Epic battle ends in stalemate as Tipperary and Kilkenny draw in All-Ireland Hurling Final
There are different ways you could approach an intro to a game of this magnitude. You could scour the record books, throw up the unusual stat that from 1959 to 2012 there wasn't a single All-Ireland hurling final that ended as a draw. Now, we are into our third in a row.
Or you could lead with praise of Kilkenny's consistency, their nerve in clawing back an early six-point gap to lead by three with five minutes left.
Perhaps it was the final fling of Tipperary that yielded two points from the exceptional John 'Bubbles' O'Dwyer and substitute Jason Forde that earned the draw.
Let's settle instead for a play-by-play description of the last moment. With scores level, Tipperary substitute Michael Cahill aimed a low clearance back in towards the central channel.
The alert Brian Hogan latched onto it and drove forward, seemingly certain to shoot the final score and bring Liam MacCarthy number 35 back to Noreside.
But his bucking run was adjudged to have included a frontal charge at Padraic Maher by referee Barry Kelly, who whistled for a Tipp free.
Some 97 metres out, 'Bubbles' came back to take it. He caught it on the meat of the stick but the trajectory was questionable. The umpire mercifully called Hawkeye into the adjudgement process, confirming it had tailed wide. The long blow followed shortly and a crowd of 82,179 were at last able to exhale.
That last line is no exaggeration by the way. The scores were level a dozen times throughout the contest, but Kilkenny had a 20-minute period in front before O'Dwyer levelled it.
By that stage Henry Shefflin was on the field, awaiting coronation and a 10th winner's medal. Tipperary sacrificed midfielder James Woodlock for their own grizzled attacker Eoin Kelly in the hope of a final score. They will both be back on September 27. Everyone is enriched.
After 20 minutes the first goal arrived, catapulting Tipp in front. Patrick 'Bonner' Maher caught a puckout and bulled on, staying out of the way of Hogan, Jackie Tyrrell and JJ Delaney to squeeze a shot underneath Eoin Murphy in the Cats' goal.
By that stage Kilkenny had been denied two goal chances; Colin Fennelly's pass to brother Michael was butchered, Colin even getting a second chance at it but flashed wide.
Tipp goalkeeper Darren Gleeson also took his eye off an interception with TJ Reid hovering menacingly, necessitating some neat housekeeping by retreating defender James Barry.
A minute after Maher's goal, he earned a penalty when he controlled a clearance and was tearing through on goal before being upended by Paul Murphy. The subsequent penalty from Seamus Callanan was drove too early into the turf and Kilkenny cleared their lines.
Soon, TJ Reid got in on the act when he caught a long ball, drew his marker James Barry, and Richie Power's own marker Paddy Stapleton, before handpassing to Power who flicked it over Gleeson and volleyed gently into the net.
By the close of the half there were two points for Tipp, who were instantly rocked at the start of the second half when Reid got his head down to bury a goal with three defenders homing in.
Over the next ten minutes both sides were to level five times. Tipp could find pockets of space in attack, one such foray producing a Corbett strike that cannoned off the post.
But Kilkenny still ruin others with the timing of their goals, Richie Power angling across Gleeson into the top corner on 47 minutes, punishing a spilled catch from the otherwise buzzing Noel McGrath.
Richie Hogan then took over, scoring four points and creating another to go four up with ten minutes remaining.
In the middle of that run, an incident that could have killed Tipp instead strengthened their zeal. The rampaging Lar Corbett was finding space and took on Jackie Tyrrell, burning him for pace and eventually getting hauled down fractionally outside the penalty area.
Referee Kelly awarded a penalty. Up stepped O'Dwyer but Murphy kept it out. Callanan pegged one back.
Shefflin came on, cue cheers and a move into full-forward. Then came the late salvo of equalising points and that agonising free from almost 100m.
Two differing post-match approaches prevailed.
Kilkenny emerged from their dressing room tight-lipped, refusing to share their thoughts.
Some Tipperary players stopped to offer quotes. If you get a sniff of a replay ticket, you owe it to yourself to go.
KILKENNY: E Murphy; P Murphy, JJ Delaney, J Tyrrell; J Holden, B Hogan 0-1, C Buckley; R Hogan 0-6, C Fogarty 0-1; M Fennelly 0-1, C Fennelly 0-1, TJ Reid 1-8, 6f; W Walsh 0-1, R Power 2-1, E Larkin 0-2. Subs: A Fogarty for Walsh (47m), P Walsh for Holden (60m), H Shefflin for C Fennelly (66m) Yellow cards: C Fogarty (10m), Murphy (21m)
TIPPERARY: D Gleeson; C Barrett, Pádraic Maher, P Stapleton 0-1; B Maher, J Barry, K Bergin; S McGrath 0-2, J Woodlock 0-1; G Ryan 0-1, Patrick Maher 1-1, J O'Dwyer 0-7, 2f; N McGrath 0-4, S Callanan 0-7, 2f, L Corbett 0-2. Subs: M Cahill 0-1 for Ryan (49m), E Kelly for Woodlock (61m), J Forde 0-1 for S McGrath (66m).Yellow cards: O'Dywer (35m)
Referee: Barry Kelly (Westmeath).