Another glorious chapter was written in the never ending saga of Kilkenny and Tipperary hurling clashes in Semple Stadium on Sunday, writes Nickey Brennan.
Kilkenny’s hurling continues to draw gasps of admiration from followers everywhere. We should also spare a thought for Tipperary as they played in major part in a thrilling National League final.
Sunday’s clash may not have been on the same level as either the League final or the championship Qualifier in Nowlan Park last year, but it was not far behind. It did look as if we would be heading back to Nowlan Park for a replay, but Kilkenny’s never say die attitude saw T.J. Reid deliver a final mortal blow with as good a score as we will see all year.
The Cat’s final point, and another some moments earlier, will haunt Tipperary. Their goalie Darren Gleeson made two costly mistakes. Firstly, a short puck-out to Conor O’Mahony was off, but in fairness to Gleeson, the Tipp wing back should have done better.
Then almost on full time a Tipp free out should have been delivered to the other end of the field. Gleeson opted to direct the free to a fellow player, but his delivery went over the side line.
What happened next should be a lesson for all. T.J. Reid stepped up to the line ball. All expected a delivery into the square. Instead, Reid spotted Richie Hogan moving off his marker and that set up a return pass to Reid, who scored a glorious winning point.
The final was a test of character for both. The two managers will be happy that their players stood up manfully to the task and when we talk about there just being a puck of the ball between the teams that statement certainly held true on Sunday.
The signs looked ominous for Tipperary in the early stages when the Cats led by four points. The confidence Tipp showed in recent weeks eventually came to the fore and for the remainder of the first half they were the better side.
They held the upper hand in the central midfield diamond.
Brendan Maher was outstanding at centre-half back, while the midfield pairing of James Woodlock and Kieran Bergin were getting the better of Michael Fennelly and Padraig Walsh.
Team to beat
Patrick Maher at centre-forward was central to almost every Tipperary move and score. Close to the interval Tipp was looking like the team to beat, but a clumsy challenge on Mark Kelly saw a penalty awarded. The resultant goal from T.J. Reid narrowed the gap.
Poor discipline also cost Tipperary in the second half with T.J. Reid firing another penalty to the net. Both decisions were contested by the Tipperary defence, but referee James Owens had little option but to award penalties.
Lester Ryan’s introduction to midfield gave Kilkenny a grip in this sector, and it also saw Michael Fennelly come much more into the game. An even bigger bonus was the display of Padraig Walsh when switched to right half back. His performance was like that in Limerick weeks ago.
Despite the narrow win it is worth noting that over the initial 70 minutes Tipperary scored 1-14 from play. Kilkenny scored 0-9. Tipp scored another thee points from play in extra time. Kilkenny scored six.
Those statistics show that poor discipline was central to Tipperary losing. We can also see that despite being caught at the death in normal time, Kilkenny know how to handle extra time (remember Waterford last year?).
The Cats had many fine performers but none was better than J.J. Delaney. He blotted out the threat of Seamus Callanan.
At the other end, the tireless Richie Hogan and T.J. Reid delivered a succession of classy scores which were central to Kilkenny securing a third League title in-a-row.
There was so much to admire about Kilkenny, yet as we head off into another championship the selectors still have decisions to make regarding a few places in the starting XV.