Tipping point has arrived
ALL-IRELAND SHC FINAL KILKENNY v TIPPERARY Live RTÉ 2/ Sky Sports 3 Croke Park Tomorrow 3.30
TIPP or Kilkenny? Kilkenny or Tipp? The old Cat for the long road or the slightly younger model that has blazed a trail through the back door? Cody and Shefflin chasing double-digit immortality or Tipp craving one-in-a-row? An arm wrestle or a shootout? Heck, why not sit on the fence and be acclaimed as a genius when the third consecutive All-Ireland hurling final goes to a second day?
It's easy to be conflicted by tomorrow's intriguing showpiece.
The head says Kilkenny because, well, they nearly always find a way when it matters most. They have the ring-craft, nous, mentality and even - as that semi-final in a tempest against Limerick underlined - the savage hunger to put body and soul on the line.
And yet, perversely given the above, there is a logic to support the theory that this is Tipperary's year; that their time has come - again.
Two months ago, with 20 minutes of their Galway clash remaining, the last rites were being performed on Tipp's season and also, you suspected, their management team. Could they have survived a record of nil-from-four?
But Tipperary rediscovered something about themselves in the home straight of that watershed qualifier. They were compelled, by the evidence of their eyes, that Pádraic Maher is a half-back colossus and that's where he should be; that James Barry is maybe a better fit for the complexities of life on the edge of the square.
That was also the day Séamus Callanan blossomed with everything on the line. Ever since, the scores have kept flowing: his running total is 7-38 (7-11 from play). Can he maintain that streak against the indestructible, seen-it-all, JJ Delaney? Good question. Maybe a pivotal one too.
However, Éamon O'Shea's attack isn't a one-man orchestra and Kilkenny can't place all of their defensive energies on stopping Callanan, safe in the knowledge that this will definitively break their rivals. John O'Dwyer has been positively metronomic all summer, scoring 2-20 (2-18 from play).
The other potential positive for the Premier is that, despite scoring 2-17 from play against Cork, there is scope for forward improvement. Lar Corbett was poor by former Lar standards; but Tipp have evolved to a point where Corbett cutting loose is no longer a prerequisite to success. Noel McGrath is capable of so much more, too.
For all that, Kilkenny will ask tougher questions than Tipp have faced during their last three double-digit cakewalks. And for longer too, because one welcome by-product of Brian Cody's reshuffling act this year is a deeper bench, replete with several potential match-winners.
With Richie Hogan in Hurler of the Year form, Tipp's midfield won't completely run the show as they did against Cork. Darren Gleeson won't be given the same latitude to dictate via those laser puckouts.
Almost certainly (because they've been doing this ever since the debacle of those last ten minutes of their Galway stalemate) Cody will set up his charges in a cautious alignment designed to protect the centre of his defence; to deny 'Bonner' Maher and Callanan the space in which to thrive. They will also tear into Tipp, hoping to test the nerve of their five final debutants; or to expose signs of the flakiness that has undermined Tipp at different stages since their last All-Ireland win (and last SHC triumph over Kilkenny) in 2010.
Four years on, though, our hunch is that the baton is set to pass.
ODDS: Kilkenny 4/5, Draw 10/1, Tipp 13/10
TEAM HERALD has extended its lead, having garnered €80 (on another Kerry/Mayo draw after 70 minutes) whereas Boylesports made do with €60 (James O'Donoghue as Man of the Match).
THE BLANCHE BET: €20 double on Kilkenny seniors to lead at HT and FT and Limerick minors to lead at HT and FT @ 5/1; €15 on Richie Hogan to score a goal at any time @ 3/1; €10 on Kilkenny to beat Tipperary by 4-6 points @ 9/2; €5 on Eoin Larkin to be named RTÉ Man of the Match @ 14/1. CARRYOVER PROFIT: €205
THE HERALD WAGER: €15 double on Tipperary (-3) @ 5/2 and a red card to be shown in SHC final @ 2/1; €10 on Kilkenny and Tipp to draw @ 10/1; €10 on Colin Fennelly to score first goal @ 15/2; €10 on Patrick 'Bonner' Maher to score a goal at any time @ 9/2; €5 on Pádraic Maher to be named RTÉ Man of the Match @ 16/1. CARRYOVER PROFIT: €470.20