Saturday 6th of July from 6pm: Tipperary v's Kilkenny
Kilkenny were favourites to retain the Leinster title after last year’s so-called hiccup in losing to Galway in the provincial final, but Brian Cody’s side lost to Dublin after a replay in the semi-final at Portlaoise last Saturday night and have now gone two years without a Leinster title for the first time since 1997. Tipperary, too, were expected to claim a third successive Munster title and to come back stronger than ever under new manager Eamon O’Shea after last year’s All-Ireland semi-final defeat to the Cats. However, the Munster championship was turned on its head when the Premier County were beaten by Limerick in the semi-final, and as luck would have it they were pitched into Phase 2 of the Qualifiers against their great tormentors of the recent past.
One of the arguments detractors of the hurling qualifiers frequently make is the huge number of lop-sided games they have thrown up since they came in back in 2002. This, however, is quite simply the biggest game in the 11-year history of the ‘back door’ in hurling and not even the most cock-sure of pundits is willing to put their neck on the line to call it.
The fact that Tipperary or Kilkenny will be out of the 2013 Championship by 8.30pm on Saturday night is something people have been attempting to come to terms with since Kilkenny’s replay defeat to Dublin on Saturday. Kilkenny have made 16 All-Ireland semi-finals in a row while Tipperary haven’t been idle at this time of the year since 1999. It all feeds into the unmistakable sense that the bases of power are shifting, and with Limerick, Clare and Dublin on the rise, there’s a hint of revolution in the air.
Given their prowess in the provincial championships, this is unsurprisingly their first-ever meeting in the qualifiers. The sides have met in each of the last four championship seasons, however, with the 2009, 2010 and 2011 games all being All-Ireland finals. Last year’s encounter, an All-Ireland semi-final, was the exception in every sense given the Cats romped to an 18-point victory after three evenly matched and very exciting games.
While those games can’t be discounted, the Allianz League final this year is a far more relevant reference point. A full-blooded and thoroughly enjoyable game played at a packed Nowlan Park at the start of May, it was a championship game in everything but name. Largely thanks to a brilliant first half performance from Michael Fennelly, who scored 2-3 playing in an attacking role, the Cats won by 2-17 to 0-20 in a fiery game that saw JJ Delaney and Lar Corbett red carded