In the end, it was the one thing we didn't imagine possible. Against type, against what we've come to presume logic looks like, Tipperary won this All-Ireland in a cakewalk. They handed Kilkenny their heaviest final defeat in 52 years – and the only reason the final margin was nine points was their carelessness in leaving another good half-dozen behind them on the pitch as they climbed the steps of the Hogan Stand.
Tipperary’s prodigious ability to keep the scoreboard rolling has always been a huge asset and though their work-rate and physicality gave them the platform, it was the sheer relentlessness of their shooting that overwhelmed Kilkenny. Only four teams in history have scored more than 2-29 in a final, a total Tipp managed here despite racking up seven wides inside the opening 20 minutes.
On another day against another Kilkenny, that sort of spendthrift carry-on wouldn’t have been tolerated. But for once, Brian Cody’s cupboard was bare when it mattered most.
Kilkenny's 2-20 is the highest losing total in a final since 1990 and yet it's hard to remember a championship game where they were hanging on for dear life for so long. They nosed ahead occasionally but never led by more than two points at any stage. Even Kevin Kelly's second-half goal, the sort of game-breaker they'd ordinarily use as a springboard, bought them a lead that was wiped out within four minutes.
Right up through the spine of the team, Kilkenny players who have carried them on big days in the past were routed. All Star full-back Joey Holden was burned by Seamus Callanan, who ran up a personal tally of 0-13, 0-9 of it from play. Kieran Joyce, man of the match the last time these sides met in a final, was substituted. Colin Fennelly, twice a goalscorer in the semi-final replay against Waterford, fluffed his one shot at goal all day. Even Paul Murphy looked at sea.
Only Richie Hogan brought any of his usual form to the game, planting a goal and starting the move that led to another. The only points scored by Kilkenny forwards in the second half were from placed balls, whereas five Tipperary forwards raised at least a white flag apiece from open play after half-time. The Tipperary full forward line ended the afternoon with 2-21 to their name; Kilkenny’s inside three left Croke Park with only Kelly’s 1-2 to show for their day.
But this was about far more than the numbers. Tipperary matched Kilkenny for physicality, saw and raised them when it came to hooking and blocking and tackling. They defended from the front, forcing turnovers in the Kilkenny defence that led directly to 1-6.
That might not sound massive in the context of a 2-29 total but it was a 1-6 that was worth more than nine points. The symbolism of someone like Cillian Buckley being sacked for Seamus Kennedy to whip Tipperary's fourth point on 11 minutes didn't need a lot of translating. The Tipp crowd knew that if Kilkenny were matched for work, Tipp had more scorers on the pitch. Their approval was loud and hopeful.
That said, Tipp were ominously profligate early on. With 20 minutes on the clock, they had those seven wides to go along with their seven points and a careless Callanan free blocked by Buckley. Kilkenny had 0-7 on the board as well, Hogan and Walter Walsh pinging opportunist scores from distance and TJ Reid potting his frees when they came.
In the Tipp defence, Ronan Maher was having an exceptional day. Hogan and Reid kept switching in and out on him but he was impervious, holding the centre always and picking up a world of breaking ball along with Kennedy. Michael Breen was a fitful presence at times but did set up John O'Dwyer for a point on 22 minutes.
For his part, O’Dwyer was having one of those games that make you wonder why anyone wonders about him. He speared an outrageous sideline cut between the posts from 45 metres after eight minutes and carried on from there. By half-time, he had four points on the board including a couple of smart efforts from play and an 80m free.
Kilkenny found scores hard to come by. They capitalised on sloppy play in the Tipp defence for points by Buckley and Eoin Larkin but otherwise they relied on frees from Reid to keep them going. They reached half-time just 0-12 to 0-14 behind but they should have been further adrift.
The question now was what they would do with their reprieve. They've owned the third quarter for so long now that we expect them to come out and start landing haymakers by instinct. And when Kelly scooped home Liam Blanchfield's ball for their first goal on 42 minutes after fine work from Hogan and Walsh, it looked like business as usual. Kilkenny led by 1-14 to 0-15 at that stage and everything we know about Cody's team told us they would kick on from there
Instead, it was Tipp who shifted gear. Jason Forde came off the bench to split the posts with his first touch, Callanan knifed a point after John McGrath emerged from the sort of pile-up ruck a Tipp corner-forward has not emerged from against Kilkenny in quite a while. Just like that, the Kilkenny lead was gone and when O'Dwyer found the bottom corner of Eoin Murphy's net on 48 minutes, they could sniff victory.
From there, they piled on. Callanan went to town on Holden, John McGrath snapped a couple of points, Forde nailed another. When John McGrath clipped their second goal on 61 minutes, they went nine clear. Though Hogan pulled on a loose ball at the other end within a minute to cancel out McGrath’s goal, Kilkenny knew their fate.
They were great on other days, just not here. That being the case, Tipperary could pay them no greater tribute than the walloping they gave them.