Tipperary 3-25 Kilkenny 0-20
Tipperary burst out of a deluge and into the brightness of a third All-Ireland title in a decade for the first time since the 1960s after a match which followed none of the touted prescriptions.
Apparently nearly too close to call between one team recovering from a traumatic provincial final defeat and another picking up momentum after an ordinary early season, this year’s All-Ireland hurling final turned into a shock-and-awe exercise, with Tipp’s divisions rolling forward as their marksmen set about 14-man Kilkenny as ruthlessly as any crack snipers picking off the stragglers from a retreating army.
The intermittent downpours may have evoked comparisons with the Thunder and Lightning final of 80 years ago, but this contest hurtled off down a different track from the 33rd minute when Kilkenny's Richie Hogan received a red card to leave his team a man short for the rest of the match.
It was a momentous decision, but not particularly controversial as he had led with his elbow into a clash with Cathal Barrett, who went full sack-of-potatoes on impact.
Referee James Owens, who had a decent match, had little option by the rule book after consultation with his linesman given the prevailing views on head-high challenges, and produced a red card.
Hogan may have been smarting from an earlier challenge from Barrett which required him to retire temporarily with a blood injury, but it was a fateful flashpoint. About the last thing any team playing Tipperary wants is to have to take them on with 14 men.
Turned the tide
In fairness to Liam Sheedy’s team, they had already turned the tide after a worrisome opening quarter, but the luxury of a numerical advantage at the back and the opportunity for their back eight to select their shots into the likes of Séamus Callanan and John McGrath meant that only a systems shutdown would come between them and a 28th All-Ireland.
Noel McGrath shook off a quiet opening at centre field to settle into a contest made for his brilliant distribution skills.
This was a match that was never going to be played with an excess of tactical artifice, and the anticipated man-on-man battles, especially Brendan Maher and TJ Reid, whetted the appetite for an orthodox "win your own battle" sort of match. Tipp had had to struggle with a similar impairment against Wexford, and but for the Leinster champions running out of steam might well have been beaten.
As a result, the loss of a player spelled serious trouble for Kilkenny, with hungry opponents pressing up on them. They sought deliverance in old-school long ball into a reconfigured attack, with Reid and Walsh on the inside line. However, this was like manna from heaven for a Tipperary team never more comfortable than when being required to catch the manna before it hits the ground.
Ronan Maher, following up his tour de force against Wexford in the semi-final with an encore, rose to a succession of challenges, and invariably emerged with the ball to trigger the next wave of attack. Beside him Barry Heffernan was also exceptional, using his height to complicate and repel similar attacks, forming with Maher a human missile defence system.
Going into the final Kilkenny’s attack had been acquitting itself admirably and arguably had better form than Tipperary’s. However, the latter is well practised and given optimal conditions will charge a high price when opportunity beckons.
Niall O’Meara, not top of the list when it comes to enumerating Tipp’s goal-scoring threat, took on the Kilkenny defence in the 26th minute, weaving in from the left and although a point would not have been a bad option at 0-5 to 0-8, he went for the jugular and hit the ball into the far corner of the net.
A minute later Jason Forde's 65 pushed Tipperary ahead for the first time, and they were back in the game after a tricky initial spell when their touch was hesitant and the lashing rain appeared to upset them more than Kilkenny. Reid punished the frees they conceded, and only for a magnificent hook on Colin Fennelly by John McGrath, who put aside the red card trauma of the semi-final to have an excellent match playing in a more withdrawn role.
Kilkenny were not helping themselves with a sequence of wides when on top. Walter Walsh, Adrian Mullen and Cillian Buckley all missed good chances, although Mullen had not been himself and was reported unwell before being taken off on 40 minutes.
All Tipperary cylinders had started to fire by the time Hogan was sent off, and although there was just a point in it at half-time, 1-9 to 0-11, Brian Cody was going to have to organise miracles from his players to stay afloat – never mind win.
Changes were made early in the second half, but by then even containment was becoming a more and more distant prospect for Kilkenny.
A direct attack down the middle, assisted by some defensive fumbling, ended in John McGrath pushing in on goal, letting off a shot which was blocked but only into Callanan’s path. He maintained his phenomenal goal-a-game record over eight matches this summer.
Unleashed, Callanan scored a point and after being picked out by Heffernan, turned inside Huw Lawlor, and instead of a handy second point picked out John O'Dwyer, who hit a third goal.
Some 42 minutes and it was 3-12 to 0-13. There followed vain attempts by Kilkenny, chiefly John Donnelly and replacement Billy Ryan, to peg back the scores, but Tipperary hit them time and time again, their dominant defence packaging scoring chances for a rampant attack.
Once again they got a significant shot from the bench: five points.
By the end they won as they wished, and the return of Sheedy had been crowned by his second All-Ireland as manager and the biggest defeat of Kilkenny in an All-Ireland final since 1964 – also by Tipperary.