Brian Cody oversees the 20th national title of his reign
TJ Reid and Walter Walsh lead the bullying of the Tipperary defence in second half
Kilkenny manager Brian Cody watched his team win another national title on Sunday. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho
Like the old line about the French Revolution, it’s too early to say what the 2018 National Hurling League tells us about anything.
Kilkenny are the champions for the 18th time after they ambled to a 2-23 to 2-16 victory over Tipperary in Nowlan Park. In the old days, you would take that to mean that the eternal striped machine grinds on and woe betide anyone unlucky enough to fall under its tyres come summer.
We can feel reasonably safe in pronouncing that this isn’t that. Just don’t ask us to say definitively what it is.
What can’t be denied it that it’s another pelt on the wall for Brian Cody. By sizzling Tipp on the grill here, Kilkenny have lifted the 20th national title of Cody’s time in charge. This is his ninth league. His ninth. No other manager in history has overseen more than three.
After a slapdash start back in January and February, he emerged with a team built around a spine of Pádraig Walsh, Cillian Buckley, TJ Reid and Walter Walsh and filled in the blanks around them. After two defeats from Kilkenny’s opening two games, there was even paper talk going around that Kilkenny might profit from a change at the top. Fair to say that’s not a take that has aged well.
We’ve won today, but there’s a hell of a lot of hurling left ahead this year, and it’s really only starting
“With all due respect to everyone, it doesn’t ever concern me what anyone’s opinion is about Kilkenny,” Cody said afterwards. “I think we look after the thing ourselves in our own place and everyone has an opinion. The great thing about everyone’s opinion is that it can change, whereas our opinion is tested the whole time and you have to deliver on it.
“So it doesn’t really matter from anyone’s point of view. Pundits predict and everything else. And if they’re wrong, it doesn’t matter because they can go again. But if we get the thing wrong, we’re beaten and rightly so. We’ve won today, but there’s a hell of a lot of hurling left ahead this year, and it’s really only starting.”
Reid and Walsh put in towering afternoons here and everyone else took their cue. They were both, in their own contrasting ways, unplayable at times. Reid finished with 0-15 against his name, 0-11 of them from frees. But it was his three exquisite points from play in the first half that took the eye, each winkled out from unlikely situations like diamonds from the dirt.
And when Walsh got in the mood after half-time, James Barry’s tenure in the Tipp number three shirt began to look untenable. Walsh banged home Kilkenny’s first goal a minute after the break, fetching a high ball over Barry around 35 metres out and eating up the ground from there to Darragh Mooney’s goal like he was bouncing in on springs. After going at the break in two points behind, Kilkenny were never headed from the point on.
For Tipperary, this was a fifth league title defeat on the bounce. Worse, it was nothing like some of the classics they lost to Kilkenny earlier this decade. Significantly, Cody’s team didn’t have to unleash all that very much hell on them whatsoever to drive the fight out of them in the second half.
The six-point margin at the end does them more favours than it does Kilkenny – John McGrath’s whipped point on 37 minutes was their last score from play across the afternoon. By rough count, they won only three of their own puck-outs after half-time. That’s three out of 17.
They have players to come back for the summer but then, so do Kilkenny. For Seamus Callanan, Noel McGrath, Bonner Maher and Dan McCormack on the Tipp side, read Richie Hogan, Paul Murphy and Colin Fennelly on Kilkenny’s. Tipp didn’t lose this because of the players they lacked; they lost because of what was lacking in the players they had.
“We didn’t get to the level,” said Mick Ryan afterwards. “We simply didn’t get to the level and I was concerned from the off. This was not what we wanted to bring to Kilkenny. Any part of the first half I wouldn’t have been happy with either. I just thought we were a little bit slow, a little bit lethargic and you can’t come down and expect to get a result with that kind of performance. It has to be of the highest level.
“Look, I would have called it last week as well. We’re not the finished article. We certainly are not – I think we’ve proven that today. We need to see more of our missing players back on the pitch. I think we were stretched today in terms of resources and it hurt. We became a little bit predictable and we didn’t have that variety that we were looking for.”