Hungry Kilkenny the masters in all areas


Kilkenny were by far the best team – with team being the operative word – and fully deserved their success

NOTHING IS as dangerous as a wounded Cat, and this game was only in its infancy when Michael Fennelly – who had a tremendous match in a fine team performance – epitomised Kilkenny’s hunger. Remember? Fennelly bullocked into Shane McGrath, put the Tipperary midfielder on his backside and, apart from it resulting in a Richie Power point, the bigger message was sent out – Kilkenny were in no mood to take any prisoners.

That Fennelly challenge – entirely legal – on McGrath was not an isolated one. All over the field Kilkenny players hurled as if their lives depended on each and every outcome.

Another example of Kilkenny’s sheer will to win and willingness to get involved in the thick of things came when Colin Fennelly blocked down Lar Corbett near the sideline some 50 yards from the Tipperary goal. He needed stitches to a head wound, but again it summed up just how hungry Kilkenny were for this game and, from an early stage, what it meant to them.

Make no mistake about it, Kilkenny were by far the best team – with team being the operative word – and fully deserved this success.

They were the masters in all areas and, from the word go, set out to dominate the physical exchanges just as much as they did in their pomp and in their glory years.

When you see Brian Cody so animated on the sideline, and celebrating afterwards like he did, you know how much it means to Kilkenny to come back and regain their crown.

And they did it with some of the greatest hurlers who have ever played the game. You have to take your hat off to them, to every one of them.

To see Henry Shefflin, one of the true greats of hurling, getting an eighth All-Ireland medal, is a special moment in Irish sport.

A number of people, myself included, had questioned their desire. But these boys knew what they were doing. They were getting ready for the big battle and, on the day, they were spot on.

They were supreme and it is the due reward for King Henry and his deputies all around him, men like Noel Hickey and JJ Delaney and Eddie Brennan and them all. They are a credit to Kilkenny and to the game of hurling.

Yesterday, the signs were ominous for Tipperary from an early stage.

As I said, Fennelly putting Shane McGrath on his backside was a symbol of Kilkenny’s hunger and physicality, but the pattern was set from early on with Kilkenny dominant in the defence.

Jackie Tyrrell was having a great game on Corbett while Tommy Walsh and Brian Hogan, who was sorely missed last year, were really up for it.

Tipperary struggled to win any ball early on and, when they did, they were closed down very quickly.

The writing was on the wall for Tipperary after 10 minutes when Kilkenny were 0-5 to 0-0 in the lead.

It wasn’t just about the scoring, it was about how dominant and hungry they were as a team. Kilkenny hunted in packs and the selection of a rejuvenated Eddie Brennan was a master-stroke by Cody.

Pádraic Maher is a huge player for Tipperary, but he wasn’t the dominant figure they wanted him to be and that was down to Brennan’s impact.

Every one of the Kilkenny backs were on top. They were hungry and were up for it from the word go. Tyrrell. Hickey. JJ Walsh. Hogan. Murphy.

Every one of them was immense and Tipperary were living on scraps.

I thought Tipperary actually did well to be 0-5 to 0-3 down and then 0-7 to 0-4 behind (even if this was mostly due to Eoin Kelly’s frees) before the first killer blow was delivered by Michael Fennelly’s goal.

Michael Fennelly delivered a man-of-the-match performance and the way he came galloping through for that goal – and the way he played throughout the game – gave the lie to the rumours about his fitness.

He was the main energy source for Kilkenny and his goal was a great one for Kilkenny and a huge blow for Tipperary.

The start of the second half was a repeat of the first. Tipperary were blocked down time and time again and their persistence with short passing in the half-back line and in midfield didn’t make much sense as Kilkenny were able to close them down. There was too much traffic to be playing that kind of ball. It needed to be moved on earlier.

The second killer blow for Tipperary was Richie Hogan’s goal. But that too highlighted Tipperary were that bit off the pace and lacked touch on the day as Paddy Stapleton had a chance to flick the ball away ahead of him. It symbolised how Tipperary’s touch was that little bit off all day and, eight points behind after that goal, it left them with a mountain to climb.

Tipperary did show great courage and great heart after going eight points down. Bonner Maher and John O’Brien – Tipperary’s best possession winners all day – both worked even harder and their defence improved but, even when Pa Bourke scored Tipperary’s goal with Corbett’s only real intervention in the game to get it back to within three points, Kilkenny were always able to find a point. Tipperary conceded a poor free through David Young, which typified their day, and a symbol of that Kilkenny team effort came at the death when Eoin Larkin – another of their great players through the years – snatched the ball from out of the air and confirmed the victory.

It was well deserved.

There can be no complaints from Tipperary and they will just have to go back to the drawing board. They were well beaten on the day and fought well to get within four points. But the reality is they didn’t show the hunger they showed when winning last year.

The hype had moved to Tipperary and the hunger moved to Kilkenny.