Martin Comerford was in the thick of the action this time last year training with Kilkenny for the All-Ireland hurling final. He has since brought the curtain down on a glittering career that earned him every honour the game had to offer. This time he will join the ’People team in Croke Park.
First of all Kilkenny have to be congratulated on reaching another All-Ireland hurling final. It took some strength of character to pick it all up again after last year’s defeat to get back to Croke Park, and to a National League final on the way too.
The players have shown yet again they are super competitors. Appearing in a sixth final on-the-trot is extraordinary, wonderful, magnificent, use whatever word you like.
I have now moved from the role of player to spectator and I am really excited about Sunday’s final against Tipperary. It has the makings of a super game, given the terrifically talented players involved, the traditional rivalry between the counties and the background that it is the third clash in-a-row.
With the score in finals standing at 1-1 at the moment, that adds to the expectations and wonder about the match. This is a massive game for Kilkenny. They are on a serious revenge mission for last year.
The players are not going out to try and win last year’s final. They know that.
But the defeat in it will influence their mind-set and up the determination to do better. The background with this group is that when they have been beaten by a particular team, be it Galway, Dublin, Cork, Tipp or whoever they just want to put the record straight the next time they play them.
That has been the way. That will be part of the drive on Sunday.
Take this year’s League final against Dublin, for example. Kilkenny were blown out of the water. When walking out of Croke Park that day I said to myself: “Dublin will pay for that.” They did when it came to the Leinster final.
Cats will be fiercely driven
The tendency with these Kilkenny players has been if they get caught or beaten they are fiercely driven against the same opposition the next time. I get the impression that sort of feeling is bubbling up in the squad.
It will take an almighty effort to beat what is an excellent Tipperary team, a team that has been growing over a few years, a team that knows how to and wants to win. They have pace, power, youth, the whole package. They have a forward line that is able to create and score.
They have a powerful backline with Padraic Maher, Conor O’Mahony, Paul Curran and so on. Brendan Maher, who played in last year’s final, will be a huge loss but they still have class all over the place.
The change in management hasn’t changed things in Tipp. The transition from Liam Sheedy to Declan Ryan has gone well, and it doesn’t appear as if the team has lost anything in terms of focus or direction.
They are heading back to Croke Park with the added experience of having won an All-Ireland final. They beat Kilkenny in it too. They have to believe they can do it again.
Tipperary being Tipperary won’t be afraid of Kilkenny. They will be well up for the challenge. With the players they have – Lar Corbett, Eoin Kelly, Noel McGrath and so on – they feel they can beat anyone. They are formidable opponents.
Fans are set for a serious battle.
This will definitely be Kilkenny’s toughest challenge of the season. They played Wexford, Dublin and Waterford in the championship, but with due respect to them all, Tipp are better.
Tipp got a wake-up call against Dublin in the semi-final. For me, the Dublin performance that day was their best of the year, indeed for many a year. That wake-up call will help Tipp.
Thought life was great
The way they powered through Munster possibly left them a bit vulnerable thinking that life was great. If Tipp were going to get caught by being over confident that was the day it was going to happen.
They have been warned now. Kilkenny beat Dublin well in Leinster. That point won’t be lost on Tipp.
This final will be all about effort and concentration for the entire 70 minutes. It will be tough and demanding. Players will get tired before the finish.
For me, it will take the involvement of 20 players on each side to decide this final. As players get tired, or some just have an off day, get injured or whatever, management will look to the bench for the players who can tilt the balance.
The subs will have a major impact. It happened last year. Benny Dunne was a vital sub for Tipp last year. The Kilkenny subs had better be ready. There is a part for them, a possible star role, in this final.
A lot of Kilkenny people thought after the handy enough semi-final win over Waterford that everything was grand heading into the final. A semi-final is there to be won. That’s about it. How you play doesn’t matter.
Getting to the final, and into the position they are in, is what it is all about.
Some of the Kilkenny players may have miles on the clock, but the hunger, the drive, the will to win with the like of Tommy (Walsh), J.J. (Delaney), Noel (Hickey), Henry (Shefflin) and so on will overshadow any miles on the clock or whatever. These guys are phenomenal competitors.
These guys would all but die to get at a ball, to win a puck-out, get in a block, whatever. From my experience of playing with them I know they will go through anything to win.
Tipp people sure of victory
This is a fascinating final. When I was in Tipp earlier in the year people were thinking they were sure things for the All-Ireland. After the semi-final against Dublin things might have changed, but only a little. They had to substitute half the forwards so that might have brought people down to earth.
In Kilkenny the public aren’t as confident as they were last year. Things are low key. The players’ training behind closed doors is a good idea. Maybe that should have been done last year. I know the public might miss watching training, but last year it was a bit of a circus.
Taking the hype out of things won’t do the players any harm. They can have a laugh and joke together and take things at their ease.
Kilkenny are perfectly primed for a massive effort. I expect a major performance from a couple of players. I won’t mention them, but I feel they are ready to explode in Croke Park.
You will get the performances from Tommy, J.J., Henry and others but there are a few more I think can be game changers.
We will need 12 or 13 lads going well, hitting the 8 out of 10 performance level at least. The referee will have a bearing on things. Brian Gavin tends to let play run. That will suit Kilkenny. A couple of decisions last year went against Kilkenny.
Hopefully Kilkenny will get the breaks. They have the men to take advantage, big day men who can inspire a win.
Finally, I would like to wish my club colleague and team captain, Brian Hogan the very best. He carries the best wishes of everyone in the O’Loughlin Gaels club with him.
We are hoping he will bring the McCarthy Cup back to the club for the second time. We are very proud of him, and we are confident he will inspire all around him.