The Intermediates will have a last shot at redemption for Tipperary hurling this weekend.
The county’s Seniors, Minors and U-21s have all exited the championship without winning any silverware so the Intermediates are Tipp’s final hope of winning a title in this barren year when they take on Kilkenny in the All-Ireland Final at Nowlan Park on Saturday evening (6pm). The referee is Offaly’s Tony Carroll and if necessary extra time will be played.
The game is a repeat of last year’s final, which Tipp won by 2 points at Semple Stadium.
A win on Saturday would be a major achievement, not only because back-to-back titles would be secured but especially because Tipp had to field an entirely new panel this year after last year’s success.
A 0-20 to 0-15 win over Limerick in the Munster Championship semi-final was followed by a narrow win over Cork, 0-19 to 0-18, in the Munster Final at Semple Stadium.
That match was played on July 19 and receiving a bye into the All-Ireland Final means that Tipp approach the decider without a competitive match in six weeks.
However manager Mick Ryan doesn’t believe that their relative inactivity will put them at a disadvantage, even against a Kilkenny team that beat Galway in the semi-final a fortnight ago.
“We took 10 days off after the Munster Final and the players lined out with their clubs. We played Galway’s U-21s and Kilmallock in the meantime and training has been very intense and hard. The players are relishing the challenge and that has to be good.
Kilkenny are favourites but we’re not too worried about that. We’ll go down to Nowlan Park with the confidence and belief that if we play to our potential we can win this game”.
Since their last outing Tipp have drafted three players into the panel - Kilruane’s Niall O’Meara, the captain and one of the standout players on this year’s county U-21 side; Clonoulty’s John O’Keeffe, who has inter-county senior experience; and Conor Kenny from Borris-Ileigh.
Kenny was also involved with the Tipperary U-21s this year, having transferred from Kildare. He was the match-winner when Kildare beat Meath in the Leinster U-21 A Championship Final last year and is a son of Philip Kenny, who won county and All-Ireland club hurling titles with Borris-Ileigh in 1987.
“Those players have added hugely to the squad”, says the manager.
There’s mixed news on the injuries front.
Borris-Ileigh’s Sean McCormack, who had a great game against Cork in the Munster Final, is ruled out with a fractured collarbone, but there’s better news concerning Danny O’Hanlon and Joey McLoughney.
O’Hanlon pulled a hamstring while on duty with Carrick Swans but the injury has since healed, while the signs are encuraging that Toomevara’s McLoughney will recover from a hand injury in time for Saturday.
“Danny took part in a full training session on Sunday night and he came through it fine. He has been top class and is putting in a big effort. His finest game was in Nowlan Park and he’s looking forward to going back there again”, says Mick Ryan.
The match that the manager refers to is a National League game 6 years ago, when the 19 year-old O’Hanlon scored two goals as Tipp beat Kilkenny by 3-13 to 2-13.
“This is the last opportunity for Tipp and Kilkenny to win some silverware.
It’s a huge game for both counties but all the pressure is on Kilkenny to deliver because they’ll have home advantage”, says Mick Ryan.
He’s also hoping that his team will have plenty of vocal support on Saturday evening in a venue that he points out always has a great atmosphere.
“Nowlan Park is really only down the road from a lot of places in Tipperary so hopefully our supporters will travel in force and give the team every encouragement.
The Intermediate grade is at the lower end of the scale but it means a lot to all of our players to put on the county jersey and they deserve the support of all the county”.
It’s fair to say that the Intermediate grade is one that Mick Ryan knows inside out. As a player he won two All-Irelands and three Munster Championships.
He is now in his third season as manager (he was also a selector four years ago) and in that time has steered the county to one All-Ireland title and two Munster championships, which is an impressive record by any reckoning.
Tipp had a close call in the Munster Final against Cork, when they edged home by a single point, thanks mainly to a great display by goalkeeper Darragh Egan who converted three frees and made some great saves.
That slim margin would be welcomed again this weekend against a Kilkenny side that has a handful of players from last year’s defeated team and players with senior experience including Brian Kennedy, Sean Cummins and Conor Phelan.