Be it via the main highway, the byway, the laneway or whatever, it makes no difference to sure firing Kilkenny.
The Cats, derailed after a shock Leinster final defeat by Galway, arrived in Croke Park on Sunday by a circuitous route that took in the All-Ireland quarter-finals, but in the most difficult of semi-finals they detonated a hurling bomb and simply blasted Tipperary into oblivion.
No one expected this, a double scores win, by either side in an All-Ireland senior hurling semi-final between supposed equals. No one saw it coming, not even at half-time when Tipperary led by 1-10 to 1-9.
The scoring returns afterwards shouted a story of nothing but a rout – Kilkenny 3-15; Tipperary 0-5. Kilkenny were stupendous. Tipp were beaten out the door, out of championship 2012.
And, wait for it, the Cats qualified for a crack at what could be an incredible 9th McCarthy Cup win in the 13 season reign of manager, Brian Cody. And it could be the completion of another National League/Championship double, it should be remembered.
Oh yes, and Henry (Shefflin) could end up being crowned the official ‘King’ at last because he will be chasing a never before achieved ninth winners medal along with Noel Hickey.
“It was a very good win,” manager Brian Cody offered when we spoke in a happy but far from wildly excited winners’ dressing-room afterwards.
“I thought we played well in the first half. Although we came in at the break a point down we scored a good goal and we created another very good goal chance that normally we might take.
“We were well in the game. Obviously no one saw the second half performance coming to the extent that it did. You don’t beat Tipperary by that score, ever. It happened and obviously we are very, very happy.”
On a day when an age old deadly rivalry edged over the line and into the area of spite at times, especially during a no holds barred opening when as many scuffles erupted all over the place as official bouts at the Olympics, Kilkenny won a lot of battles on lots of fronts, one suggested, discipline being one of the main ones.
“They (the players) came through a lot of tests,” the manager answered. “Discipline was a huge part of it. At the end of the day you play for the team and you can never allow your personal feelings to get in the way. If you get a bang you take the bang and carry on.
“The team is everything. You apply yourself absolutely and in every aspect of the game to it. These players are genuine. They have been around a long time and thanks be to God things went well.”
How do you keep driving them to such heights, was the next question?
“I don’t,” was the reply. “They did everything they asked of themselves. They understand what is involved. They take it on. They are very, very honest. They enjoy doing it.
The performance was very strong right throughout the whole team.
“It is easy enough focus minds when you are playing Tipperary. We played them in the last three All-Ireland final. We won two, they won one. This was a big game with a lot at stake.
Big challenge ahead
“But at the end of the day the only thing that really was at stake was that the winners got to the All-Ireland final. That was the prize. All else fades into insignificance because that is all we wanted to do.”
Which brings us neatly to the All-Ireland final on September 9 against Galway, who are one of only two teams to beat Kilkenny this season? What about it?
“The last time we met they beat us, and they beat us comprehensively,” Mr Cody reminded. “Everybody is acutely aware of the challenge that is there. It is a big challenge, but that is what we enjoy doing, taking on challenges.”
Can Galway beat Kilkenny twice in the one season?
“It happened in the Leinster final,” he said again. “It happened. We would be very foolish to think it might not happen again. They showed what they could do to us once. Of course it could happen again.
“We must realise right now that the battle ahead is phenomenal. Galway’s confidence will be sky high!”
But Kilkenny’s shouldn’t be too bad after a win like that, one prompted?
“Ah yes, but it is a difference challenge the next day,” he smiled.
No Tipperary! No baggage, no overbearing influences from tradition. The last time Kilkenny and Galway clashed in the All-Ireland final was in 1987. The Tribesmen won by 1-12 to 0-9.
This semi-final was a nasty affair at the beginning, when both sides decided to lay down markers, if you like. Player seized up each other. Heavy shoulders, smacks were exchanged. No one retreated!
Kilkenny’s man marking system saw Jackie Tyrrell move from corner to wing back to face Lar Corbett, like in last year’s All-Ireland final, with Kieran Joyce retreating to the corner. Tommy Walsh stuck like glue to Pa Bourke on the other wing.
The Tullaroan man was booked after only a minute and 47 seconds of play, and he appeared to be taunted by Corbett, who, in an extraordinary display of indiscipline afterwards chased Walsh virtually all afternoon in an apparent effort to provoke a reaction that might bring a game ending second booking.
Lost his way
As Corbett lost his way in a rage of stupidity that should have earned him a call ashore from management, Walsh powered on. The Tullaroan man was never less than good; ignoring the baiting, hurling brilliantly until he attained star status in the closing straight.
Taking the constant provocation into account, I would suggest this was one of Walsh’s finest days in the colours. He was single minded; refusing to be distracted.
But no player should have had to put up with what he put up with. It was the most extraordinary carry on I ever saw in Gaelic games.
The referee and his officials, ordinary at the best of times, failed the player here.
The hurling was without warmth early on as the teams blasted into each other. The four opening points were equally shared before Tipp nearly claimed the first goal; Noel McGrath being beaten in a chase to the ball near the 20-metre line by goalie David Herity (0-2 each).
A crash tackle on Eoin Larkin earned a free and the lead point for Shefflin in the seventh minute before Aidan Fogarty, the most threatening Kilkenny attacker early on and the one who found holes in the opposing defence almost at will during the second period, popped over a score to leave the division 0-4 to 0-2.
