When Tipperary and Kilkenny met in the 2011 All-Ireland final the game marked the first instance in 108 years that the same teams had contested three deciders in-a-row. The sides also met in the 2014 decider and yet, here we are again, facing into another All-Ireland final which pits these great rivals against one another.
It is an extraordinary compliment to the standard set by both counties that there appears little evidence of a public fatigue factor for the fixture. And, one thing is for sure on Sunday, September 4th: if the game is up for grabs with ten minutes to play then there will be no better place to be.
Rivalries like this one tend to define an era and right now Kilkenny-Tipperary defines hurling. There is an historical backdrop, of course, to this rivalry, but what is of more relevance is the fact that this collision represents episode six; Tipperary and Kilkenny have encountered one another in the 2009, 2010, 2011, 2014 (twice) finals and now the 2016 All-Ireland decider - for those keeping count, Kilkenny lead the series 3-1.
But that’s enough of that - on to our a-to-z of this fabulous modern hurling rivalry.
A - ALL-IRELAND FINALS
In 2003 Kilkenny handed Tipperary a humbling twelve-point defeat (3-18 to 0-15) in a one-sided All-Ireland semi-final, but the sides did not encounter one another again in championship hurling until the 2009 All-Ireland final - on September 6th 2009 Kilkenny won 2-22 to 0-23. Twelve months later, on September 5th, the sides met once again in the decider with Tipperary winning 4-17 to 1-18. Then, on September 4th 2011, Kilkenny beat Tipperary 2-17 to 1-16 in the final. It took a replay to separate the sides in 2014. The first match ended Kilkenny 3-22 Tipperary 1-28 while the Cats edged the replay 2-17 to 2-14.
B - THE BOYS OF SUMMER
Irish Examiner journalist Michael Moynihan haunted the minds of Tipperary supporters with a 2011 Tweet when he described this current crop of players as “the boys of summer”. Mike Moynihan was making a cultural reference to Roger Kahn’s amazing book - 'The Boys of Summer' (1972). The book tells the story of the Brooklyn Dodgers who won the 1955 World Series in a thrilling fashion and then, for one reason or another, failed to win again. The title of the book was taken from a Dylan Thomas poem which describes “the boys of summer in their ruin”.
C - CUT CATS
Following Kilkenny’s 2011 All-Ireland final win the post-match analysis of the Tipperary performance was rather cutting. Enda McEvoy, for instance, suggested that “Tipp went up to play a match; Kilkenny went up to fight a war. Kilkenny were supremely focused and savagely hungry; Tipp merely thought they were” while Kieran Shannon believed that Kilkenny’s ability to build up a five-point lead inside the opening fifteen minutes illustrated the “difference between greatness and brilliance”.
D - DIARMUID KIRWAN
In December 2009 referee Diarmuid Kirwan defended his handling of the All-Ireland hurling final. In that decider Kirwan failed to take action after Séamus Callanan took fifty-five seconds to recover from Jackie Tyrell’s frontal charge in the third minute. Kirwan then permitted Richie Power to take ten steps with ball in hand (eight before entering the large rectangle) before awarding the Kilkenny man a crucial penalty in the 63rd minute. Tipperary should have been awarded a free out, but Henry Shefflin converted the opportunity. Forty-five seconds later Kilkenny’s Martin Comerford had the ball in the Tipperary net once more. This time Kirwan ignored Richie Power’s timely push on Paul Curran.
E - EFFICIENT
In all of Brian Cody’s years in charge of Kilkenny the Cats have failed to reach the All-Ireland final three times (2001, 2005 & 2013) in eighteen championships.
F - FINAL DEFEAT
“The league final in 2009 was the first time I ever saw Tipperary people happy with a defeat,” Pádraic Maher told Christy O’Connor (2011) when reflecting upon Tipp’s 2009 National League final defeat (4-17 to 2-26 AET) to Kilkenny.
“People were just happy that we stood up to Kilkenny, but that didn’t sit well with us, especially the younger players. You’d hear people talking about this fear of the black and amber, but we never feared Kilkenny. We knew that we could have beaten them in the 2009 All-Ireland final and we knew if we played to our ability that we could beat them in 2010.”
