Kilkenny 2-17 Tipperary 2-14
Ultimately the outcome of Saturday’s All-Ireland hurling final replay followed such logical patterns that it left those who had believed in a Tipperary victory wondering what had got into them.
Kilkenny's victory, the 10th for both manager Brian Cody and Henry Shefflin who came in for 12 minutes that were a lot more demanding than a cameo, was a triumph for the drive, ambition and above all iron will that has come to characterise the county for the past 16 seasons under Cody.
He probably hasn’t had to play a more beatable selection of cards in all 13 of his All-Ireland finals but once again he took the opportunity of a replay to discard a few and strengthen his hand significantly.
The enduring rule of replays is that the team that learned the most and with the greatest room for improvement should win. The selection headlines were Tipperary’s contentment with the drawn match and Kilkenny’s unhappiness – manifest in their three changes.
Once again Cody's ability to judge what player is a good fit for the challenge was clear. Kieran Joyce hadn't pucked a championship ball since June but came in and effectively shut down Tipperary's most important player, Patrick Maher, and became the latest of Kilkenny's left-field final picks to win the RTÉ Man of the Match award.
The other changes were Pádraig Walsh, whose form had wobbled towards the end of the season and lost him his place, and John Power. Walsh got the better of Noel McGrath, whose displays are key indicators of the team as a whole, and Power scored 1-1.
As anticipated this was nothing like the drawn match with its breathless, end-to-end play and exhibition shooting but it was no less intense. Kilkenny had learned from the first day when saved by three goals that another shoot-out had to be avoided - and it was with 19 fewer scores registered by the two teams.
There was ambiguity at the heart of the contest, though. Kilkenny were unarguably better but Tipp never quite went away. After the second-half goals it was impossible to see Kilkenny not winning and yet their lead was down to two with a few minutes still to go.
The explanation for this is simply that the winners should have scored more but throughout the second half there was equally little conviction that they were going to lose.
Tipperary stuck to the game plan that had nearly worked the first day but it never worked it to the same effect, their forwards subdued and lacking the liveliness even to ask the same questions. Eamon O’Shea was also slow to run his bench, not reaching for a replacement until less than 15 minutes from the end.
Kilkenny’s keynote was work-rate and tenacity. In the first two minutes they put in two blocks and one hook and it was obvious that Tipperary would have to expend a lot of energy to find space and opportunity.
The man-to-man marking strategy also worked to perfection with Tipperary’s forwards unable to exert the same influence as in the drawn match. Only Gearóid Ryan upped his game and even that raises the issue of room for improvement because he hadn’t had a great match the first day. Significantly Brendan and Pádraic Maher, the other Tipp players with room to improve, both did so.
For the majority however there was a struggle to maintain the standards of three weeks previously.
The first half promised more, though. Even with the claustrophobic marking Tipperary led at the break and had scored the match’s only goal, a sharp finish by Séamus Callanan after Lar Corbett’s one penetrating run through the middle.
Although Callanan scored more from play than the first day he wasn’t as prominent, as JJ Delany performed so well in securing a ninth All-Ireland medal on the field – surpassing the decades-old standard of Ring and Doyle but trailing his team-mate Shefflin by one.
Delaney’s virtuoso hook on Callanan prevented his opponent from getting a third goal early in the match and he wasn’t at fault for either of the Tipp full forward’s goals.
Although Richie Hogan’s candidacy for Hurler of the Year wasn’t eclipsed, he had his quietest day of the championship and the attempt to replicate the impact of his switch to centre forward the first day by starting him on the 40 didn’t work, as Pádraic Maher got the better of that contest.
The other side of that switch fared better, however, as Michael Fennelly at centrefield nearly tripled his possessions, scored two points from play and was the dominant influence in the middle, as Shane McGrath appeared to tire after a strong start and three points of his own.
That Tipperary were still managing to eke out the scores that kept them ahead at the break would prove less relevant than the meaner terms and conditions at which they were procuring them.
The third quarter marked a decisive shift. Tipperary lacked Kilkenny's urgency. The signs that Walsh, Joyce and Cillian Buckley could dominate Darren Gleeson's puck-outs once the Tipp 'keeper had his more targeted options shut down were confirmed.
Richie Power, who was again Kilkenny's best forward, missed a free on the resumption of play while Colin Fennelly, now a real menace at full forward, saw his goal-bound shot smothered by Gleeson.
But still they managed five points without reply to regain a lead they would never lose. Tipperary helped the process with wides from Ryan and John O’Dwyer.
The big score in the third quarter came after an episode of scrapping in both defences, with first Tipperary and then Kilkenny blocking and repelling each other, but it ended in a point for John Power, who within a minute nearly had a goal but for James Barry literally taking one for the team by diving on the goal-bound shot.
The goals that settled the match came however. Michael Fennelly’s line ball was seized by Richie Power and driven into the net and a few minutes later a bout of pinball in the Tipperary goalmouth with defenders desperately blocking ended with Gleeson parrying Michael Fennelly’s pressurised shot for John Power to bat the rebound into the net.
Six points behind, with less than 10 to go the match was clearly over but Tipp managed 1-1 - Callanan quick to a rebound to plant his second goal.
At either end Jason Forde and Colin Fennelly both missed chances that could have influenced the outcome – Forde’s would have left just a point between the teams with a couple of minutes left and Fennelly got caught in two minds between goal and point, instead placing it in Gleeson’s hand.
The Kilkenny forward made amends though by closing out the match with his third second-half point from play. KILKENNY: 1 Eoin Murphy; 2 Paul Murphy, 3 JJ Delaney, 4 Jackie Tyrrell; 5 Pádraig Walsh (0-1), 6 Kieran Joyce, 7 Cillian Buckley; 10 Michael Fennelly (0-2), 9 Conor Fogarty; 11 Colin Fennelly (0-3), 8 Richie Hogan (0-2), 12 Eoin Larkin (0-2); 13 Richie Power (1-1, point a free), 14 TJ Reid (0-5, frees), 15 John Power (1-1). Subs: 22 Henry Shefflin for R Hogan (58 mins), 20 L Ryan for M Fennelly (67 mins). TIPPERARY: 1 Darren Gleeson; 2 Cathal Barrett, 6 James Barry, 4 Paddy Stapleton; 7 Kieran Bergin, 5 Brendan Maher (0-1), 3 Pádraic Maher; 8 Shane McGrath (0-3), 9 James Woodlock; 10 Gearóid Ryan, 11 Patrick Maher, 13 Noel McGrath (0-2); 12 John O'Dwyer (0-3, one 65), 14 Séamus Callanan (2-5, four points frees, one 65), 15 Lar Corbett. Subs: 18 Michael Cahill for S McGrath (56 mins), 25 C O'Mahony for Ryan (64 mins), 17 S Bourke for Corbett (64 mins), 20 Jason Forde for N McGrath (67 mins), 24 John O'Brien for O'Dwyer (69 mins). Referee: Brian Gavin (Offaly).