Heartbreak for Tipp as Kilkenny create history

 

Kilkenny 2-22 Tipperary 0-23:Hail to the Cats. After a truly rip-roaring contest Kilkenny won their four-in-a-row All-Ireland hurling title at Croke Park this afternoon. It was only the second time in the GAA’s 125 year history, matching Cork’s feat of 1941-44. It was also Kilkenny's 32nd title in all, extending their lead on Cork, who have won 30 titles.

It was the final the whole country was anticipating, a game of amazing intensity and excitement, and only decided in the closing minutes by two late goals for the champions – a penalty for Henry Shefflin, and a superb goal by substitute Martin Comerford.

For Tipperary, who were bidding for their first title since 2001, and 26th in all, it was real heartbreak, particularly as they had the champions on the ropes going into the final 10 minutes. And they started so well - one of the key things when trying to beat Kilkenny - quickly settling into the game and, as expected, running at the champions with every chance they got.

As if on cue the heavy rain that fell throughout the preceding minor final abated for the main event. The virtual capacity crowd of 82,106 were in for a rousing contest, the best All-Ireland hurling final in at least 10 years.

Shefflin and Eoin Kelly exchanged frees in the opening eight minutes. Shefflin then had a chance of a soft goal in a one-on-one with Brendan Cummins, who somehow steered it wide. Shefflin sent the resulting 65-metre free wide. A let off for Tipp.

Straight down the other end, Kelly added a second free, putting Tipp in front – 0-2 to 0-1. Suddenly the intensity of the game took off – every player going for the breaking ball as if their lives depended on it. The tackles were hard and the hits ever harder. Lar Corbett, in his first shot on goal, extended Tipp’s lead to two points on 14 minutes.

Eddie Brennan added a simple score for Kilkenny – only their second point in 15 minutes. Kelly, from play, kept Tipp ahead before points Tommy Walsh, Eoin Larkin and Brennan again suddenly edged Kilkenny in front – 0-5 to 0-4 on 18 minutes. Another Shefflin free extended that lead to two points.

Eoin Kelly’s 65-free helped Tipp stay in touch, but at the same time Tipp started to look nervous. Corbett, however, brought them level again at six apiece on 22 minutes. Then Kelly won himself another free, off a John O’Brien ball, and he promptly sent it between the posts to put Tipp back in front.

But only briefly, as Derek Lyng and then Richie Hogan sent Kilkenny one clear yet again. Still there was no let up in the pace as Kelly squared it up again within a minute to make it eights points apiece on 28 minutes. Corbett then won a free, which Kelly tapped over, and the momentum was back in Tipp’s favour. It was end to end stuff in every sense. A massive score from Corbett put Tipp in front on the half hour, and yet again they looked to have Kilkenny on the rack.

Both sides then had chances in front of goal, only to squander them, which merely raised the tension in Croke Park. Amazingly, they were level again when Brennan sent over a gem, and when Richie Power was fouled moments later, the Cats were back in front, Shefflin converting the free. Just before the break Kelly hit a great point from play to level it AGAIN at 0-11 apiece.

Time for one more score before the break? Oh yes, as Kilkenny were awarded a soft free in the left corner. No problem for Shefflin to tap over, and Richie Power followed up with another tap over in front of the posts to leave the champions two in front at half time (0-13 to 0-11). The question on everyone minds at that stage was whether or not Tipp could raise themselves to the same level in the second half as they did the first.

Tipp started the half with a wide - not good for their nerves. Moments later PJ Ryan pulled off an incredible save from Seamus Callanan, and Eoin Kelly sent the resulting 65 wide. Nerves, again. Still, Callanan made some amends by firing over his first point. Straightaway he added a second to restore parity again – 0-13 each. Another huge point followed from McGrath and the challengers were back in front and fired up.

Shefflin got Kilkenny’s first score of the half on 44 minutes, a free to level it once again. Kelly then missed a glorious chance of scoring Tipp’s first goal but slipped just as he hit it, allowing Ryan to save. At least Kelly hit the resulting 65 this time. Again, Hogan equalised but only until Kelly was awarded yet another free, which he coolly sent between the posts.

Just under 20 minutes to go and Corbett hit a huge point to put Tipp two clear, but Kilkenny sub Michael Fennelly reduced it to one (0-17 to 0-16). Then disaster for Tipp – a straight red card for sub Benny Dunne on 54 minutes for a dangerous swipe on Tommy Walsh. Shefflin pointed a free shortly after and it was level again.

Ryan made another great save from a close range free by Kelly which resulted in another 65. Fired up, Kelly added a sweet point from play and they were two clear again (0-19 to 0-17) with 58 minutes gone. Callanan then sent one off the posts and over to make it three points clear for the contenders.

Still, Tipp sent several chances astray and Kilkenny sub TJ Reid closed the gap to two before Shefflin reduced it to just one point. The tension went up another notch when Noel McGrath hit a point, but then disaster again for Tipp when Power was held up front of goal - penalty! Shefflin buried it and the Cats were back in front (1-19 to 0-21). It was a controversial decision but Kilkenny weren’t complaining.

Six minutes left and game over. Martin Comerford, in his first real chance, was sent clean through for goal number two (2-19 to 0-21). Tipperary’s hearts were broken and you could sense it. Ryan sent another shot over the bar from McGrath. Jackie Tyrell hit a huge score for Kilkenny with two minutes left only for Kelly to add a late free.

Two minutes were added as Larkin breezed through for two security points, putting Kilkenny five points clear (2-22 to 0-23). With Tommy Walsh in possession the final whistle blew. Tipp players fell to their knees as Kilkenny danced in a circle. There was no stopping the pitch invasion either as the crowds eventually forced their way through to hail the four-time champions. Amazing game, amazing team, amazing result.

KILKENNY: PJ Ryan; M Kavanagh, JJ Delaney, J Tyrrell; T Walsh, B Hogan, J Tennyson; D Lyng, M Rice; R Hogan, H Shefflin, E Larkin; E Brennan, R Power, A Fogarty.
Subs: TJ Reid for Fogarty (50 mins), M Fennelly for Lyng (51 mins), M Comerford for Hogan (54 mins).

TIPPERARY: B Cummins; P Stapleton, P Maher, P Curran; D Fanning, C O’Mahony, B Maher; J Woodlock, S McGrath; P Kerwick, S Callanan, J O’Brien; N McGrath, E Kelly, L Corbett.
Subs: B Dunne for O’Brien (46 mins), W Ryan for Kerwick (65 mins), M Webster for Woodlock (69 mins).

Referee: D Kirwan (Cork).