Tipperary hurler Seamus Kennedy meets the fans at Semple Stadium
Championship hurling is the gift that just keeps on giving.
Their appetites nicely whetted following the barnstorming semi-finals, hurling followers all over the world, many imbued with a giddy sense of excitement, can hardly wait for 3.30 on Sunday afternoon, when Tipperary and Kilkenny will meet in the All-Ireland final.
IN ASSOCIATION WITH TIPPERARY PURE IRISH WATER
Hurling stirs something in the soul and passions of so many people, none more so than those from Tipperary and Kilkenny, counties that are now preparing to meet in the final for the seventh time in the last decade, a sequence that includes a replay in 2014.
You have to go back to 2001 for the last time that Tipperary met a county other than Kilkenny in the final, with Galway providing the opposition 18 years ago. In the finals of 2009, 2010, 2011, 2014 and 2016 it was The Cats who stood between Tipperary lifting the MacCarthy Cup.
They say that familiarity breeds contempt. However the successes that each have enjoyed over the other, and their rivalry over the years ensures that both counties treat each other with the utmost of respect.
Tipperary have made the transition from zero to hero in the space of just over twelve months. They crashed and burned in last year’s championship, failing to win any of their four games in Munster, which ensured they were looking on from the sidelines from June 10 as the championship unfolded.
This year, however, they've been a different proposition,winning all four games in the group stages in Munster, as Liam Sheedy’s return as manager reaped an instant dividend.
They suffered a heavy defeat by All-Ireland champions Limerick in the provincial final, and limped to an unconvincing win over Laois in the All-Ireland quarter-final.
But they rediscovered their mojo in that rip-roaring semi-final against Wexford.
Then, they proved that while form may be temporary, class is permanent.
Significantly, they also gave the lie to the notion that they weren’t capable of digging deep and winning a dogfight, as their 14 men rescued victory from the jaws of defeat with a tremendous display following John McGrath’s dismissal.
Above - WE DID IT! Tipperary captain Seamus Callanan with manager Liam Sheedy after the semi-final win over Wexford
Arguably, this isn’t the best team to have emerged from Kilkenny in recent memory. But look how far their attitude and spirit have taken them, as they relaunched their championship challenge with victories over Cork and All-Ireland champions Limerick following their reverse against Wexford in the Leinster final.
They’re the masters at winning ugly, and any team managed by Brian Cody - the most successful manager in hurling championship history, with eleven All-Irelands won since 2000 - will never give up without a struggle in the trenches, which means that another intense battle is in prospect.
With 36 titles, Kilkenny have won the most All-Irelands of any county, and their sense of history and tradition is formidable.
It will be anything but easy, but now that Tipp have got their second wind in the championship, and with their momentum and confidence fuelled by a run that has seen them win six of their seven championship matches, they’re well capable of pushing on and claiming the county’s 28th All-Ireland crown.
May the force be with them.
For more news on the All-Ireland Final read Tipperary's Brendan Maher is a man of substance