Flashback: 2009 All-Ireland SHC Final - Kilkenny v Tipperary
By John Harrington
The invention of the wheel, the dawn of the iron age, the industrial revolution, and the digital revolution are all moments in time when the evolution of the human race seemed to suddenly accelerate.
Were a hurling anthropologist to examine the game for a similar such quickening, then the 2009 All-Ireland Hurling Final between Kilkenny and Tipperary would stand out.
It was the first time in the history of All-Ireland Finals that two teams hit more than 21 scores each.
It equalled the record of 47 scores in an All-Ireland Final which had been set the year previously, but that 2008 All-Ireland Final was skewed by Kilkenny’s utter destruction of Waterford.
Since then we’ve had three more All-Ireland Finals where both teams have hit more that 21 scores each and the record of 47 scores has been smashed and now stands at 54.
It wasn’t just the high-scoring that made the 2009 All-Ireland Final special, it was as the sheer quality of play.
Kilkenny had coasted to the previous two All-Ireland titles and the game badly needed another county to step up to their level and take them head on, which is exactly what Tipperary did in 2009.
First, they took them to extra-time in a classic League Final, and then they brought them to the brink again in the All-Ireland Final.
Kilkenny went into the match as raging hot favourites to win a historic four-in-a-row, but that’s never a good position to be in.
Henry Shefflin admitted in his autobiography that the pressure of the occasion even got to arguably the greatest hurler the game has seen, because three days before the game he lay down on his bed and felt like crying because he legs had gone to jelly.
“What am I going to do?” he asked his wife, Deirdre. “I can’t f*ing play if I’m like this.”
Meanwhile, Tipperary were coming into the match under the radar and had the Cats very much in their shooting sights.
“The attention to detail, I remember, was second to none,” Eoin Kelly told GAA.ie in 2015.
“We would have rehearsed everything in training in Semple Stadium - going out to meet the president, all the things that you go through on All-Ireland final day.
“We were really mentally prepared and I think that showed in our performance.
“2009 was heart-breaking because we felt we had goal chances that day and we just didn't take them.”
Tipperary took the game to Kilkenny from the off, but as the half progressed the Cats came to terms with the intensity of the contest and at the break led by 0-13 to 0-11.
You figured that might be the launch-pad for them to move away from Tipp at the start of the second-half, but Liam Sheedy’s team had other ideas.
They moved up a gear and within 15 minutes had turned a two-point deficit into a two-point lead.
It could have been much worse for Kilkenny, because goalkeeper PJ Ryan pulled off two brilliant saves from Seamus Callanan and Eoin Kelly.
“We were well in the match and what we wanted to achieve was slowly but surely coming to pass,” wrote Tipperary goalkeeper Brendan Cummins in his autobiography.
“What undid us on the day was the lack of a killer instinct in front of goal.
“I’m convinced that just one goal would have opened the floodgates and we would have walked home.
“I still don’t know how PJ saved Callanan’s shot and Eoin slipped when he had a real sight of goal.
“There was surface water at the Canal End as areas of the pitch had been re-sodded after the U2 concerts.”
Tipperary suffered a set-back when substitute Benny Dunne was red-carded on 54 minutes, but it didn’t seem to knock them out of their stride as they moved three clear after points from Kelly and Callanan.
The game turned decisively Kilkenny’s way in the closing minutes, though, when Henry Shefflin buried a penalty to the back of the net and then Martin Comerford scored a decisive goal shortly afterwards.
“Henry struck the penalty over my left shoulder and I got a stick to it, thinking that I’d diverted it over the bar,” wrote Cummins in his autobiography. “Goal. But we were still in the game…
“When Martin Comerford scored a second Kilkenny goal after the penalty, we were spent. The tank had been emptied but it still wasn’t enough.”
Kilkenny had become only the second county in hurling history to complete the four-in-a-row, and the fact it had been so hard won against their fiercest rivals only made the achievement all the sweeter.
“The 2009 All-Ireland final was probably the best of all the games we played,” wrote Eoin Larkin when pondering the Kilkenny-Tipp rivalry in his autobiography.
“We rode our luck that day. They hurled better than we did on the day but struggled to put us away.
“When push came to shove, that little bit of doubt must have been in their minds.”