It was sweet 16 for Kilkenny at Nowlan Park today when the all conquering Cats picked up their 16th title in the Allianz National Hurling League final, beating arch rivals Tipperary by 2-17 to 0-20 in a pulsating decider, writes John Knox.
This was a high intensity final, with two class teams tearing into each other from start to finish. The hurling was of the highest order, and both served notice to every other county that they will be there chasing the honours come championship time.
“That was as good a test as you could get,” suggested Kilkenny selector, Michael Dempsey, who managed the team with fellow selector, Martin Fogarty in the absence of manager, Brian Cody.
However, the message from Nowlan Park was good in relation to Mr Cody. He attended a minor hurling game on Saturday, so he could be back in action soon after undergoing heart surgery six weeks ago.
Kilkenny, the defending champions, hit a golden spell after the 51st minute when Richie Hogan got to the end of a clearance from Tommy Walsh before shooting his side 2-11 to 0-16 ahead. Eoin Larkin then drilled over a free before the speedy Cillian Buckley cut through the Tipp defence to score and open up a 2-13 to 0-16 gap.
That was the blast of scores that finished Tipp. Eight points were shared equally afterwards, but it was a mighty battle to the finish.
“The better team won,” admitted Tipperary manager, Eamon O’Shea. “We cannot complain. It has been a good League for us, but we are a long way from where we want to be for the championship.”
The game burst into life. A little over two minutes had passed when Kilkenny had 1-2 on the ’board. The goal was lashed home by former hurler of the year, Michael Fennelly, who started at centre-forward.
The Ballyhale Shamrocks man was the outstanding performer of the half, and the game. By half-time he had 2-3 scored. He was a deadly attack leader, and made huge gains when contesting high ball against Padraic Maher.
Tipp might have been slow out of the blocks, but with corner-forward Noel McGrath playing around midfielder, they edged their way back with the wind behind them. With Brendan Maher getting through mighty hurling at midfield; Noel McGrath picking off a few scores and Eoin Kelly dependable on free, they got back level at 0-10 to 2-4 in the 32nd minute.
Points were exchanged after that between Colin Fennelly and Tipp goalie, Darren Gleeson (free) before Kilkenny struck for late points from ever improving newcomer, Lester Ryan and Michael Fennelly to go in at the break 2-7 to 0-11 in front.
When the action resumed it was a full on affair again. Tipperary, who mixed the short and long game intelligently, were the chasers most of the way.
They caught up in the 50th minute (2-10 to 0-16) after Brendan Maher finished off a lovely five man move with an equalising point. Enter Richie Hogan to regain the lead for Kilkenny, and point them towards the winning.
Scorers: Kilkenny - M. Fennelly (2-3); E. Larkin (0-6, five frees, one 65); L. Ryan (0-3); K. Joyce, C. Buckley, M. Rice, E. Fennelly, R. Hogan (0-1 each). Tipperary - E. Kelly (0-5, three frees, one 65); B. Maher (0-4); N. McGrath (0-3); P. Bourke (0-2, frees); S. Callanan (0-2, frees); D. Gleeson (0-1, free); P. Maher, S. Bourke, J. O’Brien (0-1 each).
Kilkenny: E Murphy; P Murphy, JJ Delaney, J Tyrrell; T Walsh, B Hogan, K Joyce; L Ryan, M Fennelly; C Buckley, M Rice, E Larkin; C Fennelly, R. Hogan, A Fogarty. Sub: M Ruth for Fogarty (61).
Yellow cards: E Larkin (8), B Hogan (29), M Fennelly (63), J Tyrrell (67).
Red card: JJ Delaney (45).
Tipperary: D Gleeson; M Cahill, C O’Mahony, P Curran; K Bergin, P Maher, C O’Brien; B Maher, S McGrath; S Callanan, L Corbett, P Maher; S Bourke, E Kelly, N. McGrath. Subs: J O’Dwyer for E Kelly (47), J Forde for S Callanan (56), J O’Brien for S McGrath (57), P Bourke for S Bourke (60), J Woodlock for P Maher (66).
Yellow cards: C O’Mahony (8), C O’Brien (14), S Bourke (44), P Curran (60).
Red card: Lar Corbett (45).
Referee: B Kelly (Westmeath).