HENCEFORTH the All-Ireland senior final of 2011 will be remembered as the year of ‘The Plan’. It was the occasion when Kilkenny broke with their standard procedure, implemented a tailor made plan to snare and bamboozle the opposition, and they ended up walking away with their dear friend ‘Liam’.
Kilkenny have been rewriting the history books at a hard to credit rate in recent times. Sunday’s stunning success over champions, Tipperary at Croke Park was their eight in 12 glittering seasons.
And it ranks up there with the very best, if not at the top of the pile.
“It is all about the challenge,” insisted beaming Kilkenny manager, Brian Cody afterwards. “These players just love the challenge, and they rise to it every time.
“The hurt of last season was a driving force, of course it was. They knew their semi-final wouldn’t be good enough to win the final so they raised the bar.”
Never before have Kilkenny hurling fans known such riches. Tipperary may have destroyed the drive for five consecutive All-Ireland wins in last year’s final.
This time the Cats snapped back to tilt the balance in their favour in what was the third consecutive meeting of the counties in the decider. They caught the opposition in a storm of effort and hurling majesty as they chalked up their 33rd McCarthy Cup success with a little more ease than the scoreline might suggest.
An easier winter
“It will be an easier winter now after that,” admitted smiling Tullaroan wonder man, Tommy Walsh. “It wasn’t easy to cope last winter after been beaten in the final.”
Moments of high achievement abounded.
King Henry (Shefflin) claimed his eight All-Ireland winners medal. His achievement of winning them all on the field placed him in the vaunted company of such greats as Christy Ring (Cork) and John Doyle (Tipperary).
Ballyhale Shamrocks can acclaim their own special one now!
Shefflin is to hurling what Lionel Messi is to soccer……….one of a kind, someone who can fuse all the different pieces of a team effort together while all the time picking the lock of the opposing defence. His golden haul was mined in a dozen seasons!
Eddie Brennan, Noel Hickey and Michael Kavanagh got to the magical figure of 8, but they didn’t start in all the finals. Brennan came on as a sub for Canice Brennan in 2000.
People in their early twenties could have seen it all happen. Remarkable!
Tommy Walsh, team captain Brian Hogan and J.J. Delaney were mighty men too on this special day for the Cats. If the hurt of 2010 inspired, then this trio were the most inspired, playing with power and force that bordered on intimidation.
The two goals....wow! One was better than the other. The first was blasted home by Michael Fennelly at the end of a lightning fast four man move. Richie Hogan applied the finish of a genius to the second.
And then we must return to the centrepiece of this gripping affair…..’The Plan’. Messrs Cody, Dempsey and Fogarty, otherwise known as the selectors, reshaped their team to cope with specific threatening points presented by powerful champions.
Defender Jackie Tyrrell was re-sited from left to right corner-back to police championship trailblazer Lar Corbett, who had bagged seven goals on the road to Croker. The latter wasn’t only held scoreless, he was rendered all but anonymous. Tyrrell excelled.
Defence picked to cope
J.J. Delaney, Noel Hickey and Paul Murphy were all given different postings than normal in a defence picked specifically to cope with the Tipperary attack. All the moves worked. All the players starred, young Murphy producing a decorated performance that threw him into the mix for man of the match honours.
Never before during Brian Cody’s reign did Kilkenny take their team asunder and rebuild it so extensively to cope with the specific danger points of the opposition. That was a compliment to Tipperary’s absolute quality.
Man marking was the order of the day. Tipp’s slick movement, a powerful weapon in their game plan last year, was nullified. No one moved anywhere without his detailed ‘shadow’. Hence, no one ghosted around, losing opponents or finding space from which to hurt the opposition.
That everything worked so well was a victory for astuteness as well as belief; the belief that even in new surrounds, and presented with new challenges, the players would flourish.
And flourish the team did. There was power, aggression, force and a smothering work-rate about Kilkenny from the throw-in, all backed up by hurling in which the touch was immaculate. If a Tipp man received a ball he got it with company, often two, three or four opponents.
The losers could scarcely catch a breath, never mind work an opening.
Three Tipp forwards left the field without raising a flag. They scored a mere two points from play through Gearoid Ryan and Noel McGrath during the opening half.
It was a damp, calm afternoon. Flags hung limp along the sidelines and on flagpoles. On the pitch the Kilkenny effort was howling, blasting away at storm force.
