There is something very exciting yet worrying about Sunday’s National Hurling League final in Nowlan Park, writes Nickey Brennan.
Kilkenny playing in a final is no surprise. Neither is Tipperary’s involvement as the two great rivals are a couple of steps ahead of the chasing pack at the moment.
I have no doubt that both counties will deliver an exciting contest and I know the game will generate a lot of interest throughout the country. There is always a sense of anticipation whenever the counties meet each other, but for hurling’s sake are they meeting too often?
I know the supporters of both counties are looking forward to another mouth-watering clash, but hurling so badly needs to see new teams challenging for honours. Galway appeared to be well equipped to tackle the Kilkenny and Tipperary dominance, but its inept semi-final display against the Cats has left many wondering if we are witnessing yet another
I hope that is not the case, but the Tribesmen’s mentors must undertake much soul- searching in the coming weeks in advance of their Leinster championship campaign.
Playing the final in Nowlan Park is a bonus for the Kilkenny County Board, but it probably places a little extra pressure on the team. Having to travel to Kilkenny will not unduly discommode Tipperary.
They are very familiar with the Kilkenny venue and the short journey will ensure a big contingent will cross the country
boundary. Kilkenny will start favourites, and deservedly so.
At this stage we know some Kilkenny players will be missing, but the performances from the newcomers has been superb since the start of the year.
The opening two games in the League left Kilkenny’s league title hanging precariously. The Cats’ fortunes took a significant turn for the better on the 18th March with a deserved victory over Waterford in Nowlan Park.
Although Kilkenny won its remaining two outings against Clare and Cork, both victories were hard-earned. The results ensured that the Cats reached the league semi-finals, but more importantly, the displays in both games saw the team playing with renewed confidence.
It was always expected that Tipperary would have a good league, principally due to Eamonn O’Shea’s appointment as Manager. O’Shea is a strong disciplinarian and after a hugely disappointing 2012 a change in attitude and focus was required of the Tipperary players. O’Shea’s influence is already very noticeable.
The Premier County’s start may have been far from impressive, but bar a surprise loss to Waterford, their performances have been excellent.
Of the two semi-finals Tipperary’s game against Dublin was expected to be the more conclusive. Dublin may have won the Division 1B title the previous weekend, but that final against Limerick provided poor fare.
From the throw-in Tipperary looked far superior to the Metropolitans in every facet of the game. Their players were very focused and utterly determined to reach the league final. Dublin on the other hand seemed content to have returned to Division 1A and appeared to treat the game as a challenge before commencing their Leinster championship campaign.
Tipp won the game in a canter. While the opposition was poor, there was a lot to admire about the Tipp players.
We expected a rousing second semi-final, but we were to be disappointed as Kilkenny disposed of Galway with consummate ease. Indeed, but for a couple of excellent saves from the Galway goalkeeper, this would have been a rout.
There was also much to admire about Kilkenny, principally the hunger and desire which has long been the hallmarks of the side. Bigger days may lie ahead this summer for Kilkenny and Tipperary, but whenever a national title is at stake expect nothing less than a full-blooded encounter from the great rivals.
Having the game in Nowlan Park is no great advantage to Kilkenny. Still, I expect them to retain the title because they showed enough appetite and determination two weeks ago to suggest than they are still the team to beat, even if Tipperary is steadily edging closer by the week to the Cats.