Consuming will, plus the power of the panel, scored big for irrepressible Kilkenny at Nowlan Park.
A squad shorn of All-Stars Michael Fennelly and Ger Aylward was then robbed through injury of All-Star and former Hurler of the Year, Richie Hogan, hours before this match of the day in the National Hurling League against the toughest of foes, Tipperary, but it still produced big.
Adversity appeared to drive will to a new level, and young bucks given their head answered the call in emphatic fashion when the All-Ireland champions got their League campaign back on track after the disappointment of the opening showing and defeat against Waterford.
“That was a victory for the strength of the panel,” insisted Kilkenny manager, Brian Cody, after goals in the 67th and 72nd minutes from Kevin Kelly; in the first instance won the lead for the Cats, and in the second, the game, while at the same time they blew wide open the chase for places in the knock-out stages.
“Had we been beaten, we would have been in a bit of trouble. But now we are right back in the hunt where we want to be,” Cody added.
A big day
Sunday was a big day for first time starters, James Maher and Robert Lennon, while the not too far walked but ever so capable, Kevin Kelly, who has the capability to be a deadly assassin, got a chance to shine too.
All three did very well.
Kelly scored the crucial goals. In the overall scheme of things, Maher, achieved more, his four points from play nearly being joined by a goal when a bullet like drive across the face of the country end goal in the 52nd minute saw the ball whistle just wide. He was like a will-o-the-wisp. Tipp couldn’t nail him down.
Centre-back Lennon became more powerful and influential as the action unfolded. His first outstanding moment arrived in the 37th minute when he made a daring catch before galloping 40 metres into enemy territory, eventually being fouled. A Kilkenny point ensued.
He added to the gains with another great aerial win and directed pass to T.J. Reid as a prelude to the Cats last score.
Ah, but the best of the lot was goalie Eoin Murphy. The keenness of his eye, speed of hands, dexterity of feet and fearless attitude in killing threatening situations single him out as a goalie of rare merit. This was a ‘Super Sunday’ for him!
Garlands must be thrown in the direction of other champion performers too, namely Shane Prendergast, who was absolutely superb when doing a lot of sweeping up during the opening quarter; Padraig Walsh, who enjoyed a thundering finish; T.J. Reid, who, was, well T.J. Reid the hurling artist, and Walter Walsh, who worked so slavishly for the good of the cause he had every reason to charge Cody for overtime.
For me this was Walsh’s best all round performance since being crowned Man of the Match in the All-Ireland final of 2012, and it was maybe even better than that! He showed genuine leadership qualities here. Let’s see more of that!
The entire team was taken over by an absolute desire. The level of the overall performance which resulted rendered negativity redundant.
We make a point, which is not offered as a crib. Kilkenny shot 13 wides (7 and 6). Tipp had 6 (5 and 1).
Tipp won the toss and elected to open backed by the wind blowing towards the country end. From the off the hurling was fast, direct, gripping, hard, skilful, but above all, fair and sporting.
The losers threatened most in the early stages, when Prendergast was mighty, and they were worth their 0-5 to 0-2 lead after 12 minutes. Murphy pulled off a good stop from Noel McGrath to keep things that close.
The divide never went beyond four points (0-8 to 0-4) before John Power unleashed a piledriver at the Tipp goal, which ’keeper, Darren Gleeson, did well to save. The 65 conceded was popped over by T.J. Reid.
A later score from Reid, plus two from James Maher, the second one a great effort after an exquisite cross from the right by Reid opened an acre in front of the scorer, left Kilkenny trailing by a mere 0-8 to 0-9 at the break.
The visitors opened the new half with back-to-back points from John O’Dwyer and John McGrath before replies were posted by Reid (free), after Lennon’s daring run, and Padraig Walsh, who profited from possession won by Walter Walsh and then a posted cross field pass from Colin Fennelly.
Reid shot a wonderful equaliser in the 43rd minute, snapping an intended high cross from Conor Fogarty to John Power from the air, before hitting the target (0-11 each). An exchange of points followed, Kilkenny’s from Maher after a great block by Lester Ryan.
Tipp hit the front again, this time courtesy of fine scores from John McGrath, made by Noel McGrath, and John O’Dwyer (65).
All the time their defence was looking slightly more composed, and Kilkenny were working harder and harder for gains.
Maher’s goalmouth scare followed before T.J. Reid and John O’Dwyer traded scores. Walter Walsh picked up his only point of the day when gifted possession by an awful clearance from the Tipp defence (0-15 to 0-14).
John O’Dwyer upped the divide to two again before Reid cut it back in the 65th minute.
The next strike was a big one for Kilkenny - Kelly’s goal. It was a master of creation. Walsh, now operating around midfield, aimed a waist high ball at sub Jonjo Farrell in the No. 14 position.
As the sliotar arrived, Farrell diverted it to his left with his hurley before giving chase. His marker stumbled. Farrell gained a metre, and drew the cover a bit before lashing, and one means lashing, a low ball across the face of goal to Kevin Kelly near the edge of the square. Once Kelly controlled, it was a done deal. G-O-A-L!
Score - 1-15 to 0-16. It was the first time Tipp were behind.
The losers hit back for a point from John O’Dwyer as a new level of urgency gripped the game. T.J. Reid replied. Charging Tipp had another score from O’Dwyer, but by now the clock had moved beyond 70 minutes.
It was into the 72nd minute when Kelly scored a second goal. A Kilkenny puck-out was pushed forward by Reid. Kelly got a run at the Tipp goal.
He buried the ball in the net from 20 metres. Game over!
It was some contest for a dull, wet February day. Tipp were full of fire, and the hurling of Michael Cahill, James Barry, John O’Dwyer, John McGrath, Darren Gleeson and Michael Breen was powerful.
Alas, Kilkenny’s desire proved unmatchable, again!