Antrim Hurling co-ordinator Dominic McKinley is in no doubt about it — Sunday’s Kilkenny v Tipperary All Ireland showdown could prove the best final of recent years.
And the former Saffrons joint boss remains convinced that the Cats are more than capable of landing what would be their fourth Liam McCarthy Cup triumph on the trot, despite the optimism that has engulfed hurling-mad Tipperary where all normal life has gone on hold in advance of the the Croke Park clash of the titans .
McKinley, whose encyclopaedic knowledge of hurling is the envy of many so-called pundits, believes that while Tipperary played above themselves to take Kilkenny to extra-time in the National League final earlier this year before losing narrowly, they will need to reach an even higher gear if they are to succeed on Sunday.
“And the reason for this, quite simply, is that I feel Kilkenny have been playing within themselves so far. Maybe they have conceded more than they would have liked, particularly against Galway and Waterford, but to me they have always looked as if they could outscore their opponents. That’s Kilkenny’s real strength — they can respond to any situation and they have a great penchant for knocking in goals that tend to rock the other team’s morale,” insists McKinley.
The twin threat posed by Henry Shefflin and Eddie Brennan up front, the midfield energy of James ‘Cha’ Fitzpatrick and the defensive resolve of Tommy Walsh, J J Delaney and Michael Kavanagh are prime weapons in the champions’ overall armoury, according to McKinley.
But he nonetheless sees Tipperary boss Liam Sheedy as an excellent motivator of a team which is a potent blend of youth and experience — although, as McKinley puts it, “it’s the old hands who really carry Tipp’s hopes in this one.”
He adds: “They will need to set down a physical marker to Kilkenny whom we all know never shirk a challenge.
“I know for a fact that Kilkenny training games are played with the same intensity as many inter-county matches – maybe that is one of the reasons why they are so consistently successful.”
Eoin Kelly, Lar Corbett, Paul Maher and Brendan Cummins are among the players who will hope to rock the Kilkenny boat on Sunday — but McKinley casts an eye back to last year’s All Ireland final in assessing the enormity of the challenge confronting Tipperary.
“Look what happened to Waterford on that occasion. They travelled to Croke Park fired up and left with their tail between their legs.
“Hurling certainly needs a spectacular contest on Sunday particularly after that dreadfully one-sided Tipperary v Limerick semi-final, and hopefully we will get it,” observes McKinley.