Seán Curran (Mullinahone) got through a power of work for Tipperary against Limerick during the thrilling Allianz National Hurling League semi-final at Semple Stadium, Thurles. Photo: Eamonn McGee
There is simply no two ways about it: Michael Ryan and his Tipperary panel of players face into the Allianz National Hurling League final against Kilkenny at Nowlan Park on Sunday, April 8th (3.30pm) with the stated aim to atone for the Premier County’s embarrassing 2017 league final defeat.
Last season Tipperary lost the league decider to Galway by a whopping sixteen points (0-14 to 3-21) at Páirc na nGael in Limerick. And, now the Premier County enjoy an opportunity to make up for that disappointing display by delivering a performance of real note against Kilkenny.
“Certainly, that's how we feel about it,” Michael Ryan explained following Tipperary’s 2-31 to 1-31 Allianz National Hurling League semi-final victory over Limerick on Saturday at Semple Stadium, Thurles.
“We keep talking about it and we are no different to any other squad. We talk about performance and performance levels and getting it up to an acceptable level. And, we certainly did not arrive at that or anything near it this time last year when we got to the league final versus Galway. We are delighted to have an opportunity to play in another league final and we are not going to talk about winning it or anything like that. We are going to talk about a pre-championship or an almost championship performance because that's what we are looking for.”
TENTH FINAL IN TEN YEARS
Tipperary and Kilkenny will meet in the Allianz National Hurling League final at Nowlan Park, Kilkenny on Sunday, April 8th (throw-in 3.30pm). And, next Sunday’s hurling contest will represent the tenth final meeting between Tipperary and Kilkenny in ten years. The record stands at six-two in favour of the Cats (one draw).
The Premier County has lost league finals to the Cats in 2009 (2-26 to 4-17), 2013 (2-17 to 0-20) and in 2014 (2-25 to 1-27) and All-Ireland deciders to Kilkenny in 2009 (2-22 to 0-23), in 2011 (2-17 to 1-16) and in 2014 (2-17 to 2-14 following a draw - 3-22 to 1-28) while Tipperary have beaten Kilkenny just twice in All-Ireland finals during the same period in 2010 (4-17 to 1-18) and 2016 (2-29 to 2-20).
Tipperary will be chasing the county’s 20th league title next Sunday, but the Premier County has not collected league honours in ten years (in the 2008 decider Tipp beat Galway 3-18 to 3-16). And, the Tipperary camp should be eager to make up for last season’s embarrassing defeat to the Tribesmen in the decider (0-14 to 3-21).
Kilkenny have won seventeen league titles and were last crowned champions in 2014 at the expense of, you guessed it, Tipperary.
Tipperary senior hurling manager Michael Ryan.
Kilkenny invaded Innovate Park in Wexford on Sunday in their respective semi-final and walked away with an impressive nine-point victory (1-27 to 2-15). Although the Cats shipped an early goal Brian Cody’s men hit 1-11 without reply in the opening half and led by eight at the break (1-13 to 1-5). A second Wexford three-pointer made a game of it, but Kilkenny surged toward the finish line in emphatic style with TJ Reid wreaking absolute havoc.
En route to this final Kilkenny lost to Cork (0-24 to 1-24) on the opening day before also losing to Clare (1-18 to 2-18). The Cats regrouped with an eight-point win over Waterford (1-20 to 1-12) before beating Tipperary by a point at Nowlan Park (2-22 to 2-21). The group phase of their campaign came to a close with another victory over Wexford (0-22 to 0-19) while Brian Cody's men also saw off Offaly at the quarter-final stage of the competition (0-24 to 1-19).
Watch out this Sunday for an enterprising Kilkenny team who have adopted a reasonably innovative style of play. Pádraig Walsh and Cillian Buckley will feature at the heart of Brian Cody’s defence while Richie Leahy and James Maher are catching the eye in the middle of the field. And, please be mindful of the raw ball-winning ability of Martin Keoghan, TJ Reid and Walter Walsh up front.
Although Tipperary lost their opening game in this campaign to Clare (0-19 to 1-21) the Premier County then beat Waterford (1-20 to 1-11), Wexford (3-21 to 1-21) and Cork (1-24 to 1-21). Tipp did lose to Kilkenny (2-21 to 2-22), but Michael Ryan’s men progressed to the quarter-finals nonetheless where the men draped in blue and gold beat Dublin (2-25 to 0-20) before seeing off Limerick after extra-time in the last four (2-31 to 1-31).
Michael Ryan revealed on Saturday night that Patrick Maher (Lorrha-Dorrha) would be in the frame to start against Kilkenny in the league final, that Joe O’Dwyer (Killenaule) is “back hurling” and that Niall O’Meara (Kilruane MacDonagh’s) is “coming like a train”.
The league final will come too soon for Noel McGrath’s thumb injury while Séamus Callanan is “making progress” and Dan McCormack is “making a lot of progress “.
Those injury concerns, however, have been soothed by the startling form of Jason Fore.
The Silvermines man fired home 2-11 during Tipperary’s 2-31 to 1-31 Allianz National Hurling League semi-final win over Limerick at Semple Stadium, Thurles on Saturday night. And, the quality of the full-forward’s performance was not lost on manager Michael Ryan.
“He was very good, but Jason has been really good for us all league long. As have, literally, the whole of the squad. And, we have had to mix and chop and give guys opportunities - fellas can be off-colour from time to time as well. We are no different to any other squad. They are a great bunch of young fellas. We don't praise them enough - we really don't. They give and give and give and give and they are no different to the Limerick squad next door. What a great young team they are. They are going to have a great summer by the looks of them as well,” Michael Ryan revealed before explaining that he believed that the transformation in the form of Jason Forde was down to a “good pre-season”.
“I just think that he's had a really, really good pre-season. Jayo has been there or thereabouts always within our match day twenty for the last number of years,” Michael Ryan told the Tipperary Star.
“I think he just reached a time. He has won his Fitzgibbons. He has been a main player for UL (University of Limerick) and I just saw a change in Jayo that he really wants more out of this season. Nothing is promised: you can only offer yourself up and do the work, but he has certainly done the work and that has showed in spades here over the course of the last six or seven games.”
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