Kilkenny 2-17 Tipperary 2-14
In the end, Kilkenny did it the old-school way. They took all the frippery and revelry of the drawn game and choked it till its eyes popped out of its head. They squeezed the living daylights out of Tipperary and squeezed again until darkness descended. The thud of drums will win more All-Irelands than the beauty of violins.
They won their 35th All-Ireland by 2-17 to 2-14, a scoreline that shows a full 19 fewer scores than the drawn game. Because the first day was poetry, this was always going to be prose. The fact that Brian Cody changed two-thirds of his half-back line told you that much at least. The last thing we were going to be allowed see was Tipp forwards zig-zagging possession between the Kilkenny 65 and 45.
So it was that the dominant forces from the start were wearing 5, 6 and 7 for Kilkenny. Time and again, Pádraig Walsh, Kieran Joyce and Cillian Buckley plucked high balls from the air and left their opposition stuck to the floor. Since that opposition came in the form of Noel McGrath, Bonner Maher and John O'Dwyer, it effectively put some of Tipp's most potent weapons beyond use.
You wouldn’t, therefore, call it a coincidence that Tipp posted their lowest first-half total of the season. Or that their most prolific point scorer in that first half was a midfielder, the wondrous Shane McGrath splitting the post three times from distance without having to forage in the Kilkenny half-back line for them. Cody wanted to make it a no-go area and for the most part, he succeeded.
At the other end, Kilkenny weren't getting all that much change out of the Tipp defence. Richie Hogan briefly sparked with two points in a minute early on but Paudie Maher clearly considered himself warned and got closer to the Kilkenny talisman from then on. Michael Fennelly whipped two points from midfield and Eoin Larkin found himself a spare half-acre under the Cusack Stand to notch one of his own.
All of which meant there was just a point between the sides coming up on the half-hour, 0-6 to 0-5. But the old truism of guerrilla warfare holds - Kilkenny had to be lucky all the time, Tipp only had to be lucky once. Maher and Joyce scrapped for a long ball and when it broke, Lar Corbett was in the clear. The Tipp corner-forward drew JJ Delaney, flicked a handpass to Seamie Callanan and Tipp had a goal.
It left Tipp with a half-time lead, 1-7 to 0-8. But there was no doubt it was an uneasy one. With the exception of Shane McGrath, all of Tipp’s totems were being outplayed. Bonner, Callanan and Corbett weren’t in the game, the half-forward line was being routed. Kilkenny hadn’t clicked at all in attack and were still only a couple of points down.
It was all they needed. They came out like they had the heaviest metal ringing in their ears. They sprung from the blocks after the restart and blew Tipp away, first in physical battles and then on the scoreboard.
Colin Fennelly could have had a goal inside two minutes, only to be denied by the outrushing Colin Gleeson but the Tipp goalkeeper was only postponing their death. Kilkenny wiped the deficit with a couple of frees before two Colin Fennelly points pushed them into a lead they would never give up.
Tipp were drowning. They came out second best in 50-50 battles all around the pitch. Only Noel McGrath was able to do anything to stem the tide. He sniped a point on 47 minutes, drew a foul for another 40 seconds later and flicked a stunning inside pass for Bubbles O’Dwyer to nail one soon after.
With 20 minutes left on the clock, Tipp were only 0-14 to 1-10 behind. As long as they kept a clean sheet at one end, there was a chance they might be able to tick and tack enough at the other. But when Richie Power rose to collect a Michael Fennelly sideline cut just short of the hour, his finish low into Gleeson's bottom corner put clear water between them, 1-15 to 1-11.
And though Callanan checked their gallop with a free scored at the end of a brilliant run from Tipp captain Brendan Maher, it was the other power brother, John, who ended matters with the second Kilkenny goal three minutes later. Gleeson's defiance deserved more than to pull off two fine saves inside 10 seconds and still be left with the younger Power brother flicking into an empty net but Kilkenny's mercy is short in supply at the best of times.
It meant that Kilkenny carried a perfectly impregnable 2-15 to 1-12 lead into the closing seven minutes. To Tipp's credit though, they found a response of sorts, late though it came. Callanan got in for a shot but though he beat Eoin Murphy, Paul Murphy was there on the line to scramble the ball clear.
By the time Callanan did sweep home a goal in the 69th minute, the cause was all but lost. It brought matters back to 2-16 to 2-14 but only happened because he latched onto a deflected shot from Maher - lightning was unlikely strike twice.
Instead, it was Kilkenny who got the final score of a long, long season, Colin Fennelly splitting the posts at the Hill end after a pass from Henry Shefflin. If it was the great man's last act as an intercounty hurler, we can hardly be surprised he made it count.
Ten All-Irelands for Shefflin. Ten for Cody. Nine for JJ and Tommy. A minor and senior double for Kilkenny. The eternal empire, relentless to the last.
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)