Can Tipperary kill off Cats?

Can Tipperary kill off Cats?

SURROUNDED by the media in the tunnels of O’Moore Park on Saturday evening, the Dublin manager was attempting to hold his composure after seismically shifting the hurling landscape by beating Kilkenny.

They had let a massive chance slip by a week earlier when TJ Reid equalised at the death but, while the same man repeated the feat after three minutes to make it 0-1 apiece on the second turn of the carousel, at no other stage were the Cats on a par in this 1-16 to 0-16 defeat.

Dublin’s second bite at the cherry was all the sweeter for Daly after being told about how they would face a backlash, and that their chance was gone. But what’s meant for you won’t pass you by.

“If I got a euro for everyone said that 'pity' to me between last Sunday night and today, I'd have a few bob,” Daly quipped. “So, we couldn't get wrapped up in that sort of negativity. We'd to stay positive for ourselves and try to do that as a management.”

Composure was the key and Kilkenny provided a tricky lock to unpick. The damage, of course, was done in a first half where Dublin at one stage led by five points.

They had never quite got to a one-goal safety margin in the drawn game and, when they came within a poorly-struck effort of establishing just that, Kilkenny cleared and scored a goal at the other end. There was no such retort here and, until Richie Power was repositioned to centre-forward after giving midfield a go, there was little suggestion of a goal threat.

Power drove at the Dublin defence with an old familiarity but it’s a facet of Kilkenny’s play that has been largely blotted out in recent games. Offaly fouled their way out of those goal-getting scenarios but Dublin, with Johnny McCaffrey sweeping in front of his half-back line, would not allow it either.

Yes they pulled down men when they needed to too but cynicism is a pre-requisite for any team deciding they will not be an also-ran. If Dublin gave away 16 placed ball chances (including ’65s), didn’t Kilkenny offer 14 of the same to the eventual winners too.

Brian Cody has had to rejig his performers more than once in the last year or so.

Richie Hogan started at midfield in the drawn All-Ireland final when Michael Rice was out injured and, after the experiment with Power didn’t work, he tried Aidan ‘Taggy’ Fogarty out there for much of the second half. Of all the Cats, Taggy is one you’d least likely suspect for the job.

Irrespective of who, the loss to injury of Michael Fennelly and the absence of form for Rice has given Kilkenny a major headache ahead of the meeting with Tipperary — for whom midfielder Brendan Maher has been on fire for the most part this year.

Then here’s the rub, both are coming into this game on the back of a provincial loss. Tipperary didn’t know where they would play next but a period of introspection after their worrying lack of bite against Limerick was the more important what ahead of the who.

Should Fennelly remain absent, as Cody insisted after the Dublin defeat, then Tipperary simply must win in Nowlan Park. Not just because of who is missing for Kilkenny, including the greatest of them all in Henry Shefflin, but because of what’s left.

A disjointed team.

Dublin looked to have Kilkenny’s measure from a long way out in the first game and it was likewise in the replay. The point being that the Cats have looked eminently beatable throughout this affair and that came off the back of a comfortable win over Offaly, that they at times still made hard work of.

What would fix their malaise?

Well, Fennelly and Shefflin, and what they would bring to not just the team, but their team-mates. The sort of drive, composure and creativity that wouldn’t have seen Dublin create four chances more in each game. There were times when Kilkenny players looked up at the posts and it was as if the target had shrunken.

In the first half alone, Wally Walsh dropped one in Gary Maguire’s paw when in space, Power fired wide under little pressure, Tommy Walsh had the freedom of Portlaoise but showed all the composure of a man on death row when skewing off to the right, before an unmarked Taggy shot wide after his marker Niall Corcoran had lost his hurley.

That the league final took place at Nowlan Park could yet prove a blessing in disguise for a Tipperary team that were soundly outplayed there. Granted, there were just three points between the teams but that was a white lie on the scoreboard — in truth, Michael Fennelly’s power meant the Cats looked six or seven superior.

The bonus for the Premier County is that they know exactly what sort of atmosphere awaits them and have plenty to atone for. Those 18 points, that league final too.

The Lar Corbett v Jackie Tyrrell saga will continue too.

The Kilkenny defender has been struggling with a quad injury and was taken off with five minutes to go against Dublin for Padraig Walsh (brother of Tommy). If Corbett was ever going to be fired up for a game, considering what happened in the league final when he and JJ Delaney were red carded, now is the time.

After the possum-playing antics of telling Tyrrell that “he didn’t want it” in 2011 before the circus of last year’s semi-final, now is the time to bury the demons in their own front lawn.

Kilkenny won’t give up though, no matter who is on the field. It just doesn’t seem to ever creep into a Cody team. They may lose from time to time, and their aura of invincibility has weakened hugely, but they keep fighting.

When Galway smashed them last year in the first half of the Leinster final, they still went out and won the second half. Dublin burst a weakened Kilkenny in the 2011 league final, but the response was an 11-point vengeance in Leinster. If Tipp aren’t ready — as the weren’t in this year’s league final and against a gnashing Limerick side — they may well fall flat again, as has been their wont in recent times.

The 1B finalists have knocked both of the 1A finalists out of the provinces, and the championship is anyone’s now. Like Daly, we can hardly look for the excitement.


Follow Shane Stapleton on Twitter: @Shanesaint