Richie Leahy ensures Kilkenny just shade rip-roaring encounter

The sun shone down on 10,587 spectators in Nowlan Park as Tipperary came to town

Kilkenny’s Richie Leahy in action against Tipperary. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Kilkenny’s Richie Leahy in action against Tipperary. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

 

Kilkenny 2-22 Tipperary 2-21

Neither side was at full strength and the Allianz Hurling League still has all to play for both of them but this could have been an episode of the Twilight Zone where a pulsing, end-to-end championship match finds itself unaccountably playing out in late February. Richie Leahy hit the winner in injury time to steer Kilkenny home.

The sun shone down on 10,587 spectators in Nowlan Park even if the temperatures were seasonal. Tipperary manager Michael Ryan shared the feeling: “To be fair to the pitch out here it played like summer hurling; lads only love that.”

He was in buoyant form considering his team had just lost to Kilkenny by a single point but having fielded around only half a dozen of his likely championship team and pointedly kept Noel McGrath and Pádraic Maher on the bench as the outcome sizzled on the pan, the Tipp manager didn’t appear heart-broken.

Brian Cody had more conventional reasons for satisfaction. He too was missing players and his auditions are by necessity more extensive but for a second week, the younger players showed a great appetite for work and steady nerve in the pressure of a tight match.

“Yeah, the maturity that the young lads showed really to kind of hang in there and realise that we were after losing a lead and to keep hurling,” he said.

The momentum swing at the start of the final quarter could have unhinged the home team but they dug in and turned it into a shoot-out, at the end of which they were ahead. They were deserving winners in that their touch and combativeness was that bit more consistent throughout the 70 minutes.

TJ Reid ended with 0-13, three from play and the only blemish a second-half penalty

It was a great match. Players mightn’t have been razor-sharp but there was an energy to the exchanges and the competitive urge was as strong as you’d expect when the counties meet.

Tipperary started the better and led by 0-4 to 0-1 after eight minutes. One of Michael Ryan’s main causes for optimism was the form of Michael Breen, who stepped in to the shoes of Jason Forde – who together with UL Fitzgibbon winning team-mate John McGrath was absent – and long-term injury Séamus Callanan.

His tally of 2-9 wasn’t flawless but the two goals hauled Tipp back into contention in the second half.

Kilkenny’s primary marksman was however also on hand to pump their score-card. TJ Reid ended with 0-13, three from play and the only blemish a second-half penalty, blasted over the bar rather than into the net as is the usual result of his penalties.

The run of scores put Kilkenny in front while the visitors had a wasteful first half with nine wides and a couple dropped short. Their forwards struggled at times for space and opportunity. Cillian Buckley and Paddy Deegan were exceptional in the air – the latter taking a copybook catch from Breen just before half-time. They stayed in touch though, even when Kilkenny threatened to pull away.

There might have been a goal in the 28th minute when Reid craftily dummied a scoring attempt, instead rolling the ball into Luke Scanlon whose cross created a chance for Martin Keoghan but the Tullaroan youngster – who had to adjust to a more frustrating afternoon after a couple of prolific weekends – was blocked for a 65.

If Kilkenny had concerns at that point, it would probably be to do with the blanks being shot in the full-forward line. Liam Blanchfield was switched in with Richie Leahy dropping to centrefield but any misgivings were answered in the three minutes after half-time when firstly, full forward Walter Walsh – taking advantage of a slip by Tomás Hamill and turning Seán O’Brien before rifling in a shot – and corner forward Scanlon, raiding in from the left, scored goals.

It was to Tipperary’s credit that their makeshift team didn’t fold but Breen emulated the opposition and helped himself to two goals in three minutes, kicking in a loose ball in the 45th minute and following it with a lovely finish having got inside the defence.

From then on the match alternated between the teams. Tipp took the lead, lost it and regained it again. Replacement Mark Russell, son of former football referee Paddy, came in at full forward and gave the team route one options, which they duly took and created discomfort for Kilkenny’s full-back line.

But with the match teetering, Kilkenny’s scores were taken with greater assurance. Replacements Richie Reid and Alan Murphy pointed, as finally did Leahy and – literally – Tipp couldn’t quite keep up.

Lester Ryan got a great block in on Billy McCarthy to save a point, earning his manager’s commendation. Next week they take on David Fitzgerald’s Wexford and Cody will be hoping to arrest a concerning sequence that has seen Kilkenny lose the last three matches between the counties

KILKENNY: D Brennan; P Deegan, J Holden, E Morrissey; C O’Shea, C Buckley (capt), C Browne (0-1); J Maher (0-1), L Blanchfield (0-1); M Keoghan, TJ Reid (0-13, seven frees, 2 65s, penalty), P Lyng (0-1); R Leahy (0-3), W Walsh (1-0), L Scanlon (1-0). Subs: A Murphy (0-1) for Blanchfield (47 mins), L Ryan for Lyng (51 mins), R Reid (0-1) for Keoghan (60 mins), C Martin for Scanlon (65 mins).

TIPPERARY: D Mooney; A Flynn, T Hamill, S O’Brien; S Kennedy, J Barry, D Maher; B Maher (0-4), R Maher (0-1, lineball); S Curran (0-1), B McCarthy (0-1), P Maher (0-1); G Browne, M Breen (2-9, seven points frees), N O’Meara (0-2). Subs: M Russell (0-1) for Browne (half-time), C Darcy (0-1) for O’Meara (44 mins),

Referee: Alan Kelly (Galway).

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