3 key battles that could decide Sunday's All-Ireland hurling final

These individual matchups could go a long way towards shaping Sunday’s battle for Liam MacCarthy.

Seamus Callanan and JJ Delaney JJ Delaney held Seamus Callanan scoreless from play in the league final earlier this year. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Seamus Callanan v JJ Delaney

INCONSISTENCY IS A word that seems to follow Seamus Callanan like a bad smell.

Eamon O’Shea’s decision to move him inside from the half-forwards this season appears to have been a revelation. Callanan has scored 7-38 so far in the Championship and put himself front and centre in the conversation for the All Stars and Hurler of the Year.

But there are are still questions about whether or not he can impose himself and dictate Tipp’s attack when the going gets tough.

The Drom & Inch man will be put to the test if he’s up against six-time All Star JJ Delaney on Sunday. Delaney didn’t play in the counties’ epic league encounter back in February and Callanan ran riot, finishing with 3-6 (3-1 from play).

But when Delaney resumed at full-back in the league final, Callanan was much quieter. He was held scoreless from play — the only one of Tipp’s front eight not to score from play — although he did contribute 0-9 from placed balls.

Niall McMorrow with Richie Hogan Richie Hogan has been the outstanding midfielder of the Championship so far. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Richie Hogan v James Woodlock

RICHIE HOGAN AS a midfielder – who would have thought it?

Brian Cody’s decision to reinvent one of his most dangerous inside forwards was part masterstroke, part necessity but when you’re working with a hurler as sublimely talented as Hogan, the risks are minimal.

His performances have established him as the odds-on favourite to be crowned Hurler of the Year, a far cry from the drawn All-Ireland final against Galway in 2012 when he lined out opposite Iarla Tannian in the middle and came off second best.

Sunday is likely to pit him in an intriguing battle against James Woodlock, a man who can graft to win dirty ball against the best of them.

Last month’s semi-final against Cork was his first Croke Park start since the 2009 final, and his battle back to the top after breaking his leg in seven places is a testament to his determination.

Cork’s tactics played into Tipp’s hands, allowing Woodlock and partner Shane McGrath to dominate. If he’s up against Hogan, expect a very different test.

Brendan Maher and Padraic Maher celebrate Brendan and Padraic Maher celebrate after the semi-final win over Cork. Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

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Colin Fennelly v Brendan Maher

IF IT COMES to pass, Fennelly v Maher will be one of the most fascinating face-offs on Sunday and could go a long way to deciding the game.

A standout among the Kilkenny forwards this year, Fennelly has posted 2-16 making him the Cats’ top scorer from open play.

His role on Sunday will be intriguing. Will he venture out the field to help limit Tipp’s supply into Callanan and Bubbles O’Dwyer and, if he does, how does Maher respond?

Eamon O’Shea’s decision to name the Borrisileigh man as captain this season has proved to be an astute one and Maher has led by example to mark himself out as a sure-fire All Star in the half-back line.

Midfield may be his more natural home but this season has marked him out as a rock in the Tipp rearguard and that’s where the Premier will need him most.

‘Winning a tenth All-Ireland for Henry would be monumental’ – Richie Power

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Niall Kelly

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