League Final – A Yardstick for Hurling Folk

This weekend’s league final between Tipp and Kilkenny will be used as a yardstick, as to how far the ‘Cats’ are ahead of the chasing pack in the hurling world. Up until this juncture, there has been a massive gulf between the standard bearers and the so called other contenders (Tipp, Galway, Cork, Waterford). But the league can, at times, give some skewed perspectives as to where teams are. Remember Clare in the Loughnane era, their league form was always taken with a grain of salt, due to the happenings at the hill of Crusheen. So it is difficult to say where teams are in their preparation.

Now that May has arrived and with the championship looming one can get a better feeling of the true form book. Kilkenny are out in front, of that there is no question, the dog on the street is aware of that. But how far ahead are they? Next Sunday in Thurles should give us some indication. Whether Tipp were in hard training before the massacre in Nowlan Park or not is irrelevant, the point is they were beaten out the gate.  With your pride severely dented in a local derby and you get your chance of retribution, Tipp will turn up.  So I would imagine that there will be no excuses (not that Liam Sheedy made any after Nowlan Park), no hidden agendas; what you will see in Thurles on Sunday is a competitive game of hurling, with both teams focused. Kilkenny have to be favorites and if they win(which I’m sure they will) it will be the margin of defeat and the manner of defeat which will be most interesting to hurling folk, Tipperary and non Tipperary folk. We will probably get a far better feel of the gap we all know exists and if that gap is surmountable. People like John McIntyre, Denis Walsh, Anthony Daly, Davy Fitz, Colm Bonner, Justin McCarthy and Joe Dooley will be very interested in the outcome of this league final.

The Tipperary team has no Conor O’Mahony or Eoin Kelly, two big losses. But its good to see Thomas Stapleton start at midfield with Shane McGrath. This pairing look very promising. The half back line of Padraic Maher, Declan Fanning and Shane Maher look to be very strong in the air but will they curtail the Kilkenny half forwards running at the full line? Its also good to see Paddy Stapleton get a start in the corner, after his positive influence in last years semi final(even if it was only as a blood sub).

The Tipp half forwards look lightweight, there is no real strong ball winner, even though Lar has height and good hands, but physically there are not imposing. It interesting to see both John O’Brien and Michael Webster in the full line. If Webster can hold it up in there then maybe there’s rewards to be reaped. Noel McGrath, a serious talent, is probably more a half forward, but its a great oppertunity for him and lets hope he gets a good supply.

All in all its a big ask for Tipperary, but it is in Thurles and Tipp people and hurling people in general want to see a really competitive game as the championship bekons.

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