Kilkenny’s exuberance ruthlessly exposes Twilight Zone Tipp
Defeat in Nowlan Park means Tipperary have now lost their last five league finals
Kilkenny’s Cillian Buckley lifts the league trophy at Nowlan Park. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho
Kilkenny 2-23 Tipperary 2-17
Just after half-time in Sunday’s Allianz Hurling League final – or maybe during it – Tipperary entered the Twilight Zone. The opportunity to demonstrate their current superiority over an embryonic Kilkenny vanished and they re-lived the torment of previous contests with Brian Cody’s team, slumping to a six-point defeat that if anything flattered them.
Cody’s not an ardent believer in teams being in transition. You go out, work hard and do your best to win. That’s what happened in a second half that saw Tipp’s painstakingly assembled two-point lead blown to smithereens, as their opponents went up a couple of gears after the break and they couldn’t stay with them.
It was a scrappy match, dominated by free taking which accounted for nearly 50 per cent of the scores, but the ferocious appetite and energy of Kilkenny meant that the outcome wasn’t up for discussion by the final quarter. By then the home side led by seven – having outscored Tipperary by 1-10 to 0-5 on the resumption – and it was as much as Tipp could do to prevent the margin getting any worse in the time remaining.
It lent a mocking air of hubris to manager Michael Ryan’s decision in February’s divisional match to leave some senior players on the bench instead of pushing to overturn what ended up as a one-point defeat.
With nearly everyone on board this time, they were beaten up a stick. Most worryingly key players created an air of vulnerability going into the championship. James Barry had a horror second half once Walter Walsh had been prodded awake.
Michael Breen, who had starred in February, was taken off at half-time. The starting centrefield of Brendan Maher and Séamus Kennedy struggled with the youthful pairing of Richie Leahy and James Maher and Cathal Barrett didn’t impact on the problem when introduced.
Ironically, Alan Flynn in Barrett’s old position of right corner back gave as good a display as anyone on the losing team.
The first half turned into a personal duel between the teams’ respective sharp shooters, Jason Forde and TJ Reid. Both ended the day with vast totals – 2-12 and 0-15 respectively – and just one wide each but Reid was more of a driving force and won the TG4 Man of the Match award.
Tentative early exchanges saw both defences on top. The critical score of the half was Tipperary’s 23rd-minute goal. It began with a fine catch by Flynn, a good ball into John McGrath, who set off on a swerving solo, cutting back to spot Forde unmarked inside and he finished with all the ruthlessness that has been his trademark this season.
It was well timed, as Kilkenny had taken the lead for the first time at 0-5 to 0-6 after Reid landed a free from half-way down the pitch.
Yet of concern to Michael Ryan must have been the manner in which his forwards were being beaten in virtually every ruck. There was enough happening for them to create scoring chances but Kilkenny were sharp at the back and Paddy Deegan excelled both attacking dropping ball and digging possession out of the frequent rucks.
It took Kilkenny more than 20 minutes to register a first score from play and appropriately Reid got it – winning a ball over Ronan Maher and popping it over the bar – as he carried the scoring burden in the first half.
Scoring was roughly tit-for-tat but Tipp were in the ascendancy just before the break and led by two, 1-10 to 0-11, having been clearly the better team.
All changed within seconds of the re-start. Conor Delaney’s ball into Walter Walsh and whatever had been said to him at half-time the full forward was now fully engaged. He plucked the ball from over Barry and fired to the net.
Forde and John McGrath hit back and a thriller looked on the cards but Kilkenny had now found a relentless rhythm. Cillian Buckley was ubiquitous, directing play and building intelligently from the back. When the better ball was to a nearby team-mate, that was the option taken but with Walsh now in full flow, the early ball was also an option.
This could be seen with two points in the 59th and 60th minutes and by the 64th Walsh could be seen in his own 45, tackling like a demon.
All Tipperary could do was peg back the lead to prevent it getting any bigger. They needed more. John O’Dwyer came in for the second half but apart from forcing a fine save from Eoin Murphy in the 41st minute – when a goal might have reignited the team – and later adding a wide, he achieved little prominence.
Kilkenny got more from their bench. Conor Fogarty came in and sped on to a ball and cracked home the second goal and Liam Blanchfield hit a great point. The only question was whether the winning margin would reach double digits.
That it didn’t came down to Forde’s late free, which was deflected to the net but Tipperary hadn’t come to Nowlan Park hoping to lose by less than 10 points.
KILKENNY: 1. Eoin Murphy (0-1, free); 2. Joey Holden, 3. Pádraig Walsh, 4. Paddy Deegan; 5. Conor Delaney, 6. Cillian Buckley, 7. Enda Morrissey; 8. Richie Leahy (0-1), 9. James Maher; 10. Martin Keoghan (0-1), 11. TJ Reid (0-15, 0-11 frees, 0-1 sideline), 12. John Donnelly (0-2); 13. Bill Sheehan, 14. Walter Walsh (1-2), 15. Alan Murphy.
Subs: 22. Liam Blanchfield (0-1) for A Murphy, 42 mins; 24. Luke Scanlon for Sheehan, 44 mins; 21. Conor Fogarty (1-0) for Leahy, 48 mins; 25. Conor Martin for Donnelly, 63 mins
TIPPERARY: 1. Darragh Mooney; 2. Alan Flynn, 3. James Barry, 4. Michael Cahill; 5. Barry Heffernan, 7. Ronan Maher, 6. Pádraic Maher; 8. Brendan Maher, 9. Seamus Kennedy (0-1); 10. Sean Curran (0-1), 11. Billy McCarthy, 12. John McGrath (0-2); 15. Willie Connors (0-1), 14. Jason Forde (2-12, 1-9 frees, 0-1 65, 0-1 sideline), 13. Michael Breen.
Subs: 25. John O’Dwyer for Breen, half-time; 17. Cathal Barrett for Kennedy, 46 mins; 26. Mark Russell for Curran, 60 mins; 22. Donogh Maher for Barry, 61 mins
Referee: Alan Kelly (Galway)