Nicky English: Possibly the best final ever

Draw was a fair result after majestic display by both sides

 Kilkenny’s Paul Murphy and Brian Hogan get to grips with Patrick Maher of Tipperary during the All-Ireland hurling final. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Kilkenny’s Paul Murphy and Brian Hogan get to grips with Patrick Maher of Tipperary during the All-Ireland hurling final. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

 

I don’t think anyone can accuse me of exaggeration in suggesting this was one of the truly great games of hurling . . . possibly the best final EVER! Before this game, no matter what way you looked at it, Kilkenny and Tipperary appeared inseparable.

And that’s how it transpired. But it wasn’t just the fact that it was close throughout, or that it finished in a draw; this was a game that had everything, in terms of skill and intensity and attitude from the players. A classic. An epic. All of those things. No exaggeration.

When that final whistle came, it wasn’t just the players who had to pause to catch breath. Anyone in the stadium watching also had to take a second or two to take it all in, because from beginning to end this was an All-Ireland final that showcased skills in defence, in midfield play and in attack from both sides.

I know John O’Dwyer was only millimetres away from winning the game for Tipperary with the last puck in the dying seconds of the game from what I thought was a questionable free in the first instance. That was a harsh enough call on Brian Hogan and it would have been hard if the game was won on that call.

Fair result

Ultimately, though, I think a draw was a fair result and I don’t think anyone will complain about having another chance to see two really fine teams go at it all over again in another few weeks’ time. Just as they were in the league final, these teams were again, on an even higher stage, inseparable.

Yet, it is understandable that Tipperary will look back at the many goal chances they created and were not taken or which just didn’t go for them. There was Lar Corbett hitting the post with one effort. Gearoid Ryan pointed when a goal was clearly on. There were two Tipp penalties that weren’t converted. At other times, there were brilliant saves by Eoin Murphy from Bonner Maher and O’Dwyer.

On the issue of penalties in hurling, you have to wonder really just how much an advantage it is to be awarded a penalty under the new ruling which has come in. It is definitely a more difficult task to score from further out under these new regulations and surely there will soon come a time when it will be just the goalkeeper facing the penalty taker. Having said that, the two Tipperary penalties – the first from Séamus Callanan, the second from O’Dwyer – were poorly struck. I feel there might have been a case for Darren Gleeson to be called up to take the second penalty.

Kilkenny looked under pressure in defence for a while, in the first half particularly, and would have been happy to get in at the break just a couple of points down. They were hanging on at times. Tipperary had the better of that midfield battle in the first-half and that is a part of the game that is predictive in hurling this season, where the dominant force in that sector impacts on the result.

After half-time, Kilkenny came straight out with intent and that was an unbelievable goal by TJ Reid. If Gleeson had a dodgy moment later in the game when picking the ball off the ground, there was nothing he could have done about any of Kilkenny’s three goals. Kilkenny won the middle of the field in the second half and Richie Hogan, playing in several positions, took complete control. He ended with six points from play to underline his contribution to the cause.

This was a game where nearly every player stepped up to the mark and delivered on hurling’s biggest stage. Perhaps Colin Fennelly’s touch let him down at times. Maybe Patrick Maher had a tough time on occasions, but Cathal Barrett inside him had another superb game and really that was the case throughout the field in a game where players showcased their magnificent skills and resulted in a game that was truly memorable.

Tipperary will certainly look back on the many goal chances that were created but which weren’t put away. They scored one goal but had a succession of goal chances after half-time when they had momentum.

Second-half duel

In the midst of everything that was going on, the game – I feel – could be encapsulated by the second-half duel between Kilkenny corner-back Paul Murphy and Tipperary’s Bonner Maher who both had fantastic impacts on the game and ultimately came out honours even, just as the game itself did.

 

Murphy was outstanding, led Kilkenny going forward, disrupted good ball into the Tipp forwards, fed good ball to Richie Power and chased and harried and basically did everything you could ask of him. Maher was the main ball winner for Tipperary and the main driver of the team in those last 20 minutes when every ball won and every score was so vital.

Kilkenny had a chance to build a bit of a cushion after Power’s second goal. He was outstanding although Kilkenny people will wonder why he didn’t take his point to go four up instead of passing it across the goal. And then Reid’s long-range free came up short shortly after and still left Tipperary with a bridgeable gap.

In fairness to Tipperary, they kept going and kept playing and those late points from different sources – with Stapleton, Callanan, O’Dwyer and Jason Forde – all taking on the responsibility summed up their spirit and desire and their own self-belief.

This season’s championship had not quite matched last year until now. This was an exhilarating final, although Kilkenny may look back at some of the refereeing – a couple of early decisions that seemed to go against Eoin Larkin and also Stapleton’s helmet catching offence – but, at the same time, I think on balance everyone who saw this game all over the world will be delighted for a replay and a second chance to see two seriously high-quality teams go at it all over again when it will be just as difficult to determine a winner.

Bring it on, because the replay is something that everyone will look forward to with great anticipation.

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