By David Hennessy
Restricting the influence of Kilkenny’s midfield dangerman Richie Hogan is key if Tipperary are to emerge victorious from this Sunday’s All-Ireland hurling final, says former Tipperary hurler Brendan Cummins.
Brendan told The Irish World: “In the middle of the field, Richie Hogan has been having a fantastic year for Kilkenny. Shane McGrath and James Woodlock did exceptionally well against that Cork midfield, really surprised everybody, they scored three points each.
“That midfield battle will be a big thing because Richie Hogan sets up an awful lot of the play, he’s more like a quarter back, standing on his own 65, putting ball in front of the forwards.
“If Tipp can stop him getting on the ball as often as he does, the last day he handled the ball 27 times in the match which is a huge amount for any player to be in possession of the ball, it could make all the difference.
“I think Padraic Maher and TJ Reid will be a key battle. TJ Reid is doing really well for Kilkenny now and not only on the frees but in general play. He’s always been a thorn in the side of Paidi Maher, they would have seen each other a lot over the last three or four years so that will be a key one.
The former goalkeeper also sees the men between the sticks having a big say in who lifts the Liam MacCarthy Cup, believing the Premier County have an advantage here with Darren Gleeson settled in his position while Brian Cody has alternated between David Herity and Eoin Murphy in the last two years.
“Every time you get to Croke Park at this time of the year, goals are worth four or five points in reality because they give a huge push in momentum. Of course if one can be saved, it deflates the opposition and gives your colleagues great confidence. Kikenny have a decision to make whether they’re going to play Murphy or Herity in goal. I don’t know what way Brian Cody is going to go with that one.
“Obviously, Tipp are more settled. Darren Gleeson had a good game the last day so the Tipp crowd will be an awful lot more comfortable knowing that Darren has a good game behind him. His puck outs went well the last day and his general shot stopping and sweeping up was very strong as well so I think Tipp will have the edge on that one.”
The All-Ireland winner Cummins also says that losing to Limerick at the very start has been a blessing in disguise as going through the back door allowed Tipperary to build up momentum with impressive wins over Galway, Offaly, Dublin and Cork.
“Getting beaten by Limerick in a weird way was the best thing that could ever have happened because the team galvanised. Supporters weren’t too impressed by the fact we had been beaten by Limerick in Thurles for the first time in, I think, 28 years. Players have responded well to the criticism.
“If you were looking at this Tipperary team back in March and April when they were staring relegation in the face, you would say this day would never come. In fairness, they got a few players back. Obviously confidence has come back to the side and they got on a run of games and as any player will tell you: If you’re playing every second weekend and you’re winning, you build up great momentum and Tipp in the All-Ireland semi-final put Cork in their place in no uncertain terms and are worthy finalists. They will have to be really good though because Kilkenny are still a serious force and I would say they would have to be favourites going into the final.
Brendan was on the field the last time Tipperary beat Kilkenny in a Championship game, the 2010 final. He also tasted defeat to Kilkenny in the 2009 and 2011 deciders. Asked if stopping their near rivals from claiming five in a row had any motivating factors in that win, Brendan says: “No, it didn’t. We never spoke about it to be honest. We were just worried about ourselves, we had lost in 2009 to some would say a refereeing decision [Henry Shefflin scored a controversial penalty], I would say it was more like concentration. We dropped our concentration for five, ten minutes and they scored 2-2 and that was the end of that.
“We had learned from that in 2010 and remained very focused as a group from start to finish and that’s what really helped us get across the line. We never thought we were there. Even if we went ahead, we never worried about it. We just worried about getting the next score and while now it sounds very easy to do that, when you’re down there and there’s 82,000 people going mad, it can be very hard to just worry about the here and now and stop your mind from drifting. That was the key thing for us, we showed good maturity and we put Kilkenny away when we had them on the rack.”
For the full interview, see the September 6 Irish World.