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Ever since Paul Curran vacated the Tipperary square in 2015, leaving more than a decade of unbroken service behind him, the Premier county have struggled to find a body for that number three jersey.
A meantime filled by stop-gaps more so than mainstays, the years ran by and Tipperary won Munsters and an All-Ireland. The goalie’s first man however, has always been a willing convert rather than a happy home-bird.
First sheriff on duty was the big, bustling Paudie Maher. An old-style number three, all of the position’s requirements were so readily satisfied by his gigantic frame and sure stick-work. You actually couldn’t have wrote a better fit down on paper.
Reality read differently though.
While The Thurles Sar fared well inside and didn’t looked a duck out of water even on the biggest of days, the nagging suspicion lingered that Tipp were shafting Peter to pay Paul. To push that one through, the freedom of the half-back line appealed more to Maher. Still does to this day.
In 2015 we stand and where do Tipp go now?
That half-back-line is worth a second look. A certain Upperchurch-Drombane club man appears the best fit. And so just like Maher had done before him, James Barry, years playing in the Tipperary half-back-line behind him, is asked to retreat.
A feeling of Deja vu about this one, but necessity is hard to ignore.
Initially, Barry goes well. Tipp won Munster and though a semi-final loss to Galway went down like a sack of spuds, Barry was out of the firing line. He’d applied himself admirably and even earned an All-Star nomination. Hard to fault that.
2016 is even better with Liam MacCarthy brought back to Tipperary. How could there possibly be anything up in an All-Ireland winning year? Barry returned home to mid Tipperary with a Celtic Cross and indeed, a full back All-Star.
The higher you are, the harder the fall.
It was the following year when a couple of chinks began to show. Tipp were cleaned out of it by Galway in the League final for example. The same opposition knocked them out of the championship again.
Come ’18 and Michael Ryan was getting a bit shifty. It was hard to blame him. Bottom line was though that Barry’s sliding form saw him dropped as Seamus Kennedy stepped in at three for the championship.
Kennedy, another convert dragged to territory unknown, wasn’t himself. Tipp had a stinker and were out in Munster. A leaky last-line partly to blame.
Which brings us up to current time, the year 2019 and the return of a Premier county God. Sheedy initially restored Barry to his home away from home. He was fairly solid, if a long way from spectacular in an up-and-down League.
This is championship country though and Barry does what’s asked of him in the Munster round-robin. To be fair, he was never under a siege with the Tipp half-back-line so impressive and so well on top.
First real test then came in the Munster final. With Tipp’s half backs out of it, Limerick ran riot. Barry failed to arrest the slide and shipped 1-5 to his marker Peter Casey. And was caught rotten for a Kyle Hayes goal when failing to claim a ball that was there for him.
Ross King gave him some more problems against Laois. Barry was withdrawn late on and his goose looked cooked. In went Barry Heffernan, who would start and hold that square hostage for seventy minutes against Wexford.
And here we arrive to the biggest weekend in the Irish sporting calendar. Tipp and Kilkenny’s empires have struck back and are ready to face off in a fifth All-Ireland final in a decade.
In a normal world, Barry Heffernan would be nailed onto hold his position at three. Colin Fennelly is no normal opponent though.
— The GAA (@officialgaa) July 27, 2019
His goal against Cork and then Limerick is the reason Kilkenny are here. His target on the edge of the square is their biggest weapon. Widely regarded as the most effective club player in the country, Fennelly was literally unstoppable in Ballyhale’s club march this year. The former army man’s physicality is almost impossible to keep tabs on. 6 ft 2 in tall, he boasts a sizeable frame and a broad pair of shoulders. When he puts that head down and goes, he’s nigh on impossible to stop as Limerick found out to their cost above.
And where Tipperary are unsure, Kilkenny will smell blood. The case is there for James Barry – a much bigger man than Heffernan and a player who has the experience of holding Fennelly scoreless in the 2016 All-Ireland final – to pick him up again, though Sheedy could opt for the in-form Heffernan again.
Whoever gets the nod will have the toughest job in Ireland this Sunday.
You can listen to Derek McGrath and Lar Corbett discuss the Fennelly impact in Corbett and McGrath’s Big Build Up with Centra Ireland here.
- Lar Corbett on Fennelly’s strength and his goalscoring prowess from 15.45.
“One of the only guys who can turn zero% goal-chances into goals,” says Lar. “It’s going to be a big, big call who Tipp choose to mark this guy on Sunday.”
- Derek McGrath on his carefree nature from 18.00.
“He seems to be very carefree too, there’s no nerves about him. It’s like ‘get it into me, if I’m one against two, or one against three, what about it, I’ll win it, I’ll create something,” adds McGrath.