Scorers: Kilkenny – Richie Power (1-11, goal penalty, 10 points frees, one 65); Eoin Larkin (1-2); Michael Rice (0-2); T.J. Reid, Matt Ruth (0-1 each). Tipperary – Pa Bourke (0-6, five frees, one 65); Noel McGrath, Shane Bourke (0-3 each); Conor O’Mahony (0-1, free); Brendan Maher, Eoin Kelly (0-1 each).
IN AN era of high hopes and expectations in the county, this was possibly even more than the doctor would have ordered. A win would have sufficed. Instead, fans got a strong declaration of intent from the hurling Cats.
Yes, Kilkenny are all fired up for season 2012, and yes again, they will be chasing all the honours on offer.
This was as good a start as Kilkenny could have hoped for in the Allianz National League. In what was a repeat of the All-Ireland final, albeit without the high stakes and consequent intensity, the Noresiders looked strong, assured and hugely driven.
To be blunt about it, they had Tipperary beaten from the moment Eoin Larkin bundled home their second goal in the 41st minute to stretch the divide to 2-10 to 0-10.
The summaries from the respective managers told a tale.
“We were beaten all over the park,” was the cold, no frills response from the obviously disappointed Tipperary manager, Declan Ryan. “The performance overall was disappointing considering the amount of hard work we had put into our preparations.
Didn’t win hard ball
“We weren’t too worried about the result if we performed. But we didn’t perform and we didn’t get a result, so we failed on both counts. We didn’t win any hard ball and Kilkenny bossed us in nearly every sector.”
Kilkenny boss, Brian Cody wasn’t doing hand stands, but there was an air of ease about him that told you he was satisfied with the way his charges had executed the victory at Nowlan Park on Sunday.
“That a good start to the ’League,” he opened. “It was a good display, a good win. Eoin Larkin’s goal gave us that bit of breathing space.
“The standard of hurling was good for the time of the year. In a shortened ’League it was important to start with a win. Every game will be difficult. We want to try and win the ’League if we can, and we aim to get the maximum out of the competition.”
The players mean business. To some counties, the ’League may be low end stuff. Not this Kilkenny group!
Jackie Tyrrell took up where he left off in the All-Ireland final; starring; driving into tackles; there on a colleague’s shoulder ever time help was needed. Tommy Walsh, especially in the second half, gobbled up ball and waded through crunching tackles as if enjoying a walk in a meadow.
A new type of genius has emerged in the powerfully built Michael Rice, whose vision and intelligence on the ball make him a powerful scorer/playmaker. Richie Power too is taking the next step, from the fringes to key man.
On Sunday there was no Shefflin, and there won’t be for half the season or so. But leaders, they were there in abundance in attack…..Eoin Larkin, Power and Rice too.
These are early times, and no one should get carried away by performances in February days, no matter how rich, but with the winning background of these players you cannot dismiss or devalue the evidence before your eyes. Kilkenny are champions, and champions they want to stay!
Danger of going under
Tipperary were in danger of going under after a mere 11 minutes when they looked up from the wrong end of a 0-1 to 1-5 score line. Power was already shooting points like William Tell. T.J. Reid was crucifying them on the right wing, catching the eye with some spectacular high fielding. Rice was shooting cutting passes here and there.
The goal arrived in the 11th minute, via a penalty by Power, after he had been dragged to the ground at the city end after fielding a sideline cut from the left by Rice.
The losers, to their credit, nearly cut through instantly for a goal at the other end. Noel McGrath was hooked just as he was about to pull the trigger. That moment was typical of Tyrrell, J.J. Delaney, Noel Hickey and company. This was no stroll. This was business.
Still Tipp dragged their game together, and four scores in-a-row through Conor O’Mahony, a magnificently converted free from 80 metres, Noel McGrath and free-taker, Pa Bourke at the double had them within shouting distance (1-5 to 0-5) by the 20th minute after out-playing their opponents for a while.
The winners brought a 12-minute barren scoring spell to an end when Eoin Larkin cut through the opposing defence before laying off the ball to the supporting Colin Fennelly. The latter was stopped in his tracks by a stonewall tackle. Free! Power point!
The Cats were back in the groove, prowling, scraping, and hurting. The creation of two of their four remaining points before the break was divine.
In the 28th minute T.J. Reid lashed a low ball in from the right wing to Matt Ruth, who darted into a central position from the left full-forward spot. Ruth tapped a pass off his hurley without taking ball to hand to the forward racing Rice. A point of rare beauty resulted.
Speed of three card trick merchant
Then in the 31st minute passes by Rice and Reid were executed with the speed of a three card trick merchant to create the opening for Eoin Larkin to send white flying. Lovely hurling, as they say.
Hurling so beautiful to the eye, so rich in skill and strong in creativity marked Kilkenny’s play regularly all afternoon. Hurling blossomed on a bright spring day. But don’t forget, no team can play hurling like this without the lessons of experience, plus physical power….the Cats priceless qualities.
Half-time was reached with Kilkenny worthy leaders by 1-10 to 0-8. Some of their hurling was lost from summer; their concentration on retention of possession borrowed from a soccer manual rather than any hurling book I know.
There were stray moments. Of course there were. They continued too. But it was only February 26!
Tipperary started the new half full of promise, or so early points from Noel McGrath and Pa Bourke (free) suggested. It was only an illusion.
Six minutes in they were nailed. T.J. Reid plucked the ball from the sky in the right half-forward position when goalie, David Herity restarted play after Burke’s score. The Ballyhale Shamrocks man drilled a waist high ball into Eoin Larkin, who was running from the full-forward position. There was still a lot to do. Larkin rode through three tackles before forcing the ball into the net.
The difference was 2-10 to 0-10. The hard work of the day was done!
Tipperary continued to chase, but it was from a distance, despite the brave efforts of Conor O’Mahony, Michael Cahill, David Young and lively sub Shane Bourke.
Kilkenny moved on with assurance. Waterford in Walsh Park on March 11 are now firmly in their sights.
Kilkenny – David Herity; Jackie Tyrrell, J.J. Delaney, Noel Hickey; Tommy Walsh, Brian Hogan, Paul Murphy; Paddy Hogan, Michael Fennelly; T.J. Reid, Michael Rice, Eoin Larkin; Colin Fennelly, Richie Power, Matt Ruth. Subs – C. Fogarty for Delaney (inj) 56th min; John Mulhall for C. Fennelly 62nd min; Richie Doyle for Hogan 65th min.
Tipperary – Brendan Cummins; Donagh Maher, Paul Curran, Michael Cahill; Shane Maher, Conor O’Mahony, Padraic Maher; Brendan Maher, David Young; Gearoid Ryan, Noel McGrath, Adrian Ryan; Pa Bourke, Brian O’Meara, John O’Brien. Subs – Shane Bourke for A. Ryan ht; Eoin Kelly for G. Ryan 48th min; James Woodlock for J. O’Brien 55th min; John O’Keeffe for P. Curran 59th min.
Referee – Michael Wadding (Waterford).
Attendance – 10,644.
Frees – Kilkenny 18 (7 and 11); Tipperary 17 (9 and 8).
Wides – Kilkenny 9 (3 and 6); Tipperary 8 (5 and 3).