IN HIS 2017 autobiography, Jackie Tyrrell pulled no punches when it came to his assessment of Tipperary.
After the Premier ended Kilkenny’s five-in-a-row hopes in 2010, the Cats defeated their rivals in championship during each of the next four seasons.
Tyrrell described Tipperary as a “flaky” team and of forward John ‘Bubbles’ O’Dwyer he said: “You could get at Bubbles. [He] was a genius who could nearly make the ball talk, but he was as flaky as any of them.”
While he has no regrets over any of his comments in The Warrior’s Code, the nine-time All-Ireland winner admits “there’s a bit more about this Tipperary team.”
“There’s a bit of backbone about some of these players,” he says.
“You look at what Seamus Callanan is doing, you look at what Noel McGrath is doing. Even Brendan Maher this year. He’s a stylish wing-back but he’s sacrificing his game to take Tony Kelly out of it, to forget about hurling against Limerick and just marking Aaron Gillane.
“These lads, they’re just doing things I’ve never seen them done before. I think they’re mean and I think they’re hungry for this All-Ireland. I’d say they know that time is against them and that all bets are off.”
However, if the game is in the balance coming down the home straight the James Stephens man still feels Kilkenny hold the edge.
“I do think if it’s going down the final straight and there’s five or ten minutes to go and it’s tight, I do think there’s a psychological advantage for Kilkenny in that any time Tipperary beat Kilkenny it’s in an open, free-flowing game.
“When it’s tight and tense, Kilkenny generally win those. You think even the league final last year where Tipperary had the better pool of players on the pitch but Kilkenny just came out in the second-half and blitzed them and Tipperary had no response.
“If you flip that, if it’s the other way around, when Kilkenny are out of the game they have an unbelievable ability to hang in there. Instead of the other team getting 3-3, they’ll just get 1-2. That’s that durability, they just won’t wilt.”
John O’Dwyer takes a shot during the semi-final.
Source: James Crombie/INPHO
O’Dwyer’s form has dipped since the beginning of the summer when he took the Munster round-robin by storm, but Tyrrell says he’s still capable of lighting up the final.
“Him and John McGrath were flying at the start of the year and they just had a little slump in the middle. Now, maybe John McGrath didn’t come back as well, Bubbles got three excellent points when they needed them.
“But that is Bubbles. You just don’t know. He could go out the weekend and he mightn’t touch the ball. Or he could score 2-2. When he does get the ball in his hand he generally scores.
“I think they should play him inside because if they play him half-forward there’s going to be a lot of bodies and he’s not going to get that much room. He’s not the best at pace.
“Bubbles’ strengths are his wrists and his accuracy and he’ll get a bit more space inside. I’d be looking at leaving him inside and getting ball into him. Because when it’s in the trenches I don’t think it suits Bubbles.”
The youngsters who drove Tipperary to that famous victory in 2010 form the core of the current side. Padraic Maher, Brendan Maher, Noel McGrath, Seamus Callanan and O’Dwyer remain hugely influential figures in Liam Sheedy’s team.
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Tyrrell believes time is running out for that crew to deliver another Liam MacCarthy Cup.
“I think there’s a bit more pressure on the ageing profile of the core of that Tipperary team,” he says.
“I do think their chances are probably getting slimmer and slimmer. The [likes of the] Noel McGraths and Padraig Mahers.
“I’m sure they’ll be looking to draw a line in the sand and say, ‘Lookit lads there’s been years where we didn’t really get the very best out of ourselves. We find ourselves in an All-Ireland final, what better way than to put Kilkenny to the sword and to really go after them.’
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“Kilkenny have gone after Tipperary for years and I think Tipperary need to go after Kilkenny and go after their key players.
Conor Fogarty challenges Niall O’Meara during their league encounter earlier this year.
Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO
“Brendan Maher needs to take TJ Reid out of it and Bubbles O’Dwyer needs to take Padraig Walsh out of it, Callanan needs to be an assassin inside. That’s the mentality they need to have to bring to this game.
“If they stand and go toe-to-toe, there’s no better team that will stand there, take the punches and come back for more than Kilkenny and just wear you down.
“They found a way to get over the line against Limerick and that’s what Kilkenny have, they just don’t die and they won’t die on Sunday. If there’s any team to die on Sunday it’ll be Tipp.
“I don’t think they will because I just think there’s a sting in this Tipperary team still but this Kilkenny team are quite durable and will go the distance.”
Tyrrell is leaning towards a narrow Kilkenny victory.
“I don’t think it’ll be open at all. And I do think two things – that when Tipperary have their spell, Kilkenny have the ability to claw in and not concede big scores when they’re totally out of the game.
“And I just think if they do put Brendan Maher on TJ Reid, how the rest of the defence will shape up around that? Who will cover that centre?
“Kilkenny might be able to create a mismatch up there and that they could hammer the hammer and the likes of Adrian Mullen could be a real assassin at the weekend.”
Style icon and hurling legend Jackie Tyrrell has collaborated with Littlewoods Ireland to design a bespoke O’Neills jersey ahead of the 2019 All-Ireland Hurling Final. The jersey is to celebrate the launch of a range of official GAA county jerseys available on LittlewoodsIreland.ie in partnership with the GAA and O’Neills.
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