Hurling is the game that just keeps on giving. After last year's magnificent championship campaign where one great match was followed by another, this final of the National League has only served to whet our appetites for the summer.
This was a match of huge physical collisions around the middle of the field, of great intensity – in the second-half and on into extra-time – and of some super score-taking. If this is a foretaste of what we are going to get in the championship, let it roll on!
It was a very exciting match and, in truth, it was very hard to say either side deserved to lose after putting in massive efforts.
The game ebbed and flowed and both sides had their noses in front at different times. It was a question of who was going to be ahead when the final whistle came and Kilkenny got that vital score.
That TJ Reid and Richie Hogan were involved in creating that winning point was rather apt, given the contributions both players made to their side’s cause.
Tipperary will be bitterly disappointed. They had their chances to win and held the bigger leads at various stages in the game, having led by six points in the first half and by four points in the second.
Reid and Hogan always seemed to get the vital scores when required – Reid’s two penalties were hugely important – and these two did more than anyone else to bring Kilkenny to victory.
In such a tight game, close calls can be critical and there were a couple of refereeing decisions that were curious. The one where Kilkenny got a free (pointed by the excellent Reid) where Cathal Barrett beat Henry Shefflin to the sliotar but was penalised by the referee was particularly baffling.
But, then, Kilkenny can point to a harsh free late-on against Jackie Tyrrell that was equally hard to fathom. It was a game of tight margins and fractions.
The critical mistake came with Darren Gleeson’s decision not to hit that last free up the field towards the Kilkenny goal.
He tried to pick out someone and unfortunately for him put it over the sideline.
The timing of that mistake was critical for Tipperary and losing the match basically came down to that. Gleeson has plenty of range and, although it was a long way out, he could have got the play down to the other end.
Instead, he just went to pick someone out and put it over the line . . . . . and that Kilkenny sideline ultimately led to a situation where Reid and Hogan combined to make him pay the price right at the death. There was no time left for Tipperary to get back.
In defeat, Tipperary can still take a lot of positives, both from the last few weeks and of their performance here.
Okay, they have to suffer yet another defeat to Kilkenny but this is not a defeat that’s going to derail the team on the way into the championship as defeat did a year ago. They could have won this game and I am not sure what they could have done differently to win it.
There were some outstanding performances in the backs from Brendan Maher and Pádraic Maher in the central positions.
Up front Bonner Maher was brilliant, and Noel McGrath and Bubbles O’Dwyer got some great scores.
Kilkenny will take a lot from this latest win. It is a fantastic achievement to win three league titles in a row and a tribute to their longevity.
Pádraig Walsh hurled superbly at right-half back and Michael Fennelly showed his return to form at midfield Tyrrell and JJ Delaney held the centre pretty well and Hogan and Reid were outstanding up front.
You have to hand it to Kilkenny. Winning three in a row in league titles is no easy feat.
This is the tail-end of some of the greatest players ever to have played hurling and they'll be very happy the likes of Pádraig Walsh is coming through, that Lester Ryan did so much work when he came on, and that Brian Kennedy and Cillian Buckley held up so well.
They’re producing new players and that’s adding to the side’s longevity.
I would have had some question marks over the league final last year, that it never really reached any great intensity.
But this one did.
The second-half of this league final was as good as it gets in terms of intensity and there were some great scores from both sides.
But I don’t necessarily think these two sides will have left Thurles believing they will dominate the upcoming championship.
The reality is there are other teams out there who can get to the standard – at least – of Kilkenny and Tipperary.
This National League final was very entertaining because it was very close and because of the second-half intensity but I don’t believe for one moment that teams like Clare or Cork would be terrified at the prospect of playing either Kilkenny or Tipp.
I would say the hurling championship standard is pretty even and there could be up to six realistic contenders for the All-Ireland title because teams are so evenly matched.
One of the joys of the championship last year was that no one could predict who could beat anyone even during a game.
It was very much like that in yesterday’s final and you couldn’t say with any certainly going into extra-time who was actually going to win.
That was the beauty of hurling last year and, hopefully, will be this year as well.