These Will Keep Things Ticking over Nicely; with Kilkenny Closing in on Four-in-a-Row, SHANE McGRATH Looks at Three Key Areas Which Could Have a Huge Bearing on Whether Tipperary Can Throw a Spanner in the Works and Prevent the Cats from Reaching Hurling Heaven

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On Diarmuid Kirwan

'MISCHIEVOUS or not, Paul Flynn's declaration on national television that the referee is a crucial actor in tomorrow's drama was correct. It drew a no-comment from the Kilkenny camp that nonetheless managed to be barbed, and Kirwan was going to be a figure attracting focus with or without the comments of Flynn.

The claims about Kilkenny being a dirty team have always been wafted by the whingeing of defeated teams. It is Kilkenny's brilliance that has accounted for every side they have met in the championship since the final of 2006, and when the talk about Brian Cody directing a team who 'play on the edge' is aired, it has often been flavoured with the bitter tang of sour grapes.

Ger Loughnane was one of the most vocal propagators of the theory before the 2007 quarter-final between Galway and Kilkenny, but the controversies with Tommy Walsh at their churning centre have been proffered as evidence in the past two campaigns.

How any of this affects Kirwan, if at all, should be difficult to gauge, because Kilkenny are not a team with cynicism at their heart: brilliance and deathless hard work lie there. However, what would prove significant is a ref intent on clamping down on foul play, real or imagined. In fairness to Kirwan, there is no evidence he will take this approach.

Indeed, his refereeing of last year's semifinal between Waterford and Tipperary saw Waterford lace into Tipp from the off by means fair and, claimed Tipperary players, foul. In his previous final appearance, Kilkenny targeted Limerick's young star defender Seamus Hickey and bullied him relentlessly. If Kirwan approaches the game with preconceived notions, it will not benefit the final.

There is no evidence he will -- this is a game that must follow its own furious flow.'

'On Tipp's temper

'AS MUCH as matching the physicality of Kilkenny was in their minds on May 3, the memories of that bullying from Waterford last August loomed in Tipperary's consciousness the day of the league final. Liam Sheedy spent his first season in charge crafting a young and skilful team, and by the time August came there was a vibrant trade in the opinion that they were Ireland's second-best side.

Then came their shock, bruising defeat to Waterford, when the winners' furious start left Tipperary in futile pursuit of the rest of the game.

In this year's regulation rounds of the league, Tipp visited Nowlan Park and were minced, eventually trailing by 17 points. The sides were thrown together again in a league final that doubled as a serious test of a budding team's courage. The past fortnight has seen Tipperary players and mentors play down a game they led for 65 of the regulation 70 minutes, only losing in extra time. However, there was a certainty in their approach to the physical exchanges that day, the unmistakable vision of a team sending out a message.

Four players in total were sent to the line, yellow-carded under the experimental interpretation of the rules that permitted cautioned players to be replaced. …