G - GREATEST EVER
On the morning of the 2010 All-Ireland hurling final the Sunday Times’ Michael Foley wrote “in so many ways, Kilkenny have no case to answer today. There is nothing to argue over; no questioning of their status as the greatest group of hurlers assembled to play the game. Winning five-in-a-row isn’t required as a riposte to any doubt or slight inflicted on them. It would simply represent a wonderful adornment to an epic story: a tangible, visible expression of their greatness”.
Kilkenny lost that final, but the Sunday Times team remained convinced of their greatness and on July 10th 2011, in an article entitled ‘The stuff of legends’, Denis Walsh described the modern Kilkenny as the very “greatest”.
In a terrific feature the merits of Kilkenny were compared to Tipperary (1961-68), Cork (1941-47), Kilkenny (1971-75), Limerick (1933-40), Cork (1976-78), Wexford (1953-56), Galway (1985-90), Offaly (1994-2000) & Clare (1995-99).
H - HISTORIC
On Sunday Brian Cody's Kilkenny team will contest their 17th All Ireland final - the record stands at eleven victories, two draws and just three defeats. Cody's Kilkenny have more won more All-Irelands than Limerick, Dublin, Wexford, Clare, Galway, Offaly and Waterford.
I - IFS, BUTS & MAYBES
In the aftermath of Kilkenny’s harrowing defeat to Tipperary in 2010 manager Brian Cody said: “we have no, absolutely no ifs, buts or maybes. To me the best team always wins the All-Ireland final and that’s the way it worked today. Tipp were excellent from start to finish. It was comprehensive”. That decider represented the first time since the 2001 All-Ireland semi-final against Galway that Kilkenny had failed to take the lead at any point during a championship match.
J - JUVENILE
In reference to Kilkenny’s 3-18 to 0-15 over Tipperary in the 2003 semi-final Enda McEvoy, in April 2008, wrote: “Kilkenny handed their neighbours their heaviest championship defeat since Matt the Thresher was a juvenile”. If Tipperary’s stoic belief that the Premier was capable of breeding the harder hurlers was not rattled that day then it surely was in the 2012 All-Ireland semi-final when Kilkenny presented Tipperary with a 4-24 to 1-15 defeat (Tipperary’s biggest defeat since the 1800s).
K - KING HENRY
In the 2010 All-Ireland final Kilkenny leaked 4-17, their highest tally conceded in a decider since 1971, but did so without Henry Shefflin who hobbled off with an injury after just thirteen minutes (Tipp led 1-3 to 0-1 at the time). One wonders would Kilkenny have gone from level pegging early in the second half to trail 1-10 to 3-11 thanks to a frenetic three-minute spell had Shefflin been on the field of play - either way Tipperary denied Kilkenny their 22nd successive championship win and the five in-a-row.
L - LUKASZ KIRSZENSTEIN
Lukasz Kirszenstein has been working as a strength and conditioning coach with the Tipperary hurlers for a number of years. The Polish man was new to hurling when he arrived, but his relationship with the game has develop significantly since then. Indeed, following the thrilling 2014 All-Ireland final between Tipperary and Kilkenny Lukasz told then team physiotherapist John Casey: “I thought I knew this game, now I get it”. The simple comment spoke volumes.
M - MANAGERS
Michael Ryan is Tipperary’s eighth manager since Brian Cody took over Kilkenny in October 1998 - Nicky English, Michael Doyle, Ken Hogan, Michael Keating, Liam Sheedy, Declan Ryan, Eamon O'Shea and now the Upperchurch-Drombane man have all occupied the hot seat in Tipp during Cody's reign.
N - NEWSPAPER
Sometimes the pundits get it wrong - take the Sunday Times for instance. Prior to the 2010 All-Ireland hurling final, in an article entitled ‘The history boys’, Denis Walsh wrote that if Kilkenny “wanted to be diverted from vainglorious thoughts of five-in-a-row they couldn’t have wished for a more effective distraction than Tipperary”. Walsh believed that Kilkenny would prevail that very afternoon: “this Kilkenny team has one chance at immortality. They will seize it”.
A year later the Cork man found himself in the opposite camp. In ‘Cats avoid making same mistakes but Tipp have the right balance’ Denis Walsh wrote: “you can argue that Kilkenny are not as good as they were in 2009, but they will explode in Tipp’s faces today and Tipp will need to absorb that blast. Can they? Yes. Tipp by a goal or less”.
