TIPPERARY and Kilkenny occupy reversed roles heading into Sunday’s All-Ireland final relative to 12 months ago.
On that occasion the Cats were the champions, the roaring favourites. Now Tipp are the holders of the McCarthy Cup, the bookies choice, the team to beat.
“No doubt they (Tipp) are the team of the moment,” concurred Kilkenny selector, Martin Fogarty at the Kilkenny press night. “Last year we were that team, the champions four times in-a-row. Tipp are champions now and rightly so. They were last year’s under-21 champions too. They have a hugely talented panel.
“We are the underdogs. We want to take that trophy from them. That won’t be easy. They have absolute belief now. That is not saying they never had it, but they certainly have it now.”
Winning an All-Ireland, he insisted, changed the mind set of players. If they handled it properly, it gave them more confidence.
“And confidence is key to any sport,” argued the Erin’s Own (Castlecomer) clubman. “Victory depends on how the individuals handle it. Confidence is crucial in that you believe you can win. You don’t panic when the pressure comes on. You keep working believing you can win anyway.
“The flip side of that is over confidence. If winning dilutes your work rate or approach to the game you are going to suffer for you confidence. Who knows until you play matches how teams react to a big win?”
His view of last year’s shoot-out was simple. Tipp hit Kilkenny hard, and very hard, when they scored goals. A goal against you in an All-Ireland final was a big hit. Kilkenny conceded four last year.
“With 60 minutes gone there were only a couple of points in it,” the Firoda national school principal recalled. “We had to work very well to keep in with Tipp at that stage. Definitely they were hurling stronger, but had we gotten a break who knows what might have happened.
“We got the breaks at crucial times the year before. When you are hit for a goal in an All-Ireland final it takes serious willpower and strength of mind to recover. I would commend our players on the way they took three hits before the last one in 2010 and they were still there battling.”
This time things are different in Kilkenny. Training is largely behind closed doors. Unlike last year when a circus like atmosphere built up around the injury concerns of Henry Shefflin and John Tennyson, things are much more low key.
“From our end nothing has changed really,” said Mr Fogarty, who picks the team with manager Brian Cody and Michael Dempsey. “The players are preparing well, 100%.
Small things matter
“Our approach, as always, is to get ourselves ready, get ourselves as good as we can. The opposition can look after themselves. I suppose when you are facing the team that beat you that you are looking for retribution.”
Even in All-Ireland finals, the smallest of things can make a biggest difference. Kilkenny, he said, tried to concentrate on the small things. All inter-county players, no matter where they came from, were able to play hurling, had plenty of ability.
“It is the attention to detail that can make the difference,” said the former All-Ireland winning under-21 manager. “If someone is casual going into a match or training at the level at which our lads play they will slip up. It is like the top sprinters. If they are the smallest bit off, a part of a second, they won’t win. It is the same with hurling.
“No one can predict how a game might develop. You plan as best you can, for as many eventualities as you can, but in the end it could all come down to a lucky or unlucky break or two,” Mr Fogarty insisted. “We will be as ready as we can be going into the final. Nothing will be spared in the drive for victory.”