Tipp were stunned. They went the opening quarter without scoring. In the same time Henry Shefflin, Eoin Larkin, Richie Hogan, Richie Power and Shefflin again all threw over points for the Cats at the Canal End.
As well, Hogan had a ball taken off the goal line by full-back, Paul Curran. The stripy men were buzzing, dancing and stinging like bees as Ali might say.
The losers opened their account through Noel McGrath in the 16th minute (0-5 to 0-1). After Eoin Kelly fired over another from a free, a melee broke out close to the Kilkenny goal and referee, Brian Gavin (Offaly) ended up being struck by a hurley and receiving a facial injury. A three minute delayed followed while the match official was attended to by medics.
The interruption to play didn’t upset Kilkenny’s rhythm. They roared on towards the break. They plundered a magnificent goal right on the button.
The creation was wonderful, started by a quick line ball from Henry Shefflin to Eoin Larkin on the Cusack Stand side. The ball was pumped on to Richie Hogan, about 30 metres just to the left of goal.
Then along came Michael Fennelly from midfield, arriving on Hogan’s right shoulder at express train speed. The Shamrocks man roared forward and rifled a powerful shot to the net.
That magnificent score took the challenges into a 1-8 to 0-6 interval lead. Truth be known, they were worth a bit more although a foot trip on Patrick Maher into injury-time definitely prevented him from getting into a possible goal scoring position.
Take that ‘perhaps’ situation out of the equation and Tipp could have had no complaints about the dividing margin.
The action in the second half was gripping, nerve testing and unrelenting. While sub Benny Dunne tried to get Tipp away with an early point, the opposition simply dug in, hammered away and chased every opponent and ball.
The separating margin began to creep up…..5 points, 6 points until it got to a serious 8 in the 49th minute. How? It was via a super Kilkenny goal, actually.
Hogan like Roy of the Rovers
The hard-chasing Colin Fennelly won a good ball on the ‘50’ out on the right wing. He posted it to Eddie Brennan in a central position. The Graigue-Ballycallan man charged forward at pace before releasing a pass to Richie Hogan about 20-metres from goal, slightly to the left.
The Danesfort man controlled the sliotar on his stick – he didn’t catch it - before delivering a powerful angled drive to the top far corner of the net (2-12 to 0-10).
This was Roy of the Rovers stuff. Kilkenny were flying. It looked to be game over.
An exchange of points followed during the next two minutes as the action and exchanges grew fiercer and fiercer. Noel McGrath then cut a beautiful lineball on the right over the bar before Tipp pulled back a goal.
Lar Corbett engineered the opening for Pa Bourke to find the target from around 22-metres. It was game on again (2-13 to 1-12).
Three times subsequently daring Tipp cut the deficit to three points, the last time being in the 71st minute when Gearoid Ryan landed a score. Kilkenny finished with a sweet point from Eoin Larkin, claimed after he won a Kilkenny puck-out on the opposing ‘40’.
The difference at the finish neither flattered nor distorted. Kilkenny were good value for a win that extended their lead at the head of the Roll of Honour.
Recession? You must be joking. Kilkenny hurling fans could never have dreamed of such riches!
Tipperary heroes were Padraic Maher, Conor O’Mahony, Gearoid Ryan and Noel McGrath.
Kilkenny – David Herity, Jackie Tyrrell, J.J. Delaney, Noel Hickey, Tommy Walsh, Brian Hogan (capt), Paul Murphy, Michael Fennelly, Michael Rice, Eddie Brennan, Richie Power, Henry Shefflin, Colin Fennelly, Eoin Larkin, Richie Hogan. Subs – T.J. Reid for Brennan 59th min; John Mulhall for Hogan 64th min.
Tipperary – Brendan Cummins, Paddy Stapleton, Paul Curran, Michael Cahill, John O’Keeffe, Conor O’Mahony, Padraic Maher, Gearoid Ryan, Shane McGrath, Seamus Callanan, Noel McGrath, Patrick Maher, Eoin Kelly (capt), John O’Brien, Lar Corbett. Subs – Brendan Maher for J. O’Keeffe (inj) 29th min; Benny Dunne for S. McGrath ht; Pa Bourke for S. Callanan ht; David Young for C. O’Mahony 57th min; John O’Neill for J. O’Brien 65th min.
Referee – Brian Gavin (Offaly).
Wides - Kilkenny 7 (4 and 3); Tipperary 3 (2 and 1).
Frees - Kilkenny 10 (6 and 4); Tipperary 14.
Attendance – 81,214.