13 Aug 2022

The fear is everywhere, but Cats look to have the hunger to go again

The fear is everywhere, but Cats look to have the hunger to go again

The excitement has been slow to build up to this final. Both sets of supporters seem a bit up tight about it.

The fear of losing, and the possible thrill of winning appears to have people on edge. The mix of the two emotions is all but strangling the feelings of people, who are almost afraid to come out and say what they think.

For the likes of me living on the border things are different. When I was a player, the rule was to keep away from everything. You survived in your own bubble, if you like.

Now I am enjoying the All-Ireland final experience more. People are more interactive with me too.

Before they would be avoiding you, not wanting to maybe intruding on my space or break whatever routine they thought I might have.

Definitely now there is a fear of losing out there. There is such a rivalry, such a tradition there between Kilkenny and Tipperary that neither side wants to lose.

Tipp people in general are always a bit cocky, and I mean that in a good way. They always feel like they should be in All-Irelands, which is probably born out of tradition.

Same as Kilkenny, I suppose. Kilkenny people speak about All-Ireland finals almost as an annual occasion, almost without knowing it.

Kilkenny/Tipp games take on a life of their own, as we all saw full well in Nowlan Park in the Qualifiers a few years ago. I heard of people who were in the grounds hours before that start of that match.

Why? They were just moved by the occasion, the match, the rivalry, the mood that engulfed both counties. No one wanted to lose there either.

The mood is something the same now. We are talking about one of the biggest rivalries in the GAA, but no one wants to say too much before the match.

One county is going to be very disappointed. It has been Tipperary on most occasions in recent times.

That is why they are a bit quiet. Kilkenny have been winning. They have the upper-hand on Tipp, but this is sport.

You can’t keep winning forever. That is the thought in the background that is a bit troubling.

I get that sense of worry from Kilkenny fans, especially around this area. Maybe I am wrong, but the mood appears to be cautious, very cautious.

The Michael Fennelly injury has knocked some of the wind out of Kilkenny fans. No matter who you talk to ’Fennelly is a big loss’ is what you hear.

People are right. Michael is a massive player in every respect - physically, skill and experience wise, as a leader and don’t tell me other teams don’t fear him. They do!

Roll all that together and Kilkenny are missing a huge player, one who can be a match winner.

In a final like this, where small things matter, you need everyone. Look back to the 2010 All-Ireland when Henry Shefflin and John Tennyson were injured.

That time there we were a lot of ’ifs’ and ’buts’ surrounding the lads. At least now we know Michael is gone, the squad and everyone moves on.

It is not a distraction. He is not playing. That is the end of it.

Maybe looking back to 2010, the situation with the two boys could have been a distraction without us even knowing it.

Let’s be honest, sport is cruel, but Tipp won’t shed tears that Michael Fennelly is gone. Think of what the situation would be if one of their top players was missing?

We wouldn’t be a bit worried!

Tipp under the leadership of Michael Ryan have a bit more steel about them I think. We haven’t seen that in them for a while. They are in a better place.

He has made some tough calls since he took over. He has a new player on every line.

The last day I was impressed by them against Galway. John ’Bubbles’ O’Dwyer didn’t start and there was a lot of talk about that.

With management it wasn’t at all about any one player. It was about Tipperary.

He has brought a Cody-esque like thing to Tipp, if you like. All decision are made in a cold, calculating manner for a serious reason.

That is what I reckon, looking in from the outside. He has kept the panel focused and on its toes. No one is absolutely sure who is going to start, a typical Kilkenny thing.

Their work rate in the forwards has been upped seriously. They have young Dan McCormack and obviously Patrick ‘Bonner’ Maher who bring a fierce work rate ethic to the forwards.

They needed that. Tipp have always had these terrific touch hurlers. You need the latter too, lads who will work their socks off. Ryan has them in his team.

With that as well, they have kept things low key all year. They win their matches. They have one or two days in the limelight and then it is back to work.

Definitely they have a different way about them this season, and who knows, it could make all the difference. They are all more grounded.

It is hard to known how good the Munster championship was this season, however.

Cork were poor. Then there was an average Limerick team, and Waterford were poor in the final. Clare didn’t hit the heights they might have either.

It wasn’t great, but Tipperary did the business as it was required. In the Munster final Tipp were clinical, however, and they kept driving, driving all through even if Waterford were lost.

I liked that attitude. They never relented in what they wanted to do. There is that word ’relent’.

Who do we use that word with most often?

Kilkenny, of course. Now Tipp are associated with it too.

Talking about championships, the Leinster championship wasn’t at its best either. Kilkenny got good games, but the hurling championship didn’t really kick off until the All-Ireland semi-finals.

That’s where we saw the best of the hurling to date.

Tipp were below par in their semi against Galway, but the way they won the game will serve them well. They won by a point with some of their main men not hitting the high notes.

They lost by a point to the same team last year. Small things like that can make a difference to your thinking, your confidence how you view things.

Tipp will know they cannot take anything for granted. If they had beaten Galway by 10 points or had it as easy as they had against Waterford, then mentally they might have been in a more vulnerable place.

Not now! They are in a good place for the final after that semi-final showing.

Kilkenny are as well. They were poor, you could say, in the drawn semi against Waterford, but then they really turned up for the replay and played very well.

The thing is - can they hit a new high? Is there too much gone out of the tank?

I don’t think so. The performance in the replay was all about sheer heart and determination. That is what Kilkenny have in abundance, and for me, that showing proved the core things within the squad are as good and as strong as ever.

You have to have a certain mentality to win big, tight games. Kilkenny are absolutely sure they have it.

Tipp are not sure, never mind absolutely sure, they have it. Not yet!

I still think there is big games in some of our guys. An All-Ireland final is a totally different game.

Kilkenny do All-Irelands very, very well. They tune is so well.

The fear of losing an All-Ireland can be a huge motivating factor. It can leave you feeling so empty.

Players don’t want to have regrets. There are lots of things that are related, and they can do funny things to the mind.

This is definitely a 50/50 game. Kilkenny have the experience. Tipp are coming with a relatively new team.

I have two opinions about the game. Kilkenny can win by a few points, or if the whole thing opens up, then Tipp could win by more.

They will have to throw off the shackles, and hope a few things go wrong for the opposition though.

Deep, deep down I think Kilkenny still have something left. Brian Cody, Mick Dempsey and the lads have massive experience about All-Ireland day; what is required; what you look out for; players you might need to keep an eye on.

That is a big, big advantage. I am expecting a cracker. Kilkenny do preparations and All-Irelands very well. They never fail to turn up.

To beat Kilkenny, Tipp are going to have to reach a level they haven’t gone near so far this year. They will play better, but will their better be good enough? Not sure it will!

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