Sporting Advent Calendar #24: A game for the gods as Kilkenny and Tipp can’t be split

Malachy Clerkin on the All-Ireland hurling final that had everything but a winner

 

Kilkenny 3-22 Tipperary 1-28, Croke Park, September 7th

In heaven, all hurling matches come down to the last puck. It’s not supposed to be like that back here, certainly not when it comes to All Ireland finals. Yet there we sat, for the third year in a row, watching as John O’Dwyer’s 97-metre free sailed towards the Canal End. Six inches one way or the other would write the books. A season decided by Hawkeye.

But you’d do the day a disservice if you reduced it to that final free. It was a game sent down by the gods. Patrick Bonner Maher and Paul Murphy played out one of the great head-to-heads of our time and came out with honours even.

Tipp had two penalties saved, Lar Corbett somehow picked out the angle of post and crossbar with a lasered shot across his own body. Séamie Callanan couldn’t have done much more on JJ Delaney. Nor Delaney on him. Richie Power was class that just wouldn’t quit.

But then there was Richie Hogan. When the need was greatest for Kilkenny, he switched to centre forward in the second half and ticked off point after point. He caught puck-outs over the head of Pádraic Maher, who would go on to win the centre-back All Star. He took seven shots at the posts and scored six. The Hurler of the Year lighting up the game of the year.

By the meat of the second half, the quality of the score-taking had outstripped credibility. They lifted each other to higher plane, in an atmosphere where any miss would have felt like a death knell. Brendan Maher leaked a long ball across the endline in the 44th minute - it was the last time any of the four umpires got to signal a wide all day. It was left to Hawkeye to signal the one at the death and send us all home in a tizzy.

And to think there were tickets being returned to Croke Park on the Friday beforehand.

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