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INPHO/Cathal Noonan Tipperary's Paul Curran at a press event in The Horse and Jockey Hotel last week.
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Curran relishing hurling rivalry with Cats
Hailing from Mullinahone has lead the Tipperary captain to savour battles with near neighbours Kilkenny.

IN THE AFTERMATH of their Munster final triumph over Waterford last month, Paul Curran returned to the sanctuary of his club.

A fortnight after that game he tasted honours in the South Tipperary senior hurling final, at the heart of the defensive effort at centre-back as Mullinahone defeated Carrick Swans by 1-17 to 2-9. It’s a decade since Mullinahone won their first and only Tipperary senior hurling crown but as they progress to county stages of this year’s championship, there is renewed optimism in the club.

And in a neat quirk the Tipperary senior hurling captain readily admits that it is the input of a Kilkenny man who has helped improve their fortunes. Johnny Kennedy, who hails from Callan a ten minute drive away over the Kilkenny border, presided over the fortunes of the Mullinahone minor team that won the club’s first ever county title in that grade on a Saturday afternoon last November.

That particular weekend saw plenty milestones for Curran as he got married on the Friday and lifted the Tipperary IFC crown on the Sunday on a team that also included his three brothers Niall, Alan and Sean.

Now Kennedy is at the helm of the club’s senior team for the 2012 campaign and it is links like that which help generate a feverish anticipation for Curran locally ahead of next Sunday’s All-Ireland semi-final battle with Kilkenny.

“Where I live, it’s right on the border and we have hardcore Kilkenny guys,” Curran told TheScore.ie. ”Johnny Kennedy, our manager of our club team, he’s a staunch Kilkenny man. He’d wish you the best of luck but behind it all, he’s a Kilkenny man and they never change. He was over our minors who won the county final last year and he brought all those lads up along. He’s a real hurling man.”

Curran has grown acquainted with this Kilkenny team in recent years. Their last three All-Ireland final meetings have provided plenty information but this weekend is a different setting on the All-Ireland semi-final stage. The scenario has arisen as a result of Kilkenny’s Leinster final loss to Galway yet that defeat did not surprise Curran.

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“We had played Galway two or three weeks before that and they were really motoring. They were after playing Westmeath and we played them on the Monday or the Tuesday after. We were fresh and they were tired but they still won the game. Kilkenny were going for eight (Leinster’s) in a row. Be it in amateur or professional sports, you can’t stay switched on for that long. They’re not machines. Some day they were going to get caught and it just happened against Galway.

“Kilkenny have never taken a beating like that. But I think JJ and Michael Fennelly were huge losses in the Leinster final. They got back some of their players against Limerick and then beat them. People still said Kilkenny aren’t playing too well but if you beat LImerick by that, you can’t be playing too badly. You can’t say any more about them. Their record has shown and I think they will go down as the best hurling team ever.

“Last year’s final, I don’t remember a whole lot about it. It’s unusual. I remember more about the 2009 one, I don’t know why. I think Kilkenny personally should have won by a bigger margin on the day last year and I think most hurling people will probably agree.”

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