Fennelly leads from the front as Cats claim crown in front of home faithful
First-half goals from versatile Ballyhale man leaves Tipperary with too much to do
Kilkenny’s Aidan Fogarty and Tipperary’s Shane McGrath during yesterday’s National League final at Nowlan Park. Photograph: Cathall Noonan/Inpho
Say this much for Kilkenny – they make inevitability fairly fizz with excitement.
It ought to be boring by now to watch them make trophy collection a mere matter of routine but their 16th league title was played out here to a properly visceral reception from the majority of the 21,447 crowd.
Then again, it’s not often they get to lift a cup among their own people. Maybe it’s understandable then if they splash about in the novelty of it all just this once.
They will know though that they didn’t take Tipperary’s best shot in yesterday’s Allianz Hurling League final. All extrapolations with the losers’ summer in mind should be handled with care. Kilkenny won by 2-17 to 0-20 in the end but bear in mind that this was a day when only one of Tipp’s starting forwards finished the game on the pitch. Will they ever be as collectively poor again? No chance. Will it matter a damn to Kilkenny whether they are? Not on yesterday’s evidence.
Come with your best, come with your worst – Kilkenny don’t discriminate. This version had no Henry Shefflin, no Richie Power, no TJ Reid. To survive that sort of force depletion and still radiate such ferocity and threat for 70 minutes shouldn’t be possible.
But Kilkenny are the unyielding constant, even in flux. You never stand in the same river twice. Your feet get wet just the same.
They were short a man on the sideline too, of course. Brian Cody had come to Nowlan Park on Saturday to watch the Kilkenny minors get beaten by Wexford but medical advice kept him from a return visit yesterday.
Co-manager in his absence Mick Dempsey told us afterwards that although they’d been in contact during the week, ultimately Cody’s approach is simple. There is a right way of doing things and then there’s the other way. If they had to spend much time pondering which was which, he wouldn’t have had them around in the first place.
“To be fair to Brian, his way of doing it would be to tell us to get on with it,” said Dempsey.
“He would be a great delegator. Obviously, we did want to consult him because the man has so much experience and we would be afraid to make any dramatic changes without getting his approval.
“But even when we put difficult things to him, he said, ‘Look, just get on with it’. Obviously, he was very supportive and unfortunately he couldn’t come today. It’s a pity playing a National League final against Tipperary in Nowlan Park that he wasn’t able to attend because that’s where he would just love to be. Hopefully we’ll have him back soon. It’s lucky we won today or maybe he would have been back quicker than we’d like!”
Spiky and insistent
Cody won’t have seen a lot to displease him here. This was as Kilkenny a performance as he could have hoped for. Paul Murphy and Jackie Tyrrell coursed their men in the full-back line, Brian Hogan and Kieran Joyce stood tall throughout. Lester Ryan and Michael Rice were spiky and insistent in midfield, just as Colin Fennelly and Aidan Fogarty were up front.
But it was Michael Fennelly who took the winning of the game into his hands, filling in for Power at centre-forward.
He made Pádraic Maher’s life a misery, stitching two goals in the opening 20 minutes that kept Kilkenny beyond Tipp’s reach, even though the visitors had the benefit of a stiff breeze for the first half. He hoisted three points as well, the second of them coming 30 seconds after Patrick Maher fluffed Tipp’s only real goal chance all day.
Instead of going a point ahead five minutes before half-time, Tipp were three behind.
They lingered in the dressing room at the break - long enough for Barry Kelly to have to go in and get them – and were roundly booed back onto the pitch when they did emerge. The rising temperature was bound to claim a hostage or two at some point and JJ Delaney and Lar Corbett duly saw the line for a spot of rassling and helmet-punching 10 minutes into the second half.
It had no major effect on the game other than to spur an already vocal crowd to even more hue and cry. Kilkenny saw it out to the line from there to throaty euphoria all round.
“It was a very good battle,” said a sanguine enough Eamon O’Shea afterwards. “It would remind me of some of the rugby games between two really good teams. I think our lads did fantastically but in my view the better team won the game.”
Better yesterday, better last year, better all the live-long day. Better come September? It takes some pretty determined imagining to see otherwise.