Fennelly proves the difference between Kilkenny and Tipperary in league final
Cats claim league title after centre-forward lands 2-3 in a terrific all-round display
Kilkenny’s JJ Delaney and Tommy Walsh (right) challenge Patrick Maher of Tipperary (centre) at Nowlan Park. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho
Kilkenny 2-17 Tipperary 0-20: For a few awful minutes it looked like it was going to go all horribly wrong. Yesterday’s Allianz league final had been hopefully billed as the return of the big rivalry of recent years – in its more competitive form.
Under new management Tipp had slowly healed the bruised sensibilities of last year’s crushing All-Ireland semi-final defeat and were ready to take on the league holders in their own manor.
The decision to take the final to Nowlan Park was well rewarded with a near capacity crowd of 21,477 and an excellent atmosphere but in the opening minutes it looked as if Kilkenny were going to kill the whole thing off early.
They didn’t but there was no doubting their control of the match, which they led from gun to tape even though it evolved into an entertaining contest at the end of which Kilkenny had retained the title to move to 16 on the roll of honour – seven of which have been won in the past 12 years.
Michael Fennelly started on the 40 in a switch with Michael Rice – in order to maintain the latter’s centrefield partnership with Lester Ryan – and his hard -running style caused havoc in the first half. Within three minutes he had galloped through, ridden a challenge and flashed the ball into the net for a 1-2 to nil lead.
After Tipperary had begun to make a match of it and closed to within a point at 0-5 to 1-3, it was Fennelly who again stretched the lead by driving in on goal from the left despite the attentions of Pádraic Maher and sticking in another goal for a 35-minute total of 2-3.
It was a great all-round display by the 2011 Hurler of the Year Fennelly and he embellished it in the second half, moving to centrefield and doing a noticeable amount of work covering in defence.
Tipperary eventually settledas the match wore on. Brendan Maher put in a sharp shift at centrefield getting on the ball and shooting 0-4.
Eoin Kelly, with a free, and Noel McGrath, who had a productive match at centre forward, also got on the scoreboard and the early jitters subsided. They were undoubtedly helped by a curious tuning out on Kilkenny’s part. Scoreable chances went a begging and the match became tight and engaging but as soon as Tipp got close or equalised, Killenny always appeared able to tip the pedal and move away again in front.
Kilkenny’s backs played well throughout, making it hard for their challengers to create goal opportunities. Patrick Maher – who had a subdued afternoon – bustled in on goal in the 29th minute but shot weakly.
Paul Murphy snapped up ball at corner back and drove out whereas JJ Delaney – until getting red carded – and Jackie Tyrrell were always in control.
No sooner had Tipp levelled in the 35th minute at 2-5 to 0-11 than Lester Ryan and Michael Fennelly took a point each in the minute before the break to leave Kilkenny 2-7 to 0-11 ahead at the turnover.
The pattern of the second quarter was repeated on the resumption: Kilkenny pushing ahead and Tipp coming back. The winners’ lead never exceeded three points but Tipp never led and were level for only a minute.
Referee Barry Kelly – who kept good order over the 70 minutes – consulted his umpires after a scatter in the 45th minute and ordered off Lar Corbett and JJ Delaney, whose brawling had triggered the incident. They will both miss at least one championship match next month and it was a further afternoon to forget for Corbett against Kilkenny.
Manager Eamon O’Shea took off four of his starting forwards in recognition of the fitful nature of their challenge.
Only Noel McGrath, who eventually switched to centrefield, scored more than a point from play – even if some of the inter-play was much improved.
Once the initial assault had subsided the defence played well enough. Kieran Bergin had an encouraging debut, winning ball at left-wing back and disposing of it accurately. But Kilkenny still carried the more obvious threat.
No sooner had Brendan Maher pulled Tipp level than Richie Hogan, quieter than usual, restored the lead. Cillian Buckley cut through for a point, Ryan hit a monster from his own 65 and Michael Rice added the final point to leave Kilkenny three ahead at the finish.
KILKENNY: E Murphy; P Murphy, JJ Delaney, J Tyrrell; T Walsh, B Hogan, K Joyce (0-1); M Rice (0-1), L Ryan (0-3); C Buckley (0-1), M Fennelly (2-3), E Larkin (0-6, 0-5 frees, 0-1 65); R Hogan (0-1), C Fennelly (0-1), A Fogarty. Subs: M Ruth for Larkin (62 mins).
TIPPERARY: D Gleeson (0-1, free); C O’Brien, M Cahill, P Curran; C O’Mahony, Pádraic Maher (0-1), K Bergin; S McGrath, B Maher (0-4); L Corbett, N McGrath (0-3), Patrick Maher; S Bourke (0-1), E Kelly (0-5, 0-3 frees, 0-1 65), S Callanan (0-2, frees). Subs: J O’Dwyer for Kelly (48 mins), J Forde for Callanan (57 mins), J O’Brien (0-1) for S McGrath (58 mins), P Bourke (0-2, frees) for Bourke (61 mins), J Woodlock for Patrick Maher (67 mins).
Referee: Barry Kelly (Westmeath).