A BUMPER crowd of over 10,500 saw Kilkenny take up from where they left off last September when comprehensively beating age-old rivals Tipperary in the opening Allianz Hurling League tie in Nowlan Park on Sunday.
The eight point margin between the sides at the finish flattered the visitors, as they were out-hurled and out-muscled all over the field. A late rally, which saw four points from substitutes Eoin Kelly and Shane Bourke, gave a more respectable look to the scoreboard at the finish.
Kilkenny set out its stall very early and Tipperary knew they were in for a torrid afternoon. The Cats displayed some beautiful deft touches that displayed a level of skill which few Tipperary players could match.
Nothing exemplified the difference between the two sides more than Kilkenny’s aerial dominance. It is difficult to fathom why counties persist with a game plan that continually sees their players reigning balls down on opposing Kilkenny defenders and attackers.
Exceptional physical stature
It helps, of course, that the bulk of the Kilkenny players over the past decade, and the current panel in particular, are men of exceptional physical stature. One does not push these guys aside too easily.
Of all counties, Tipperary should know that being able to handle Kilkenny physically, particularly in aerial duals, is a prerequisite in any game between the two sides.
I understand that Tipperary underwent an exhaustive training programme in January, but it was difficult to see the benefits last Sunday. Kilkenny, with far less formal preparation behind them, looked sharper than its opponents.
If there was any criticism of the Kilkenny play it was an over-elaboration in attack and some wayward shooting by a couple of players. Given Kilkenny’s dominance last Sunday those indiscretions were never going to cost them their first brace of league points.
As we left Nowlan Park the topic on the lips of Tipperary supporters was an urgent need to see Lar Corbett make a quick return. That would certainly help, but Tipp’s difficulties appear more acute than just the absence of their star forward.
The Premier County hosts Galway in the next round in two weeks time and a win in that game is vital. Apart from needing the points to stay in the league race, a win is urgent to give the side some badly needed confidence.
Galway was excellent against Dublin on Sunday. Dublin boss Anthony Daly, though, will be bitterly disappointed with the collapse of his side in the second half. The victory for Galway makes their trip to Thurles for the next round an exciting prospect for both sets of supporters and for the league.
Kilkenny’s next outing is in Walsh Park and a clash with neighbours Waterford. On current form Kilkenny will be odds-on to win. The pressure is already mounting on new Waterford manager, Michael Ryan, and I suspect he would dearly love to see the return of star forward, John Mullane, as quickly as possible.
I mentioned last week that we should beware of Cork. The display last Saturday night justified my belief that it is a side on an upward trajectory. The Rebels are still a work in progress, but they heading in the right direction.
Dublin will pose a big challenge in two weeks time, but the ultimate test for Jimmy Barry Murphy’s team will come against Kilkenny in Páirc Uí Chaoimh on the 25th March.
For all the joy that last Sunday’s success brought to Kilkenny supporters, there is the alarming prospect for hurling that after round one of this year’s league, Kilkenny are on a different level to every other county.