Allianz Hurling League Final 2013

Allianz Hurling League Final, Nowlan Park

Nowlan Park to rock again as final makes welcome return

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Bruce Springsteen has already sold out two dates there at the end of the July, and now Kilkenny and Tipperary are set to do likewise.

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With the main Ardan de Gras (new stand) already sold out, Sunday’s Allianz Hurling League final at Nowlan Park is on course to draw a capacity crowd of around 24,000 – partly explained by the novelty and setting of the Kilkenny venue.

Indeed it’s staged more concerts in recent years than major GAA matches, with Andrea Bocelli, Rod Stewart, Bob Dylan, Dolly Parton, and Paul Simon among those to perform at Nowlan Park, and Springsteen’s two shows – the climax of his Wrecking Ball European tour – could have sold out several times over.

Nowlan Park, however, is not a complete stranger to hurling league finals – having played host three times in the past: in 1966, Kilkenny beat New York in the second leg (the first leg was played in Croke Park) of the final; in 1959 Tipperary beat Waterford there, while in 1933, Kilkenny beat Limerick. Indeed both of Sunday’s finalists already have experience of winning the league title in Nowlan Park.

So attractive

What makes Nowlan Park so attractive, says Kilkenny’s six-time All-Ireland winner Eddie Keher, is the tightness of the seating arrangements: together with the Ardan de Gras, the Ardan Breathnach (old stand) and the new Ardan O Cearbhaill (and the so-called county end) seat around 17,000, making it one of the GAA’s largest seating capacities outside of Croke Park.

“Isn’t it wonderful?” says Keher. “We’ve played league finals in Thurles, a great atmosphere, and Kilkenny love playing in Thurles as well, but this is something special, one of the biggest seating venues after Croke Park in Leinster.

“The new stand there, at the country end of the pitch, as we call it, I’d hope will be full. If that is full I think there’ll be a huge crowd and I think that will create a great atmosphere for both Kilkenny and Tipperary supporters.

“And I know it’s everyone’s dream is to play in Croke Park, particularly new players, who relish getting the chance to play at Croke Park. But I think league matches, or the earlier rounds of the championship, provide a better atmosphere, with the full house rather than sort of a sparse crowd, or well, a good crowd that looks sparse in Croke Park. So I would like to see maybe more counties having a home and away agreement, as we have in Tipperary. We’ll go there, they go to us, in important matches.”

Reigning champions

Kilkenny, as reigning champions, are bidding to take the title for the 16th time while Tipperary can extend their lead having already won the title 19 times.

Unfortunately one man who won’t be there on Sunday is Kilkenny manager Brian Cody, as he continues to recover from minor cardiac surgery. Yet Keher has no doubt Cody will be back as soon as he’s fit and able.

“And I’m sure he’ll be there in spirit, and that he’ll have a part to play at some stage. I don’t know what’s happening but I can imagine him keeping totally away from it. He’ll be missed on the sidelines he has done a fantastic job with that team over the years. We all wish him the best.”

Also missing on Sunday is Henry Shefflin, as he continues his comeback from an ankle injury and while Keher is confident he too will be back sooner rather than later, he doesn’t believe Shefflin is chasing the record of never missing a senior championship game under Cody.

“From talking to him recently I’d say – even though he didn’t say it – that he’s gearing himself to try and be back for the championship. If anyone will get back Henry will get back. Even if he doesn’t make the first match hopefully he can go on from there. Despite what it seems with that Kilkenny team I don’t think records motivate them.”

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