The Cats powered on, driven by the might of Michael Fennelly and Michael Rice in midfield, Kieran Joyce, a steady no frills contributor at the back, Walsh, a much improve Paul Murphy and a dazzling T.J. Reid as attack leader.
The winners might have snatched a goal in the 17th minute, but goalie Brendan Cummins pulled off a great save from Colin Fennelly at the Canal End after T.J. Reid engineered the opening.
Still the teams marched on step for step at 0-5 each and 0-7 each before wasteful Tipp – the wides tally was 5-1 against them by the 25th minute – fell five points adrift. It all happened in a three minute spell when they were hit for 1-2 without replay.
It was an all Ballyhale Shamrocks affair. The points were posted by Colin Fennelly and Shefflin before T.J. Reid bagged a goal, a great finish from the edge of the square after Shefflin had fielded a Kilkenny puck-out on the ‘40’ before driving forward to punch a hole in the defence (1-9 to 0-7).
Tipp thundered back, their high revving cause driven by Padraic Maher, Michael Cahill, Shane McGrath and Pa Bourke on the frees. Their recovery was driven by a goal from Pa Bourke after Corbett had knocked Kilkenny goalie, David Herity off the ball in a case for possession, and the scorer finished into an empty net.
No place for shapers
Tipp caught up in the 33rd minute after a terrific field by Brian O’Meara led to the equaliser from Noel McGrath.
The dividing point at the break came from a 65 and the stick of the ever reliable Pa Bourke.
Half-time: Tipperary 1-10, Kilkenny 1-9.
My interval notes included – “no place for shapers. Hard hurling with a bite of spite thrown-in.” This was on the edge, no love lost hurling from both sides.
We reckoned the mood wouldn’t change in the new half when Tyrrell and Walsh all but went into the tunnel to greet Corbett and Bourke for the new half. But the latter didn’t appear, and the action was on 40 seconds before he raced out on to the field.
Within a minute Kilkenny were back level, Shefflin drawing it all square from a free after a defender had over carried the ball. There was an equal divide of the next four before a score from a free from all of 80 metres by Richie Power in the 42nd minute – arrowed over with Tyrrell and Corbett digging each other in front of him, for which both received a booking – pointing Kilkenny towards the winning post (1-13 to 1-12).
Between the 42nd and 65th minutes sinking Tipperary scored a solitary point, that coming from a 65 by Pa Bourke (65). In the same time Kilkenny riddled home 3-7 to reaffirm their modern day dominance over the Munster champions.
By now Brian Hogan was a powerhouse at centre-back for the Cats. Fogarty was still the most dangerous man from open play up front and some of the shooting by Shefflin and Reid was almost unbelievable. Eoin Larkin put in a huge finish too.
The scoring barrage started with a scare by Colin Fennelly, who was hooked on the right edge of the square with the goal at his mercy. Power then converted a 65 before Aidan Fogarty scored a spectacular goal.
Tyrrell drilled a huge clearance out of the Kilkenny defence. A defender was unlucky to knock the ball down to the on-rushing Emeralds man about 40-metres from the target on the left. Fogarty sprinted away, and from about 20 metres, at full pace, released a bullet. The ball fell dead in the goal behind Brendan Cummins (2-14 to 1-12).
Strong pace, relentless tackling
The Kilkenny work-rate, already high and strong, soared after that. The pace, the relentless nature of the tackling, was simply too much for the opposition.
Pa Bourke and Cillian Buckley traded minors before a foul on the deadly Fogarty earned a point for Shefflin. The next score was a goal from Larkin. Cillian Buckley delivered an angled ball up the left. Larkin contested with a defender, and his strength carried him through a strong tackle.
The defender stumbled, and lost a yard or so. The James Stephens man charged away and blasted the ball low into the net (3-16 to 1-13). It was the 51st minute. The game died there and then.
Minutes later T.J. Reid gift wrapped the Kilkenny offering. Larkin made the play, but Reid showed a lovely side-step to evade two would be tacklers before crashed the ball into the net: 4-17 to 1-13.
There was no way back for Tipperary after that. The Cats gave the most emphatic response imaginable that the Leinster final upset was well and truly behind them. Great stuff! Simply great!
Kilkenny – David Herity, Paul Murphy, J.J. Delaney, Jackie Tyrrell, Tommy Walsh, Brian Hogan, Kieran Joyce, Michael Fennelly, Michael Rice, Henry Shefflin, T.J. Reid, Eoin Larkin, Colin Fennelly, Richie Power, Aidan Fogarty. Subs – Cillian Buckley for Rice (inj) 17th min; Matthew Ruth for C. Fennelly 63rd min; Noel Hickey for Murphy 63rd min; Richie Doyle for Joyce 63rd min; Conor Fogarty for A. Fogarty 66th min.
Tipperary – Brendan Cummins, Conor O’Brien, Paul Curran, Michael Cahill, Thomas Stapleton, Conor O’Mahony, Padraic Maher, Brendan Maher, Shane McGrath, Pa Bourke, Patrick Maher, Lar Corbett, Brian O’Meara, John O’Brien, Noel McGrath. Subs – Shane Bourke for B. O’Meara 45th min; Paddy Stapleton for T. Stapleton 46th min; Donagh Maher for P. Curran 60th min; John O’Neill for J. O’Brien 62nd min; James Woodlock for B. Maher 65th min.
Referee – Cathal McAllister (Cork).
Attendance – 50,220.