O - ODDS
It is oft suggested that the bookies never get it, ahem, wrong. But consider the following: on August 10th 2010 a Paddy Power press release priced Kilkenny at 1/6 to win their fifth consecutive All-Ireland hurling title and at just 4/5 to win six in-a-row, 7/4 to win seven in-a-row and 4/1 to collect the eight.
Paddy Power had changed their minds significantly come September 2011 when Tipperary entered the All-Ireland final as 8/11 favourites.
At the time of writing Kilkenny are evens to beat Tipperary in the forthcoming All-Ireland final and Tipperary are priced at slight outsiders at 11/10.
P - PERSONAL
During the build-up to the 2011 All-Ireland final Christy O’Connor eagerly suggested in the Sunday Times (‘This time it’s personal’) that Kilkenny had a personal score to settle with Tipperary. On the morning of the final O’Connor described how a Kilkenny hurler had told a bunch of Thurles friends that Tipperary were “arrogant after only winning one All-Ireland” before highlighting the “fist pumping” of the Tipperary players. Christy O’Connor went on to explain how another Kilkenny player was “spitting fire about Tipperary” and that if they encountered one another again “there’s no way we’ll lose to them”.
Two weeks previously (August 21st, 2011) in ‘Tipp the balance’ Christy O’Connor, following Tipperary’s narrow semi-final win over Dublin, wrote: “this final will be decided by raw hunger and that elemental desire will never be greater. One former inter-county hurler, who spoke to a Kilkenny player before last weekend’s match, said that the “eyeballs were nearly coming out through his sockets” when he discussed the desire of getting another crack at Tipp”.
Then, following Kilkenny’s win over Tipperary in the 2011 All-Ireland final, Christy O’Connor revealed that loose talk from some of the Tipperary players in Copper Face Jack’s nite club (Dublin) had driven Brian Cody’s men to distraction.
Q - QUALITY
The quality of the drawn 2014 All-Ireland final between the sides, which featured four goals and fifty points (Kilkenny 3-22 Tipperary 1-28), sparked the memory of Michael Cusack's famous description of a game of hurling: “A hurling match is like a city on fire, where the crackling of burning timber and the hissing of the flames swell into the roar of conflagration. We never heard sweeter music than that of the hurling field”.
R - RIVALS
During the Brian Cody era (1999-2016) Tipperary and Kilkenny have met in thirty competitive fixtures - Tipperary have won just seven of those games, drawn once and Kilkenny have won on twenty-two occasions. This series of games has also included Kilkenny beating Tipperary in four All-Ireland finals and four National League finals. In the championship the sides have met nine times with Tipperary winning once (one draw). The sides have met in the league twenty-one times - Tipperary have won just six of those contests.
S - SWEET
After the 2011 All-Ireland final Brian Cody had the following to say about his side’s four-point win over their age-old rivals: “winning an All-Ireland final on any given day is a great feeling. I always say the present one is the best because it is the only one I can feel right now. But, if I’m being honest, this is by far our best achievement without a shadow of a doubt, absolutely phenomenally satisfying”.
Cody had a number of factors to cherish: it took Tipperary sixteen minutes to get their first score, following a sensational Richie Hogan goal in the second half Kilkenny were eight points clear, the Cats’ starting full-forward line scored 1-5 from play, their Tipperary counter-parts accounted for 0-1 and Lar Corbett was held scoreless.
T - TRADITION
Overall there have been twenty-six championship meetings between the teams - Tipperary have won thirteen of these matches, Kilkenny have won twelve and there has been one draw.
U - UPSET
In the 2010 All-Ireland final Tipperary stunned Kilkenny 4-17 to 1-18 in one of hurling’s greatest-ever shocks. But where does it rank among this top ten of hurling championship upsets: Antrim 4-15 Offaly 1-15 (1989), Wexford 2-20 Kilkenny 1-6 (1976), Kerry 4-13 Waterford 3-13 (1993), Offaly 3-17 Kilkenny 5-10 (1980), Galway 2-14 Cork 1-13 (1979), Galway 4-12 Cork 5-5 (1985), Waterford 2-23 Tipperary 3-12 (2002), Offaly 0-19 Cork 0-15 (2000), Dublin 0-19 Offaly 1-14 (1991) & Clare 2-11 Tipperary 0-13 (1994).
V - VITAL STATISTICS
“The scoreboard only matters once in a game - at the end,” Brian Cody explained after his Kilkenny team had beaten Tipperary for the third time (and by an average of nine points) during the 2009 season. Tipperary had the chances to win that All-Ireland final, but when it mattered most Kilkenny out-scored Tipperary 2-3 to 0-2.
