Game of unmatchable quality decorated with luminous brilliance on both sides

Richie Hogan the best of a brilliant lot with Callanan not too far behind

It ended like no other All-Ireland, 81,179 sets of eyes trained on the screens at either end as Hawk-Eye kept us in suspense. Which was appropriate enough, since right up to then it had hummed and thrummed like no other All-Ireland. A game of unmatchable quality, decorated with luminous brilliance on both sides.

Hunting for culprits

Who played badly? Could you count any more than a handful from either team? In a game of 54 scores, you could go hunting for culprits in both defences but there was heroism there in spades.

Cathal Barrett was phenomenal for Tipp, Paul Murphy magnetic for Kilkenny – this in a game where both sides coughed up goal chances by the new time. A game that was only possible because most players threw into the pot at some stage or other.

But when the need was most, the players who have done the most all year found a way into the game.


If there was any doubt that the hurler of the year award had crystallised into a toss-up between Richie Hogan and Séamus Callanan, yesterday settled it.

Hogan has his nose ahead in the betting going into the replay, but not far enough that a day of days from Callanan on the last Saturday of the month won’t settle it his way.

TJ Reid, Richie Power and Eoin Larkin all had their moments for Kilkenny. John O'Dwyer, Barrett and Shane McGrath all sang out for Tipp. But Hogan was most people's idea of man of the match here and Callanan was at the front of the pack that pushed him most of the way.

Hogan took a while to get into the game properly. Confirmation of the pre-match suspicion that Tipperary's midfield pairing of James Woodlock and Shane McGrath could find success running at the heart of the Kilkenny defence meant that it was they who caught the eye early on. Woodlock galloped through and swished a point after seven minutes, McGrath clipped an identikit one after 20. Hogan had barely made a meaningful contribution by that stage.

But no matter how watertight a seal you put on Hogan’s genius, a little is still liable to leak out the side. With 25 minutes on the clock, Tipp were 1-9 to 0-6 ahead. In a rat-a-tat five-minute spell, Bonner Maher had scored his goal, they’d had a penalty saved after another Maher catch-and-sprint and Lar Corbett had swung over a sumptuous score. Kilkenny were in danger of becoming detached from a game that had been cheek-by-jowl only five minutes earlier.

When they needed a score from anywhere, Hogan made sure it came from him. He found a yard of space over by the Cusack Stand sideline and as the cover closed in he leaned away from it to such an extent that he ended up hitting the shot off one foot. No matter. It split the posts and two minutes later there was only a point between the sides.

Statement of intent

Callanan too had been quiet enough up to then. His first intervention looked like a statement of intent – gathering the ball out on the right sideline, he decided to check JJ Delaney’s fast-twitch fibres to see how they were feeling by setting off on a looping run towards the Kilkenny goal. JJ broke even and the ball was cleared. But Callanan had made his point.

His first score came on 12 minutes after Bonner Maher butchered a goal chance by sending a handpass just a little too far outside Callanan's orbit. He had to readjust to take the ball in, the goal chance evaporating as a result. A better chance came his way when Maher was fouled for the penalty but Callanan's strike was poor, bouncing in front of Eoin Murphy and gifting the Kilkenny goalkeeper the initiative.

So heading into the second half, you wouldn’t have said either was the outstanding performer in the game. But then again, it was hard to attach that label to anyone. By then it was clear that this was a game of relentless quality, bubbling and boiling with the heat of the sport’s best players meeting its biggest day head-on.

In the midst of a game like this, the natural human instinct is to brace yourself for disappointment. To gawp at the accuracy and the skills but to resist the urge to imagine it can hold up right to the end. And yet the dip never came. Neither side shot a wide from the 44th minute until the very last puck of the game. In any game, that would border on the miraculous. In an All-Ireland final, it’s obscene.

It was there, in the meat of the second half, that Hogan and Callanan came to the fore. Between the 49th minute and the 61st, as the sides swapped score for high-wire score at a rate of one a minute, the two hurler of the year candidates were immense. Both sides scored six points in that period – Hogan scored four, Callanan three.

Hogan had moved to centre-forward by now and his influence on the game was blanket. He pinballed around the half-forward line, lasering passes when shots weren’t on, splitting the posts when they were. The smallest man on the pitch, he caught a puck-out at one stage and turned to nail a score in the same movement. Caught it over Paudie Maher, no less.

Necklace of points

But Callanan wasn’t done either. He answered with a necklace of points of his own, none of them simple, each a demonstration of the fortitude that has been so often questioned. He surely deserves for the asterisk of doubt that always accompanies any assessment of his talents to be dropped now.

Overall, Hogan took seven shots at goal and scored six points. Callanan took 10 and scored seven. Ultimately, Hogan did more to set up the players around him and Callanan carried the weight of that missed penalty back home with him.

So this round goes to the Kilkenny man.

There’s still a round to go though. Come the last Saturday of the month, ringside is the place to be.

Malachy Clerkin

Malachy Clerkin

Malachy Clerkin is a sports writer with The Irish Times