-half and generally caused havoc in the Tipperary rearguard.

The outlook for Tipperary
On the night of September 11th 2010, the future of hurling looked to have assumed a blue and gold hue. Six days after the Tipperary senior side’s stirring All-Ireland triumph, there was a homecoming in Thurles as the county’s U21 side blitzed Galway by 25 points to take All-Ireland honors. There was a carnival atmosphere in Semple Stadium that night with the county’s supporters giddy with excitement for their future prospects, given the streams of underage talent that they seemingly possessed.

But yesterday was proof that optimism has unravelled. There were some mitigating factors in the defeat with Conor O’Mahony battling injury before the game, Eoin Kelly unable to be brought on due to injury as well and the team’s attacking tactics backfired notably. Yet the scale of the loss is extremely wounding as in less than two years, Tipperary have seen a 26-point swing in their games against Kilkenny. In 2003 they suffered a similarly heavy defeat against Kilkenny in an All-Ireland semi-final and slipped into the abyss for a few years. They must avoid a recurrence of that.

There is immense talent in their current squad but there is a danger they could fall into the same trap as the Tipperary vintage of 2001 in only claiming one All-Ireland title. The management issue is also vexing with Declan Ryan’s term drawing to a close and this defeat set to generate pressure on him to step down. But is there viable contenders out there to replace him?

Kilkenny’s post Leinster final recovery
Brian Cody’s glittering managerial CV lacks a backdoor All-Ireland triumph and he will now seek to achieve what eluded him in 2004 when after bouncing back from their Leinster final loss to Wexford, Cork bettered Kilkenny emphatically in the final.

Their cause since this year’s provincial decider has been undoubtedly aided by the return of key figures to their side – JJ Delaney anchoring the defence, Michael Fennelly back to power their midfield and Aidan Fogarty introduced to fire things up front.  They are in a better place and in a better mood now ahead of the September 9th showdown. Motivation will not be an issue as they have a serious grievance to settle with Galway after their meltdown in July.

For Galway trying to set themselves right to take down Kilkenny for a second time is an enormous challenge. They will face a team unrecognizable from the Leinster final and one who has far greater experience of what an All-Ireland decider entails. In Galway’s favor is the fact that they have a tactically astute management team and Anthony Cunningham will have learnt from yesterday that he must devise a ploy to lock down their defence and draw this game into a tight battle. Will that be sufficient? Right now and after that level of performance yesterday, Kilkenny are firmly in pole position.

Corbett and Ryan back Tipperary’s attacking ploy

TJ Reid: “All week I have been hearing that and as a player you’d be pissed off hearing that.”

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About the author:

Fintan O'Toole

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