This is shaping up to be some All-Ireland hurling final with two in-form teams clashing. Tipperary looked very impressive in the semi-final the way they disposed of Cork.
Cork were off-form a bit, but I thought there was great hunger about Tipp’s hurling. They have the bit between their teeth now, and they will take stopping.
When a team gets into that sort of form, it is hard to stop them. If you remember back to 2010 Tipp were beaten in the first round and people thought they were gone. They got going and built up good momentum as the season moved along, and they finished up as champions.
There is a somewhat similar look about them now. They are coming along nicely. They looked very good in the semi-final.
They played like a team that finally believes fully in itself. They looked sharp. They looked confident. The mood seems to be that they can’t wait to get at Kilkenny, who have dominated them over the past few years. That has to be a powerful motivating factor.
They will be savage to get at Kilkenny.
Having said all that, Kilkenny are going well. Limerick in the semi-final was a massive test. The conditions were awful. It wasn’t always about hurling, but whatever was needed, Kilkenny dug deep and found it. You like to see a team playing like that.
You don’t always have to win playing nice hurling. Conditions can sometimes change the whole challenge a match puts to the players, and the way Kilkenny coped with the awful weather and fiercely committed and talented opponents was hugely encouraging.
It was a nice way to qualify for the final - not playing fancy hurling; knowing you had work to do but with a spirit that was rock solid.
A number of the players know they can up their game. They will have to. I don’t think the performance against Limerick, gritty and all as it was, would be good enough to beat Tipperary. I think deep down the players know that.
Kilkenny and Tipperary have met so often in big games in recent times people wonder will Tipp’s luck change. We have beaten them so often you think their turn will come, but that’s not necessarily the way things work.
Every game is a separate contest that can throw up its own deciding factors. Tipp won’t dwell too much on the fact that it might be ‘their turn’ this time. They known they will have to earn every inch they gain against a team that has taken work-rate to a new level.
Tipperary have been wounded so often by Kilkenny now they will just let rip. The two sets of backs are very strong. I see this final coming down to someone stepping out of the ranks and making the difference.
Most likely that will be a forward. Someone will have one of those day that could make them the star of the show. Kilkenny should take on Tipp man for man. That is the way to beat them.
You can’t stand off them. Look at what they did to Cork when they were given too much room. Kilkenny have been warned.
We will have to keep a close watch on full-forward, Seamus Callanan, who has been in great form for Tipp. He is facing J.J. (Delaney). I don’t think he has ever gotten the better of J.J. That is one part of the overall package of this final that I am looking forward to watching unfold.
An All-Ireland final can take on a life on its own. Look at the way Walter Walsh changed things a few years ago. I remember my first All-Ireland in 2000 I was only 19. I just went out and played away. I didn’t feel a bit of pressure. The guys who can do that on the day are the lucky ones.
When you are there a few years there can be pressure on you, but our lads are used to it all by this stage. Kilkenny just can’t let anything but the 70 minutes occupy their minds. Don’t get too caught up in the whole thing.
There is pressure, but they can’t think too much about it. All the Kilkenny lads are exceptional hurlers. They know what they have, what they have to offer. They know too the pain of defeat, despite all they have won.
Don’t give Tipp a split second on the ball at any time, in any part of the field would be my simple advice to the Kilkenny players. No player likes to be dogged, dogged, dogged for 70 minutes. Constant pressure like that can break your concentration, make you make errors.
Kilkenny won the National League and the Leinster championship. Winning the All-Ireland would complete what would be a massive hat-trick. At the start of the year, few people had hope that Kilkenny would get back to the All-Ireland final.
The players have turned it into a great year so far. They look stronger, meaner and more hungry than last year. They will be hard to beat. As a Kilkenny man I hope we can win.
But this is a fierce hard game to call. There are so many good hurlers, potential match winners on both sides it is hard to know. I am hopeful, very hopeful!