Clinical Kilkenny have the final say again
TJ Reid’s late cleverly-worked point proves enough to keep Tipperary at bay
Tipperary’s Brendan Maher and Michael Cahill battle with Kilkenny’s Richie Hogan during the Allianz Hurling League final at Semple Stadium yesterday. Photo: Cathal Noonan/Inpho
After a compelling finale, the National Hurling League was decided by the usual point and in favour of the usual suspects.
Richie Power lashed the ball high into a murky sky as the whistle went after extra-time as Kilkenny retained their league championship and extended the Indian sign which they have held over Tipperary since their thunderous All-Ireland final defeat of 2010.
Tipperary have enjoyed just one victory over their neighbours since that September high a but played at times magnificently here in front of a hugely hungry local support in the crowd of 21,605. It was riveting and unpredictable all through and in the end, Tipperary were undone by a moment of clever opportunism by the two attacking players who had tormented them all afternoon, with TJ Reid delivering a beautifully sly sideline cut into Richie Hogan’s palms and then flicking the return pass over the bar.
As usual winning points go, it was devilishly memorable. It finished 2-25 to 1-27 in favour of the visitors, giving Kilkenny their eighth league title of the Cody epoch and the honour of being the first county to complete a spring three-in-a-row since – who else? –Tipperary did so in 1961.
“Oh, straight off the training ground,” codded Brian Cody afterwards of Reid’s closing score, “And from my playbook too. I have never seen it before. It is way beyond my capabilities, that is for sure.”
Afterwards, both Cody and Eamon O’Shea quickly began switched into the ‘importance of the championship’ theme. But everyone in the stands could see just how engrossed by the occasion they were.
Cody entered the Tipperary dug-out at one stage of the first half for reasons about which he remained coy later on.
And Eamon O’Shea, after a turbulent league season, was almost gnomic in his answers to the crowd of journalists crowding around him in the corridor when the match ended.
There had been an abiding sense all afternoon around Semple Stadium that the Tipp’ faithful were aching for a win of significance over their perpetual rivals. As it was, Tipperary showed immense courage to respond to the setback of conceding two penalties in normal time – the first of which looked to have been a free out – to produce two injury-time points and prolong what was a fascinating afternoon of hurling.
“Really proud of the players,” was O’Shea’s terse summary of that gripping period.
“What else do you want me to say? Brilliant match. I hope ye enjoyed it. Because I did.”
Everyone did. Gone was the freewheeling goal-scoring exhibition of their league encounter. The Tipperary defence, depicted as AWOL during the season, were in Hell’s Kitchen mode here: just 0-8 of the Kilkenny’s regulation total of 2-17 came from play. James Barry had a storming match on the right wing and Cathal Barrett, a late inclusion, had a fine afternoon alongside Padraic Maher at full back.
Brendan Maher led from the heart of the Tipperary defence: all afternoon, there was much to placate whatever anxieties had built up in the Tipp’ heartland over the winter. John O’Dwyer fired 1-3 from play. There were unexpected turns too. Séamus Callanan, caught up in JJ Delaney’s spider’s web all afternoon, was collared only to come alive when reintroduced in extra time. Henry Shefflin, too, was hooked early after a day when he mostly just worked his socks off.
In black and amber, Danesfort’s Paul Murphy had another outrageous game. Richie Hogan burrowed through Tipperary’s resistance all day, first stealthily and, later in the afternoon, with spectacular boldness. TJ Reid finished with 2-11, the grace note drawing a broad note grin from Eoin Larkin as he leaned against Semple’s famous blue gate afterwards.
“TJ is TJ, I think,” he said, which is about as effusive as compliments come on Noreside.
“Kilkenny and Tipp games are always close like that. Someone has to win it and we were lucky enough to get the point.”
But luck, as Eamon O’Shea declared afterwards, had nothing to do with it.
“It was just a game. We lost a game by a point. I don’t believe in lucky or unlucky.”
That observation contained a multitude of truths. Kilkenny are never more dangerous than in the closing seconds of games when the pattern of play is frantic and hearts are pumping hard. They thrive coldly when the fare is wild and chaotic.
You could see Richie Power, for instance, responding to the surging momentum as a poker player might to higher stakes. There was an underlying sense here that Tipperary had to see and raise Kilkenny here and they did so all afternoon. The match deepened in importance, reminiscent of the league final between the teams played here in 2009 – another extra time thriller, another Kilkenny trophy.
But Tipp were on the cusp of self-discovery then. Now, they are trying to recapture the mood of the season when they were invincible. And to raise arms in triumph over a cast of black and amber jerseys – and in Thurles – would have been of immense emotional value.
But that is more easily said than done. Until they meet again, then.