Terrific Tipp triumph in All-Ireland SHC Final
All-Ireland Senior Hurling Championship Final
TIPPERARY 2-29 KILKENNY 2-20
By John Harrington at Croke Park
Five years of hurt fuelled a ferocious Tipperary performance as they dethroned Kilkenny in style to win the county’s 27th All-Ireland Hurling title.
There were so many positives about Tipperary’s display that it’s difficult to know where to begin.
The scoring output of their full-forward line is as good a place to start as any. Seamus Callanan, John ‘Bubbles’ O’Dwyer, and John McGrath scored 2-21 between them – more than Kilkenny’s entire total.
Callanan swept over an incredible nine points from play, O’Dwyer scored a brilliant goal that gave Tipp the momentum at a vital stage of the second-half, and when McGrath scored a sublime goal himself you knew it was going to be the Premier County’s day.
Those three gun-slingers were able to riddle Kilkenny with bullets because their team-mates supplied them with so much ammunition.
The reason Tipperary dominated the ball and managed to create so many scoring opportunities was because they bossed Kilkenny in the hook, block, and tackle count by 56 to 34.
No-one has ever mauled the Cats like the before in the metric of general intensity, and they were badly burned by the heat generated by ferocious competitors like Patrick ‘Bonnar’ Maher, Dan McCormack, Brendan Maher, Pádraic Maher and Ronan Maher.
Really, though, highlighting individual players does the Tipperary team a disservice, because every man in blue and gold played their part in this victory.
There was intrigue before a ball was pucked as the players jogged to their position and we waited to see who would be marking who and how Kilkenny in particular would set themselves up.
Ultimately both teams started exactly as selected, the only slight tweak was that John ‘Bubbles’ O’Dwyer pitched up at top of the left instead of top of the right which meant he was going head to head with Paul Murphy.
No-one really knew what to expect from this match beforehand because the teams so well-matched on paper, and perhaps that was why there was a slightly subdued atmosphere when the teams paraded around the pitch and even in the opening few minutes.
It was as if everyone was waiting to see what would happen and didn’t want to emotionally invest themselves in the contest until it had settled into some sort of discernible pattern.
It took a while for that pattern to emerge too. Tipperary had more of the ball, but were hitting a lot of wides and at the other end of the field were conceding frees that kept giving Kilkenny easy momentum.
Kilkenny were also the more economical team when they got the ball in forward positions. Kevin Kelly, Walter Walsh, and Eoin Larkin all snaffled sharp points in the opening 15 minutes as the Cats clawed Tipp on the counter.
Slowly but surely though, Tipperary started to come out on top in the key battles and started to really force the tempo of the game.
Ronan Maher wasn’t giving Richie Hogan room to breathe, Brendan Maher was hurling more ball than TJ Reid, Patrick Maher was getting on top of Kieran Joyce, and Séamus Callanan had Joey Holden in all sorts of difficulty whenever the ball made its way into him.
Despite Tipp’s growing dominance, Kilkenny were tenaciously staying in the game and could have done more than that had Colin Fennelly and Eoin Larkin taken two decent goal chances that came their way.
Tipp didn’t threaten the Kilkenny goal in the same way in the first half, but towards the end of it they began to find their range from distance as John O’Dwyer came roaring into the game with two fine points.
Now he was also getting the better of another key battle with Paul Murphy, so really all the stars were aligning for Tipp.
Late points from Callanan and O’Dwyer gave them a two-point lead at the break, and that stage you felt the game was there for the taking for Tipp if they could just stop conceding cheap frees and hitting poor wides.
Kilkenny came out with their teeth gritted for the start of the second-half though, and Tipp supporters must felt a familiar cold grip on their hearts when a Kevin Kelly goal helped the Cats into a two-point lead.
Conceding goals against the run of play against Kilkenny arguably cost Tipp All-Ireland wins in 2009 and 2014, and it was easy to believe at that moment in the game that Kelly’s goal could be a turning point.
The Tipperary players simply refused to accept that might be their fate though, and in a ten-minute period absolutely blitzed their great rivals by scoring 1-7 with just as single point in return.
Callanan and substitute Jason Forde clipped two sweet points before O’Dwyer drove a dagger deep into Kilkenny’s heart with a really special goal.
Cathal Barrett came thundering out of the Tipp defence, was fouled, but referee Brian Gavin did well to play advantage. Barrett picked out O’Dwyer will a brilliant delivery, and the Killenaule man did the pass justice by smashing a brilliant finish to the corner of the net.
Tipp nearly had a second goal moments later when O’Dwyer was put through on goal again but Kilkenny goalkeeper Eoin Murphy saved brilliantly.
Had O’Dwyer passed to Séamus Callanan instead of shooting his team-mate would have had a tap-in, and with the game still in the melting pot you wondered if it was a costly miss.
The Tipperary players knew they had the Cats by the scruff of the neck though, and they weren’t about to loosen their grip.
A by now totally dominant Paudie Maher hit an inspirational point from distance and McGrath and Callanan followed up with scores of their own to keep the scoreboard ticking over.
Kilkenny needed to find inspiration from somewhere, and in fairness to Padraig Walsh he did his best to provide it as he tore downfield to score two points in a row.
His good work looked to be for naught when John McGrath blasted a second Tipperary goal to the roof of the net after being put through by his brother Noel.
But Kilkenny refused to die, and immediately struck back with a goal of their own when Richie Hogan drove a murderous ground-stroke past a startled Darren Gleeson.
That was the last kick of a dying team, though. Tipperary closed the game out impressively with four more points, the last of which was a real exclamation mark score from Patrick Maher.
Tipp have suffered a lot of pain at Kilkenny’s hands in recent years. A win of this magnitude will go a long way to salving it.
Scorers for Tipperary: Seamus Callanan 0-13 (3f, ’65), John O’Dwyer 1-5 (1 sl, 1f), John McGrath 1-3, Patrick Maher 0-2, Jason Forde 0-2, Padraic Maher 0-1, Seamus Kennedy 0-1, Dan McCormack 0-1, Noel McGrath 0-1
Scorers for Kilkenny: TJ Reid 0-11 (10f, 1’65), Kevin Kelly 1-2, Richie Hogan 1-1, Padraig Walsh 0-2, Eoin Larkin 0-2, Cillian Buckley 0-1, Walter Walsh 0-1
Tipperary: Darren Gleeson; Cathal Barrett, James Barry, Michael Cahill; Séamus Kennedy, Ronan Maher, Pádraic Maher; Brendan Maher, Michael Breen; Dan McCormack, Patrick Maher, Noel McGrath; John O’Dwyer, Séamus Callanan, John McGrath. Subs: Jason Forde for M Breen (45), Aidan McCormack for Dan McCormack (62), Donagh Maher for Michael Cahill (65), Kieran Bergin for Noel McGrath (70), Tomás Hamill for Séamus Kennedy (73)
Kilkenny: Eoin Murphy; Paul Murphy, Joey Holden, Shane Prendergast; Pádraig Walsh, Kieran Joyce, Cillian Buckley; TJ Reid, Conor Fogarty; Walter Walsh, Richie Hogan, Eoin Larkin; Kevin Kelly, Colin Fennelly, Liam Blanchfield. Subs: Robert Lennon for Kieran Joyce (59), Lester Ryan for Eoin Larkin (60)
Ref: Brian Gavin (Offaly)