Tipperary forwards' work rate key to All-Ireland glory
TIPPERARY 2-29 KILKENNY 2-20
There was a Tipperary hue to just about everything that happened in Croke Park this afternoon.
Their minor team won their 20th All-Ireland title; their 1991 All-Ireland winning squad was presented to the crowd but sweetest of all their senior side finally crushed Kilkenny to secure their 27th All-Ireland title and their first since 2010.
Tipperary are making a habit of ending elusive Kilkenny dreams. The 2010 victory was a watershed moment as it ended the Cats' bid for a record fifth Liam MacCarthy win on the spin. This win merely ended Kilkenny's bid for a second hat-trick of All-Ireland triumphs under Brian Cody.
But this was a payback title for Tipperary and their rookie boss Michael Ryan, who follows in the illustrious footsteps of the Cork pair, Jimmy Barry Murphy (1999) and Donal O'Grady (2004) and Liam Sheedy (2010) as the only hurling coaches to have gotten the better of Cody in an All-Ireland final.
Since 2010, Kilkenny have beaten Tipperary in two All-Ireland finals – the second after a replay in 2014 – as well as an All-Ireland semi-final and a qualifier.
This was an overdue success for the Premier County and the demeanour of the Tipperary players – particularly when Kilkenny threatened to extend their misery with a 42nd minute goal from newcomer Kevin Kelly – demonstrated that this was one contest they weren't going to lose.
In many ways it was a sweeter win than their 2010 win. They won by nine points compared to eight six years ago. No team had ever chalked up 29 points against the Cats in an All-Ireland decider and Kilkenny had never conceded a total of 35 points in an All-Ireland decider.
Six years ago there were predictions that Tipperary would dominate hurling for the next decade after their Liam MacCarthy success and their U-21 All-Ireland victory six days later. In the event the Cats roared back, winning four of the next six All-Ireland titles!
As long as Brian Cody stays in charge of Kilkenny they will continue to be All-Ireland contenders but their days of unrivalled dominance are probably over for the foreseeable future.
The lack of depth in their squad was underlined by the fact that Cody only introduced two substitutes even though they were being outplayed in virtually every sector in the second half.
Tipperary don't have any recent history of empire building – they haven't retained an All-Ireland title since 1964-65 but given the age profile of the current side there is no reason why they cannot secure more Liam MacCarthy Cups during the rest of the decade.
It is the ultimate tribute to Kilkenny that Tipperary beat them at their own game. The winners' work rate was simply phenomenal particularly in the second half and their forwards' appetite for unglamorous graft laid the foundation for the victory.
Michael Ryan deserves immense credit for turning around their fortunes. A hard working, no frills style corner back in his playing days, he moulded the team in a similar vein.
The newcomers he introduced such as Seamus Kennedy, Michael Breen and Dan McCormack brought that work ethic to the table and Kilkenny simply had no answer.
Being the Cats, there was always the lurking suspicion that they could still rescue the game against the odds and when an otherwise subdued Richie Hogan scored Kilkenny's second goal 90 seconds after a brilliant strike from John McGrath had put Tipp nine points clear in the 61st minute, there were faint hopes that Kilkenny might contrive a comeback.
But that's as good as it got for the Cats who only scored one more point while Tipp tagged on three and it took a brilliant save from Eoin Murphy to deny McGrath a second goal as the Premier County sealed the win.
Against the odds the two teams lined out exactly as selected and on the scoreboard there was nothing between the sides in the first half as evident by the fact that they were level on ten occasions.
Tipperary were slow to settle and Kilkenny led 4-2 after ten minutes but gradually the pattern of an absorbing contest was established. The Cats were experiencing real difficulties winning their own puck-outs but Tipperary were not punishing them as they racked up nine first-half wides compared to five for Kilkenny.
Ominously for Tipperary, Kilkenny created two half chances for goals but neither Colin Fennelly - who was held scoreless - nor Eoin Larkin were on target with their final efforts and the Premier County did hit the last two scores of the half to lead at the break 0-14; 0-12.
Even then Kilkenny were over reliant on TJ Reid's frees to keep them in touch whereas by half time all the Tipperary forwards had scored from play.
Initially, the Kilkenny full-back line had coped well with the threat of the Tipp full-forward line of John O'Dwyer, John McGrath and Seamus Callanan but the latter's five-point tally from play in the period did underline how uncomfortable he was making life for Joey Holden.
The third quarter appeared to be following an all too familiar script when Kilkenny's best move of the match involving Richie Hogan, Walter Walsh and Liam Blanchfield culminated in Kevin Kelly virtually walking the sliotar into the Tipperary net in the 41st minute to give them a two-point lead (1-14; 0-15).
Tipperary's response was indicative of their approach to the contest. Within four minutes they were level again and once the rampant Callanan restored their lead in the 48th minute they powered for home.
A majestic goal from John O'Dwyer a minute later gave them a four-point advantage and effectively ended the game as a contest even though there was more than 20 minutes of normal time remaining.
By now Kilkenny were being beaten in every sector. While their full-back line was taking the brunt of the collateral damage – they conceded 2-15 from play – the real problems were further out the field.
Amazingly, the Kilkenny won less than a third of Eoin Murphy's second half restarts as the magnificent Tipperary defence out-fielded and out-fought the Cats' forwards.
At the other end the Tipp forwards harried the Kilkenny defenders into making mistakes and significantly Tipperary's second goal came after the Kilkenny defence coughed up possession under pressure.
In the end Kilkenny became almost totally reliant on pointed frees from TJ Reid to stay in touch – he converted five in the second half. Padraig Walsh tried to rally his troops with two points from play while Kevin Kelly converted a sideline – but the rest of the Kilkenny forwards failed to raise a white flag in the second half.
In contrast, Tipperary Man of the Match Seamus Callanan couldn't miss and ended the contest with a 0-13 tally - with nine points from play - although the point of the match was a monster effort from Padraic Maher from under the Cusack Stand.
It was that kind of afternoon for Tipperary – nearly everything they tried worked out down to Michael Cahill's heroic block on Kevin Kelly's goal-bound shot in the 55th minute.
The official attendance was 82,016 which meant that the final was not a sell-out.
Tipperary: D Gleeson; C Barrett, J Barry, M Cahill; S Kennedy (0-1), R Maher, Padraic Maher (0-1); B Maher, M Breen; D McCormack (0-1), Patrick Maher (0-2), N McGrath (0-1); J O'Dwyer (1-5, 2f), S Callanan (0-13, 4f), J McGrath (1-3). Subs: J Forde (0-2) for Breen 44m; N O'Meara for McCormack 61m; D Maher for Cahill 65m; K Bergin for M McGrath 69m; T Hamill for Kennedy 73m
Kilkenny: E Murphy, P Murphy, J Holden, S Prendergast; P Walsh (0-2), K Joyce, C Buckley (0-1); TJ Reid (0-11, 10f, 165), C Fogarty; W Walsh (0-1), R Hogan (1-1), E Larkin (0-2); K Kelly (1-2, 1 sideline), C Fennelly, L Blanchfield. Subs; R Lennon for Joyce 60m; L Ryan for Larkin 60m
Referee: Brian Gavin (Offaly).