W - WALSH
Writing as part of the Kilkenny People's preview of the 2014 All-Ireland final storied Sunday Times journalist David Walsh, from Slieverue, explained what a singular pleasure it was for Kilkenny people to get the better of their Tipperary counter-parts.
“Lots of things in sport are over-hyped,” David Walsh wrote, “but not beating Tipperary in an All-Ireland final”.
In the piece Walsh later added: “First thing I learned to hate in life was Tipperary. Happened when I was five years old”.
X - X FACTOR
In terms of quality the 2009 All-Ireland final between Kilkenny and Tipperary stands out as the most exceptional game in this modern series - Enda McEvoy described it best: “was there ever a better All Ireland final? Not in modern times, and as good as 1947’s may have been we can be certain it didn’t come within an ass’s roar of last Sunday for pace, intensity and the precision deployment of the skills of the game under pressure”.
Y - YIKES
Tipperary’s win over Kilkenny in the 2010 All-Ireland final was supposed to herald a bright new era for Premier hurling, but since then Kilkenny have won four of the five championship encounters (one draw) and won six of the eight league contests. In all since the 2010 decider Kilkenny have won ten of the thirteen contests (one draw) between the sides with Tipperary winning just two league games.
#Z - Zzzzzzzz
Apparently Tipperary are considered a soft touch. On February 25th, 2012 Enda McEvoy (a Kilkenny man) wrote: “more worrying in a long-term context, however, is the message that radiated from last year’s All-Ireland series. Get stuck into Tipperary, as Kilkenny and Dublin did, instead of standing off gawking at them, as Waterford had made the mistake of doing, and you’re well on the way to disrupting that clockwork-mechanism attacking game of theirs. Think this small fact wasn’t noticed in Cork and such places? Winning the league, or going as close as makes no difference, would soothe many a savage breast in the homes of Tipperary”.
Mr McEvoy wrote something similar in 2010: “as Páirc Uí Chaoimh demonstrated, moreover, Tipperary do not like teams who get in their faces and work double shifts. Give them a no-hurleys-broken shooting match against a Wexford in Thurles instead and they’d win it eleven times out of ten”.
THE BRIAN CODY ERA - CHAMPIONSHIP MEETINGS
2002 Kilkenny 1-20 Tipperary 1-16
2003 Kilkenny 3-18 Tipperary 0-15
2009 Kilkenny 2-22 Tipperary 0-23 (Final)
2010 Tipperary 4-17 Kilkenny 1-18 (Final)
2011 Kilkenny 2-17 Tipperary 1-16 (Final)
2012 Kilkenny 4-24 Tipperary 1-15 (Semi-Final)
2013 Kilkenny 0-20 Tipperary 1-14
2014 Kilkenny 3-22 Tipperary 1-28 (Final)
2014 Kilkenny 2-17 Tipperary 2-14 (Final)
THE BRIAN CODY ERA - LEAGUE MEETINGS
1999 Kilkenny 3-14 Tipperary 1-13
2000 Kilkenny 2-14 Tipperary 2-9
2001 Tipperary 1-12 Kilkenny 0-15
2003 Tipperary 2-19 Kilkenny 2-16
2003 Kilkenny 5-14 Tipperary 5-13 (Final)
2005 Kilkenny 3-18 Tipperary 2-16
2006 Kilkenny 0-19 Tipperary 0-10
2006 Kilkenny 3-20 Tipperary 2-11 (Semi-Final)
2007 Tipperary 3-13 Kilkenny 2-13
2008 Tipperary 1-15 Kilkenny 1-10 (Semi-Final)
2009 Kilkenny 5-17 Tipperary 1-12
2009 Kilkenny 2-26 Tipperary 4-17 aet (Final)
2010 Tipperary 1-14 Kilkenny 0-13
2011 Kilkenny 1-17 Tipperary 1-10
2012 Kilkenny 2-17 Tipperary 0-15
2013 Tipperary 2-17 Kilkenny 1-19
2013 Kilkenny 2-17 Tipperary 0-20 (Final)
2014 Kilkenny 5-20 Tipperary 5-14
2014 Kilkenny 2-25 Tipperary 1-27 aet (Final)
2015 Tipperary 2-22 Kilkenny 1-13
2016 Kilkenny 2-17 Tipperary 0-18