Tipperary and Kilkenny to face off in league hurling final
After an Easter parade of hurling in the sunshine, the composition of this year’s league final bears a familiar look
Clare’s Padraic Collins is halted by Cathal Barrett of Tipperary. Photograph: Cathal Noonan/Inpho
After an Easter parade of hurling in the sunshine, the composition of this year’s league final bears a familiar look.
Kilkenny and Tipperary. Tipp and Kilkenny. Whichever way you want it, it amounts to the same thing. They love to get in each other’s way.
There was no real surprise that defending champions Kilkenny should be among the last teams standing, briskly curtailing Galway’s league interests with a 1-16 to 0-15 win in the early match.
But after being declared the sick man of Munster at the midway point of the league season, Tipperary maintained their upward curve with a sparkling 2-24 to 2-16 victory over All-Ireland champions Clare.
“It seems strange to be in a national league final after the slow start we made,” smiled Eamon O’Shea after the whistle went to bring the curtains down on a diverting Easter Sunday of hurling.
“But the most important thing was the spirit we consistently showed in games, and I think people didn’t realise when we were losing games that that team never capitulated. Our hurling wasn’t good but we stayed at the game. We are nowhere near where we want to be in terms of hurling. It was little bit slow. I wasn’t happy.”
No manager has ever admitted happiness after a league fixture and none ever will. It is the nature of the spring competition.
Still, 0-12 from Seamus Callanan and the luxury of opting to pop a second half penalty over the bar was a pleasant sight for the Tipperary faithful in the crowd of 20,452. Suddenly the afternoon when the champions ran Tipperary ragged in Semple Stadium seemed less vivid and consequential.
O’Shea reviewed the suggestion that this was a return to the orthodox after a league in which he had shuffled the decks in an experimental fashion.
“I wouldn’t say I did a lot of chopping and changing. I don’t chop and change. I picked a team of players that I have. Any player that pulls on a Tipperary jersey is able to play hurling. We used players as I saw fit to put them on the team. These are quality players.”
Brian Cody has also used the league to use his panel liberally and it has paid off. The Cats struggled in the face of a breeze and a forceful Galway first half which saw them fashion a workmanlike 0-11 to 0-6 lead.
“Half-time is half-time,” said Cody about the minutes spent planning and plotting in the dressing room.
Drive things on
“You realise that there’s a lot of time left in the game. Worried is not the word I’d be using. You’d be just seeing how things go, see what you were trying to do in the first half, trying to drive things on for the second half.
“We got into it early and picked up the pace of it a bit better. At the end of the day we worked a bit harder in the second half.
“We got a good start – a nice few points in a row and we got a goal. There was nothing in it at all times. The [Galway] free at the end could have been a goal. It was a very tight game.”
That was a fair assessment, even if Kilkenny were the ones deciding the soundtrack for the afternoon. But then, the semi-final stage of the league season is strange in that it is the least consequential day of the entire programme.
For the victors there is the enjoyable bonus of a league final occasion. But losing at this point isn’t exactly heart-breaking.
The All-Ireland champions could probably use a few weeks of down-time, while Galway prepare for the Leinster championship as a source of mystery: you just don’t know with them.
And so Kilkenny and Tipperary will fight it out for the first national title of the year.