The ‘Magnificent 17th’

Kilkenny Captain, Lester Ryan lifts the Division 1 League Cup in Semple Stadium.  (Photo: Eoin Hennessy)
For easy reference this one can forever be referred to as ‘The Magnificent 17th’, a synopsis of achievement and detail highlighting another great day, writes John Knox

For easy reference this one can forever be referred to as ‘The Magnificent 17th’, a synopsis of achievement and detail highlighting another great day, writes John Knox

Two teams with grand ambitions for the day and season let rip. Fans were enthralled. Thurles trembled to the heavy beat of the on-field riot of hurling; to the excited, passionate reactions of followers who could never see the next turn in the road.

And in the end it all came down to a stroke of genius. With 90 minutes and 34 seconds showing on the clock two of Kilkenny’s biggest performers concocted a killer move that defeated defiant Tipperary and decided the Allianz National League final 2014 Kilkenny 2-25; Tipperary 1-27).

Tipp conceded a sideline cut on the left, about 45 metres from the town end goal. T.J. Reid, ever a likely lad to pop one over from such a range, hit a short ball to the advancing Richie Hogan, before taking flight up the ‘line’. In the blink of an eye, Hogan popped a hand-pass forward for the charging Reid to collect. A short solo run. Aim!

Records now

Point No. 52 of the game off Reid’s left earned Kilkenny victory. The rewritten records told of Kilkenny’s first three in-a-row in the League; their 17th title; their eight crown in the outrageously successful Brian Cody era.

The bigger story, though, from Semple Stadium was that both Kilkenny and Tipperary will be among the giants in the upcoming championship. Sure, they were at the same point at this stage last year and neither saw an August dawn in the championship.

This time things will be different. Definitely! Both are on a different trajectory, on more assured ground.

“It doesn’t matter now who wins, they have both got as much as they could out of the League,” offered a Limerick journalist when normal time was called and the scores were level at 2-17 to 1-20. He said a mouthful there. The 20 minutes of extra-time were about this one game, exclusively. The 70 that had gone before offered the proof that these two old foes would be among the giants in the Summer.

Kilkenny had to dig deep, and then deeper again, to defeat a driven team that was mustard keen. Tipp conceded two penalties and their close marking of opponents on those, leaving no chance for a follow up play in the event of a save, highlighted how detailed their planning.

Inspired mood

Yet nothing can ready a team when opponents turn up in inspired mood, as did Richie Hogan, Cillian Buckley, T.J. Reid, J.J. Delaney, Michael Fennelly, Paul Murphy and Padraig Walsh for the winners. You could add Richie Power, of course, and even goalie Eoin Murphy, who wasn’t particularly busy but who looked the part through the quality and length of his striking.

Hogan opened at centre-forward and his opponent Brendan Maher stood off him, yet defended very well. However, the Danesfort man was the epitome of efficiency; fast and direct in his play and with a perfect first touch. On days like this Hogan suggests so much; a leader for the long, long road.

Buckley was wonderful; a mighty fielder with bite in the tackle. He cut loose in extra-time, and his strong forward charges force all sorts of difficulties on opposing defenders.

T.J. Reid scored 2-11. Both goals were from brilliantly struck penalties. Quantity and quality merged to underline his excellence.

And then we had Michael Fennelly. He showed signs of rust in the semi-final after a long lay-off. He showed signs of his best game here. He was in the fast lane in the finishing straight; powering into opponents, driving through tackles, scoring.

This is the Fennelly, the former Hurler of the Year, who can make all the difference to Kilkenny!

A whole bunch of qualities help shape victories in tumultuous contests like this. Character can be a defining quality. It is the thing that prompts great me to do great things in the toughest of situations. Kilkenny is blessed with men of character.

“They are great men, great, great men,” insisted a Danesfort supporter with tears in his eyes on the Thurles pitch afterwards. He captured the mood of the Kilkenny faithful. These are golden times. Don’t just enjoy, savour.

Like a sprint

The early pace was like a sprint. Kilkenny, with the backing of the fresh breeze, made the running. After Kieran Bergin placed James Woodlock for an equaliser in the 17th minute Tipp took the lead with a point from Niall O’Meara (0-7 to 0-6). When John O’Dwyer tapped home a goal from the edge of the square in the 29th minute to put them 1-11 to 0-8 clear they looked to be sailing.

Kilkenny needed the following point from T.J. Reid, and then a goal from a penalty by Reid, after Mark Kelly had been felled. They trailed by 1-9 to 1-11 at half-time when easily things could have been worse.

Tipp’s excellence was underlined by their powerful full-back line. They didn’t concede a score in that half! Padraic and Brendan Maher were especially good. As the exchanges grew even hotter afterwards, Kieran Bergin, Noel McGrath, John O’Dwyer, James Woodlock and that fierce competitor Patrick Maher all had stellar moments.

