Premier men need to stand and deliver when their chief tormentors come calling
Tipperary's Noel McGrath with JJ Delaney and John Dalton of Kilkenny during the 2010 league clash. Photograph: Cathal Noonan/Inpho
Tipperary v Kilkenny: Following the defeat in Cork, Tipperary are in dire need of a big performance
It was this weekend three years ago that Tipperary and Kilkenny finally got to play their league opener that wasn’t a league opener at all. Snow had nixed the original effort at getting the game played under lights at Semple Stadium in February and by the time they got around to refixing the thing, the league was three rounds in.
Although Kilkenny had yawned their way through a summary justice session with Offaly the previous weekend, Tipp had endured an undressing at Parnell Park from Dublin during which they’d only managed five points in the whole second half. So on a Sunday afternoon of eye-watering cold, they poured a crowd of 20,254 through the turnstiles – admission was free on account of the original abandonment having come late in the day – and the two sides set about each other like stoats in a sack.
It was no classic. Tipp only had to put up 1-14 for the victory, their lowest winning total against Kilkenny in the Brian Cody era. It was sturm und drang stuff, where even that modest tally left Tipp with four points to spare at the end.
At one point near home time Cody and Liam Sheedy squared up on the sideline, vertical manifestations of the horizontal swiping that was going on inside the lines. The last act was a dropped-in 65 that Brendan Cummins caught and cleared to swells of raucous yahooing from the stands.
The league didn’t amount to a hill of beans for either side that year – Cork and Galway contested a final they had both qualified comfortably for before the final round of group games – but nobody doubted the worth of Tipp’s win in Thurles that day. They had come out on the wrong side of two high-scoring league encounters the previous year and patently set out to make this one much less of a can-can extravaganza.
The elemental nature of it on and off the pitch told you all you needed to know about where the two sides were. The league they could take or leave. The specific result was granted no such leeway. Not in those years anyway.
“I remember in ’09 when we won the four in a row,” says Derek Lyng, “we had two league games against Tipp that year and you could see that they were coming. They were really driven and really serious about those games. They had players like Pádraic Maher and Noel McGrath bursting onto the scene and even though we won those two games, each game was closer than the last.
“As they were going on, you could see the improvement in them. They were anxious to get one over on us and that made it the same vice-versa. We knew they were coming to challenge us and it made us want to keep them at arms’ length and keep them down.
“It took on a life of its own after that, with the All-Ireland finals in ’09 and ’10 and ’11 and a good few league games in between times. The league games became seriously hard matches around those years. You wouldn’t say there was one league game that wasn’t really tough and contested.”