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Niall O’Meara, right,and Jason Forde, left, celebrate following Tipperary's victory over Kilkenny in the All-Ireland Senior Hurling Championship Final at Croke Park on Sunday.
Niall O’Meara, right,and Jason Forde, left, celebrate following Tipperary's victory over Kilkenny in the All-Ireland Senior Hurling Championship Final at Croke Park on Sunday.

Dark nights of pre-season pay off says O'Meara


By Michael Devlin

All-Irelands aren’t won overnight, not even in the 70-plus minutes of a final. They are made way back in the endless cold dark nights of the previous winter, on muddy pitches and in chilly gyms.

Under the diminishing sun out on Croke Park, within the immediacy of Tipperary’s win on Sunday afternoon, Niall O’Meara was drinking in the glory. The moment was a far cry from that pre-season drudgery of ten months before.  

“I remember a few,” said the Kilruane MacDonagh's man. “You’d be keeling over up in Dr. Morris Park.”

“We had so many leaders. I know Seamie [Callanan] was captain, and Noel and guys like that, they are the boys you look up to. There were lads patting you on the back when you had nothing left to give, and that was big thing.

“You had 40 different lads, and 40 different leaders of different rates that are all doing different gym sessions in different places. You just need leadership everywhere, and thank God we had it

“Our attitude since November, when you go back when pre-season starts, your one aim is really to get here and give yourself a chance to win it. The win over Wexford was massive for us, it gave us all belief as a group, because they were the games I suppose that are harder to win. Today we said, "Right, we’ll give it one good go".Thankfully we did it.”

Kilkenny had rocketed out of the traps in the final before Richie Hogan’s sending-off just before halftime changed the complexion of the game. Before that, Cody’s men had dictated proceedings in the opening quarter, and by the 26th minute Tipp had brought the gap from five back to three. O’Meara then struck for the vital goal that woke up the Premier.

“For the first 20 minutes we didn’t really get a flow in the game, but then we got into it. I suppose at the start of the second half we did the damage.

“It was a great pass over the top by Jason [Forde]. Conor Fogarty was in front of me and I threw a couple of shimmies, Seamie made a run and I just shot. Hit in off the ground and went in thankfully.”

O’Meara celebrates after scoring his side's first goal against Kilkenny.
O’Meara celebrates after scoring his side's first goal against Kilkenny.

In the second period, with Tipperary a man up on their opponents, they took a grip on the game that would never loosen. Goals from Callanan and O’Dwyer gave them an unassailable lead, while at the other end the Maher brothers, Barry Heffernan and Cathal Barrett were impervious in front of the goal mouth.

“The start of the second half I thought we used the ball really well,” said O’Meara. “We said at halftime we need to put more width on the ball because Paul Murphy mopped up a lot of ball in front of their defence in the first half.

“So, we kept the ball a bit more to the sides, the boys won it, took on their men, and there were two brilliant goals there at the start of the second half. That gave us the platform to keep going and tag on the points.”

O’Meara says though, that while it looked like a seemingly foregone conclusion coming down the home stretch, you can never rule out Kilkenny, who battled right to the end.

“Not with Kilkenny, you always feel they’ll have a chance. They bombarded our square at the start of the second half, and in fairness to Ronan Maher and Barry Heffernan and a few of the boys, they were unbelievable. They came out with ball after ball. 

“That counts for so much because obviously you are trying to score up front, but if you’re leaking at the back, you’re in trouble. I thought the boys were outstanding.”

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