The second half was a mass of high achievement. Five times the scores were level, the last time in the 70th minute when Kieran Bergin rescued Tipp. The mood in the crowd was giddy. People were mesmerised, clueless as to how things might unfold. They offered a standing ovation in appreciation.

Rightly so! Tipp extended their lead early in the second half with minors from Denis Maher, with an assist from Callanan, and the latter from a free (1-13 to 1-9). Reid posted a reply before Hogan forced a great save from goalie Darren Gleeson at the cost of a 65. This was converted by Reid.

The Ballyhale Shamrocks man was at the centre of things again in the 48th minute when Kilkenny were awarded a second penalty. Another bullet earned another goal. Level: 2-11 to 1-14.

Lucky free

Kilkenny’s lead point came via a very lucky free for a foul on Henry Shefflin. Reid converted. The Cats got on top for a while as Tipp began to lose their shape. The action was totally engrossing. You couldn’t take you eyes off it for a moment.

The winners extended their advantage through Hogan, after a Route I ball out of defence by the growing force that was Michael Fennelly. Tipp charged back for scores from Callanan and Noel McGrath, a great equaliser from 45 metres o n the left sideline (2-13 to 1-16).

On the game galloped, throwing up gems of individual brilliance by the minute. The teams were level at 1-17 to 2-14, and then at 1-18 to 2-15.

A smashing Kilkenny move involving Hogan and sub Eoin Larkin made the lead point for Michael Fennelly in the 67th minute. When he added a second moments later there was potential back breaking pressure on the challengers with just a minute of normal time remaining.

Tipp inched back. Sub Shane Bourke pointed after an assist by the ever involved Kieran Bergin. The game drifted into injury-time. With 72 minutes showing on the clock, Tipp were still behind. There was another twist, but saving the day wasn’t easy.

Brendan Maher was fouled on his own 65. John O’Dwyer stood up to what was a testing free. His long range effort came back into play off the left upright. Patrick Maher made a play, and created the opening for Kieran Bergin to shoot the equaliser.

Normal time finishing score: 2-17 to 1-20.

Magic show

Everyone was high on emotion going into extra-time. At the rest here Kilkenny led by 2-21 to 1-23, after the scores had been level twice.

Three times during the closing 10 minutes parity was shared again. We looked booked for a replay in Nowlan Park until.....until the Reid/Hogan magic show produced a delightful winner.

There are times in life when you have to appreciate you are in a good place. Thurles on Sunday was such a place!

“The League has been good to us in that we got to try and lot of players and we ended up winning it,” suggested Kilkenny manager, Brian Cody afterwards. “The panel is sorted and the atmosphere is very good. We are better off than we were at this time last year.

“Now is it all about Offaly in the Leinster championship. They scored a lot against us last season, and we never really went well after that. The players will go back to their clubs now, and after that all our energies will be put into preparing for a good championship.

Scorers: Kilkenny - T.J. Reid (2-11, goals penalties; 0-7 frees, one 65); Richie Hogan (0-6); Richie Power (0-3, one free); Michael Fennelly, Padraig Walsh (0-2 each); Colin Fennelly (0-1). Tipperary - Seamus Callanan (0-10, eight frees, one 65); John O’Dwyer (1-3); Noel McGrath (0-5); Kieran Bergin, Denis Maher, Niall O’Meara (0-2 each); James Woodlock, Patrick Maher, Shane Bourke (0-1 each).

Kilkenny - Eoin Murphy; Paul Murphy, J.J. Delaney, Brian Kennedy; Joey Holden, Jackie Tyrrell, Cillian Buckley; Michael Fennelly, Padraig Walsh; Richie Hogan, Colin Fennelly, T.J. Reid; Richie Power, Mark Kelly, Henry Shefflin. Subs - Lester Ryan for Holden 29th min; Walter Walsh for Kelly 42nd min; Eoin Larkin for C. Fennelly 59th min; Colin Fennelly for Shefflin 73rd min; Kieran Joyce for Kennedy 85th min.

Tipperary - Darren Gleeson; Cathal Barrett, Padraic Maher, Michael Cahill; James Barry, Brendan Maher, Conor O’Mahony; Kieran Bergin, James Woodlock; Denis Maher, Patrick Maher, John O’Dwyer; Noel McGrath, Seamus Callanan, Niall O’Meara. Subs - Gearoid Ryan for D. Maher 53rd min; Shane McGrath for Woodlock 54th min; Shane Bourke for N. O’Meara 61st min; J. O’Brien for Callanan 69th min; Callanan for O’Brien 75th min; J. O’Brien for O’Dwyer 80th min ; John O’Dwyer for Bourke 87th min.

Referee - James Owens (Wexford). Att: 21,601.