Kilkenny 1-18 Tipperary 4-17: History might have beckoned for Kilkenny but a towering hunger instead rocketed Tipperary to the All Ireland Hurling title in a breathtaking decider at Croke Park yesterday.
Brian Cody’s men, seeking their fifth title on the trot, discovered that Tipperary’s will to win, garnished by a liberal flavouring of skill and further embossed with clinical finishing, was much too potent on a day when the image of hurling was transported into the stratosphere.
No superlative would do justice to a contest that will live long in the memory of the 82,300 in particular who were privileged to witness it at first hand.
Kilkenny, who have sat on the hurling throne for the last four years, were toppled from their position of eminence by a Tipperary side that not only went the extra mile in several respects but eventually journeyed to a sporting paradise.
Stung by their reversal in last year’s decider and clearly hurt by implications that they had neither the skill nor the craft to live with the Cats, Tipperary scaled a new peak in terms of teamwork, character and courage in carving out a memorable victory.
If they were forced to work overtime to achieve this, it is only because that Kilkenny, despite being unable to offer the fluency and silken touch that have become their hallmarks, instead turned to the more earthy virtues of ceaseless harassing, valiant defence and enduring physicality.
In the end though, they were forced to bow the knee to Tipperary’s almost superhuman commitment, their rigid game plan, the efficiency of their half-back line of Declan Fanning, Padraic Maher and Conor O’Mahoney and the sublime finishing of three-goal hero Lar Corbett.
Held to just nine points from play overall and fortunate not to concede at least one more goal, Kilkenny found their normally swashbuckling style suffocated, their options limited and their discipline threatened.
Indeed, with less than fifteen minutes gone, Tipperary had every reason for thinking it was going to be their day. By then they had built up a 1-4 to 0-1 lead with Henry Shefflin’s knee injury having returned to haunt him and forcing him out of the action at a stage when the Cats were struggling to find any sort of rhythm.
Eoin Kelly’s three points from frees and Lar Corbett’s opportunist opening goal were supplemented by a fine John O’Brien score to give Tipperary their firm foothold but Kilkenny’s resilient marking, their up-tempo work-rate and the growing confidence of ace marksman Richie Power gradually tipped the scales in their favour.
By the 26th minute they had trimmed Tipperary’s advantage to just three points, Power having pocketed four points from frees with to underpin his side’s revival. And although a mammoth point from goalkeeper Brendan Cummins and two from O’Brien and Gearoid Ryan had allowed Tipperary to breathe more easily, Power thundered in their opening goal before tacking on two further points to leave his side just a point adrift (1-10 to 1-9) at half-way.
But history can be made or spurned on telling cameos. So it was in the 41st and 43rd minutes of this epic when the ubiquitous Corbett and the superb Noel McGrath snapped up two further Tipperary goals.
Now fortified by a 3-11 to 1-10 advantage, Tipperary commenced their charge down the home straight by firing on a raft of substitutes who immediately responded by getting their names on the score sheet. In this respect, no one did better than Seamus Callinan who scored points with his first two touches— and you can’t ask for more than that.
At 3-15 to 1-15 the door had still not been closed on the Cats but it was nonetheless only slightly ajar.
And it was soon firmly bolted from the inside when in a stupendous climax Benny Dunne and Seamus Hennessy each swept over points before Corbett piloted everyone across the world with Tipperary blood in their veins to a sporting heaven when he slammed in his third goal to seal a dramatic 4-17 to 1-18 victory.
KILKENNY: PJ Ryan; J Dalton, N Hickey, J Tyrrell; T Walsh, J Tennyson, JJ Delaney; J Fitzpatrick, M Fennelly; T J Reid (0-4), H Shefflin (0-1), E Larkin; E Brennan, R Power (1-9), A Fogarty (0-1). Subs: M Rice (0-1) for Shefflin (13 mins), D Lyng (0-1) for Brennan (50), M Comerford for Fitzpatrick (50), R Hogan (0-1) for Fogarty (54). Yellow cards: Tennyson (41 mins), Walsh (48), Tyrell (55), Dalton (56).
TIPPERARY: B Cummins (0-1); P Stapleton, P Curran, M Cahill; D Fanning, C O'Mahony, P Maher; B Maher (0-1), S McGrath; G Ryan (0-1), P Maher, J O'Brien (0-2), ; N McGrath (1-2), E Kelly (0-7), L Corbett (3-0). Subs: C O’Brien for O’Mahoney (56 mins), S Callanan (0-2) for O’Brien (58), B Dunne for S McGrath (62), S Hennessy (0-1) for B Maher (68). Yellow cards: S McGrath (34 mins), Kelly (48), O’Brien (56).
Referee: Michael Wadding (Waterford).