Allianz NHL Division One Final
Thurles: Kilkenny v Tipperary, 4.00pm
Liam Sheedy, the Tipperary boss, won’t have felt too lucky when his team lost to the Cats by 5-17 to 1-12 in Nowlan Park. The league champions conceded all five goals in the first half.
Cody may have described it as a “freak” result, but most astute observers will have interpreted it as Cody’s way of sending out a message of intent to a team that probably represents the greatest threat to their four-in-a-row hopes this year.
"You’d love to have scheduled a time-out after seven or eight minutes and just see could we get the lads back in. It just got away from us," Sheedy said of the Nowlan Park encounter.
"We are all very quick to focus on 35 minutes over a two-year period! "If we can bring a lot of those positives that have built up over the last two years into Thurles on Sunday you will see a different Tipperary."
Kilkenny have 13 league titles to their credit, while Tipperary are looking for their 21st on Sunday.
Kilkenny’s only blip this year was against Waterford down in Walsh Park, but their form otherwise has been stunning. The notion that they had raised the “bar” to a new level with their All-Ireland win over Waterford last year has only been heightened by their dismantling of Tipperary and the brutal destruction of Cork this year.
Kilkenny, quite reasonably, are clear favorites, especially given the number of injuries Sheedy has had to contend with. Conor O’Mahony, the All Star centre-back is missing, while Eoin Kelly is still recovering from the back injury that has dogged his season.
Kelly’s presence in attack will be missed, but Lar Corbett and John O’Brien could give the Kilkenny defense problems, while Sheedy has also put faith in youngster Noel McGrath, who starts at corner-forward, with Michael Webster given the nod at full-forward.
Shane McGrath’s return to midfield is also significant, while Declan Fanning will fill in for O’Mahony at centre-back as Paul Curran continues at centre-back.
"We are heading in the right direction. It is a very young squad in general. Whether we are ready to challenge Kilkenny, who knows! But, I can tell you that every time we play them we want to go out and be the best we can be,” Sheedy added.
“Now if that reaches the heights of Kilkenny who knows. It’s a final. It’s an hour and 10 minutes. It’s a real opportunity to understand where we are at the end of April as we head into the Munster championship – which is when the real season begins."
One suspects that is where Sheedy’s priorities may lie: the Munster final.
Cody will name his team until late on Friday night, but ‘Cha’ Fitzpatrick is unlikely to play as he is still recovering from the mumps, while Noel Hickey, Derek Lyng and Richie Power are all unavailable.
Tipperary face a tough task, and Sheedy may have to concoct some sort of tactical plan to counteract Kilkenny’s brilliance, which has destroyed all before them.
Perhaps, the Tipperary manager will employ a seventh defender, a tactic Dublin manager Anthony Daly used to good effect when the capital men were unlucky to lose by just one point in the final league game of the series.
Kilkenny: : PJ Ryan, M Kavanagh, JJ Delaney, J Tyrrell, T Walsh, B Hogan, J Ryall, M Fennelly, M Rice, R Hogan, H Shefflin, E Larkin, E Brennan, TJ Reid, A Fogarty.
Tipperary: B Cummins; P Stapleton, P Curran, C O’Brien; P Maher, D Fanning, S Maher; T Stapleton, S McGrath; L Corbett, S Callanan, J Woodlock; N McGrath, M Webster, J O’Brien.
Allianz NHL Division Two Final
Thurles: Offaly v Wexford, 2.00pm
This may be the Division Two final, but there is arguably far more at stake than in the top tier final. The prize for the winner is a place in Division One next season, something Colm Bonnar and Joe Dooley will treasure just as much as a run in the Championship this year.
Of course, the two teams meet again in four weeks’ time in the Leinster SHC, which some believe will dilute the fare on show on Sunday. Bonnar and Dooley rubbished this thesis last Wednesday.
“Next Sunday is the real test – that’s where you can really judge Wexford and Offaly. There is something very big at stake, something that both teams want and something that we planned where we need to go in terms of getting up to Division One,” said Bonnar, the Wexford manager.
Wexford took the spoils when the sides met in the league on April 5. In many respects, there are similarities with the Division One final, as Wexford will be favourites after handing out a five-goal hammering to their opponents in the group stages. Everything went right for Wexford that day and a repeat is highly unlikely.
"We'll be approaching it with our best foot forward, to try and win it and I'm sure Wexford will be the same. They showed us what they could do the last day down in Wexford so we have to try and come up to that standard in the final," Dooley, the Offaly manager, said.
"It is as good for the goose as the gander. Obviously I'd say both teams would prefer not to be meeting one another ahead of the championship, but the game will be good preparation for the championship. It is going to be top of the ground hurling in Thurles, so we're looking forward to it."
Wexford have doubts over full-back Keith Rossiter [ankle], Ciaran Kenny and Darren Stamp, while Colm Farrell and Eoin Quigley are long-term injury victims. Bonnar will name his team on Friday night.
Offaly are not unaffected by injury, with full-back David Franks [hip] and David Kenny [hamstring] both doubts having missed training last week.
There is very little between the sides, but the confidence Wexford took from the league win two weeks ago should see them through in a tight game.
Wexford: D Flynn; M Travers, P Roche, A O'Connell; M Jacob, S Nolan, R Kehoe; D Redmond, 9 C Kenny; D Lyng (Capt), A Shore, P Carley; R Jacob, S Banville, P Kenny.
Offaly: B Mullins; D Franks, D Kenny, J Rigney; K Brady, G Oakley (Capt), P Cleary; R Hanniffy; B Murphy; B Carroll, J Brady, D Molloy; D Currams, S Dooley, J Bergin.