SCORERS: Tipperary - Michael Heffernan (1-4); Kieran Morris (1-3, 0-1 free); David Butler (1-2); Michael Gleeson, Paudie White, Sean Carey, Paudie O’Dwyer (0-1 each). Kilkenny - Rory Hickey (0-8, 0-4 frees, 0-2 65); Geoff Brennan (1-0); Kevin Kelly (0-3); Niall Walsh (0-2); Brian Kennedy, Luke Harney, Joe Lyng, Jonjo Farrell (0-1 each).
A VALIANT effort came up agonisingly short for the Kilkenny intermediate hurlers who were beaten by 3-13 to 1-17 by Tipperary, writes Trevor Spillane.
Despite a tremendous second half rally, which saw them turn a 12-point chasm into the slenderest of margins, Kilkenny just couldn’t overtake Tipperary and get their hands on the All-Ireland silverware.
There was pain in the voice of manager Pat O’Grady when he spoke after Saturday’s game in Semple Stadium, but he was loud in his praise of his team.
“We restored a bit of pride in the Kilkenny jersey in the second half,” he said. “However, that’s scant consolation for losing an All-Ireland final.”
Much of the damage was done in the first half. Kilkenny started well but tailed off disastrously, leaking 2-6 to Tipp midway through the half. They conceded another goal late on, falling 12 points behind by the break.
It looked like the Premier would win at their will, but Kilkenny weren’t finished yet. Slowly but surely they clawed their way back into the game, grinding out points as they whittled away at the deficit.
Kevin Kelly (2) and Niall Walsh (2) led the charge in the opening 12 minutes of the new half. Rory Hickey and Jonjo Farrell also popped over points as Kilkenny chased a seemingly impossible task. Farrell also had a chance at goal, doing well to get on the end of a sweeping move involving Bill Beckett and Michael Malone, but his 40th minute strike was straight at Tipp netminder James Logue.
Undeterred, Kilkenny kept plugging away. Geoff Brennan gave them hope when he drove a booming ball into the Town End goal, the sliotar dropping over the advancing Logue and into the net.
Suddenly, it was a three-point game (3-9 to 1-12). Kilkenny were back in the reckoning.
Such a comeback seemed unlikely given the way Tipp’s whirlwind of a full-forward line wreaked havoc on Kilkenny’s hopes with their blistering first half display.
After some good early jousting, led by ever-reliable Rory Hickey and Brian Kennedy (he grabbed a fine score following a storming burst down the flank), Pat O’Grady’s men led by double scores (0-4 to 0-2) after nine minutes.
However, they couldn’t have forecast what would happen in the next 12 minutes. Tipp’s rally started with full-forward Michael Heffernan crashing a one-handed shot past Richie O’Neill - it could have been said that Kilkenny were too relaxed in trying to clear the initial long delivery - before the front-line of Kieran Morris, Heffernan and David Butler (2) bagged a batch of points.
By that stage, all of Tipp’s full-forward line had scored. None of their counterparts had managed to do so, as the hosts kept the ball flowing one way.
A fine long range point from midfielder Paudie White pushed Tipp six clear by the 17th minute (1-7 to 0-4), the gap growing to nine when Butler rifled home from close range.
Heffernan and Hickey traded points - Kilkenny’s first score in 13 minutes - but another mix-up at the back saw Heffernan tee up Morris to grab Tipp’s third goal with five minutes left in the half.
Kilkenny were reeling, but tried to regain some of their composure before the break. Pat Hartley, Michael Malone and Geoff Brennan were all sprung from the bench as the Cats reshuffled their pack.
They tried to make a charge on the scoreboard too. Hickey sent a wicked free from way out left sizzling over the crossbar, the sliotar warming the hand of netminder James Logue who tried to catch the 26th minute delivery.
Hickey went for goal from his next free, which a little closer to the target, but his injury-time strike was well stopped on the line by a blanket Tipp defence.
When the whistle sounded, the roar from the home support said it all. As for the visitors, they were shell-shocked (3-9 to 0-6).
It was all change in the second half as a revitalised Kilkenny took control, steadily reducing the deficit. There were just two points between the sides when Rory Hickey converted a 43rd minute 65, but two in a minute from Michael Heffernan allowed Tipp to gain some breathing room with a quarter of the game to play (3-11 to 1-13).
Having fought so hard to get back into the game Kilkenny weren’t about to throw in the towel just yet. A Kevin Kelly point had them up and running, Luke Harney adding another from inside his own half. Tipp’s nerves were jangling, even more so after Joe Lyng broke from midfield to grab another point and leave the bare minimum between the sides with nine minutes to play (3-11 to 1-16).
Kilkenny were roaring towards the finish and had a great chance to steal in front when Ger Aylward was fouled in the square. Hickey went for goal from the penalty but James Logue was equal to the shot, pushing it away before the rebound was forced wide.
One last push
Spurred on by the save, Tipp gave it one last push. Kieran Morris pointed a free - their first score from a placed ball - in the 55th minute, sub Paudie O’Dwyer grabbing from another from play to inch his side towards the title.
Kilkenny and Hickey did have one last chance to send the game to extra-time with another free. Needing three points it was no surprise to see him go for goal but again Logue was there to save the day, pushing the sliotar over the bar to earn Tipp the win.
O’Grady was quick to laud his team for the way they refused to give in, even after falling so far behind.
“We didn’t get up to the tempo of the match in the first half, but when the lads came out for the second half they gave it everything,” he said. “You couldn’t ask for any more from them.”
The manager was also adamant that the Cats made the right call going for goal from the penalty.
“With seven minutes to go we were scoring points freely,” he said. “The wind was behind us and the game there to be won - you’ve got to be brave sometimes and go for it.
“Of course you could put the ball over the bar but I believe the right decision was to go for the goal,” he said. “Rory has been hitting them in all year. He has a fantastic shot on the ball, but it just didn’t happen for him. It’s just a pity for him, and a team who have given their all.”
Kilkenny - R. O’Neill (Kilmacow), M. Phelan (Glenmore), A. Walsh (Mooncoin), J. Corcoran (John Lockes), B. Kennedy (St Lachtain’s), B. Beckett (St Lachtain’s), L. Harney (Kilmacow), J. Lyng (Rower-Inistioge), P. Murphy (Blacks & Whites), N. Walsh (Slieverue), R. Hickey (Lisdowney), K. Kelly (St Patrick’s), R. Walsh (Danesfort), J.J. Farrell (Thomastown), G. Aylward (Glenmore). Subs: P. Hartley (Tullogher-Rosbercon) for Murphy, 19 mins; M. Malone (Mullinavat) for R. Walsh, 28 mins; G. Brennan for A. Walsh, 30 mins; C. Kenny (Barrow Rangers, 60 mins)
Tipperary - J. Logue, G. Walsh, K. O’Gorman, C. Coughlan, J. Barry, E. Connolly, R. Sherlock, M. Gleeson, P. White, S. Carey, D. O’Brien, J. Gallagher, K. Morris, M. Heffernan, D. Butler.
Referee - J. Owens (Wexford).