Looking for two wins is a tall order, but you never know

For the eleventh time this century (remember, it is still only 14 years old) Kilkenny heads to Croke Park on All-Ireland Sunday.

For the eleventh time this century (remember, it is still only 14 years old) Kilkenny heads to Croke Park on All-Ireland Sunday.

On this occasion the county will be hoping to annex its 35th (senior) and 21st (minor) All-Ireland titles.

Supporters travel in confidence but very conscious that we are meeting neighbours in the senior game who have steadily grown in confidence since their opening round Munster championship loss to Limerick.

We have met our great rivals Tipperary on three occasions in an All-Ireland Final since the turn of the century, with the Cats winning twice (by four and five point margins) to one victory for Tipperary (by an eight point margin).

The rivalry has not ended there, because over the same period the counties have contested four National League Finals with Kilkenny winning each one by an average margin of two points.

Looking at those statistics a Kilkenny v Tipperary All-Ireland Final pairing was always a strong possibility in 2014. With only one win (in the 2010 All-Ireland Final) against six for Kilkenny, it is very clear that our opponents will not lack for motivation.

Prior to the Limerick game perhaps some supporters were thinking of the All-Ireland Final. That was certainly not the case with the players because anything less than a clear focus on that semi-final and Kilkenny would be having a free afternoon next Sunday.

Heading into the cauldron that is Croke Park on All-Ireland Final day is the ultimate experience for every GAA player. It is the stuff of dreams for many young boys.

When it comes to experience of All-Ireland Final day the Kilkenny players hold the advantage. As the players run out through the Hogan Stand tunnel they will sense the special occasion and the responsibility which rests on their shoulders. Such occasions are for the mentally tough.

The fact that Kilkenny has so much experience in its ranks helps to steady the nerves for those appearing in their first or second final. A quiet word from Henry or Tommy as the crowd gets restless before throw-in can be a big help to the newcomers.

The media press night in the lead up to the final is long over and the Kilkenny players have been well outside the reach of any media person for the past two weeks.

We regularly hear that players ignore the media but I doubt if that is really the case. Players may not purchase a daily newspaper, but such is the glut of social media outlets that it is virtually impossible to escape the hype.

Some county teams engage specialists to help players cope with the hype. Lots of players are comfortable engaging with the media but for the most part this is now rigidly controlled by team management.

Some control was certainly necessary but maybe matters have gone too far as many inter-county players are virtually unknown outside their own county.

The players need understanding employers and work colleagues in the lead-up to an All-Ireland final. The day job must be done but such occasions do bring a sense of great excitement to every players work place.

Where players have to cross the county boundary into their opponents’ territory in the lead up to the final, it can become a little more awkward.

The help and support of family plus the local club players and members is also important. Everyone is hoping for success, but most especially that the day will go well for their colleague.

Whether it is in Kilkenny or Tipperary, no player will depart for Croke Park on All-Ireland final morning without the best wishes of everyone in the county.

Coping with the long interval between leaving Kilkenny and throw-in time can be difficult for some. This is especially relevant for the minors who are appearing in a final for the first time.

I am sure every Kilkenny player will be hoping that we do not get a repeat of the dreadful weather experienced at the semi-final against Limerick. Such weather can sometimes make the outcome somewhat of a lottery.

From a players perspective, once the game starts it will pass very quickly. I recall the late Ollie Walsh saying just that to the players prior to the 1991 final.

Many were playing in their first final, and the game seemed to pass quickly.

Both Kilkenny teams have prepared well and are in the best possible shape to win the two finals. The minors faces a real challenge against what appears to be a strong Limerick side.

I like the steady progress Kilkenny has been making. Maybe the Waterford result was a little flattering at the finish but Kilkenny was by far the better side.

There has been much hype about this Limerick team and results have shown that it is justified. They brushed Galway aside very easily but Kilkenny is a far better team than the Westerners.

It is going to be a very tough task for the young Cats but if they continue their upward momentum they may well get the day off to a good start.

The second game could go either way. Tipperary was terrific against Cork, but how much store should we place on the feeble efforts from the Leesiders?

Kilkenny had to dig very deep against Limerick and one could not but be impressed at the manner of the victory which was achieved by incredible effort and commitment.

The average margin between the sides in the last seven championship and league games has been less than four points. It will be every bit as tight next Sunday.

Tipperary comes to Croke Park next Sunday brimming with confidence and so they should be after sailing through the Qualifiers.

But, somehow, I cannot see our neighbours being allowed the same space and opportunities they enjoyed the last day.

Kilkenny’s awesome work ethic, focus and determination just might be enough to see them over the line. But, maybe we should not rule out a replay such is the tight margin between the best two hurling sides in the country