Kilkenny completed a historic four-in-a-row at Croke Park yesterday, but only after a late and sustained, pulsating rally from Tipperary denied the brave and game losers.
In years to come this will go down as one of the truly great All Ireland hurling finals. It was an absorbing 70 minutes that flowed from start to finish with the lead regularly changing hands, a game of real intensity between the two best sides in the country.
The Cats were the strongest of favourites, but with eight minutes left it seemed they were about to come up short in their quest for the much sought after fourth successive All Ireland crown.
Brian Cody’s men are blessed with character, resilience and no small amount of skill as Tipp found to their cost.
Goals win matches though and two in as many minutes effectively tore the heart out of Tipperary’s bid for glory. Champions or not luck is still a crucial commodity in sport.
Seven minutes from the end referee Padraic Kirwan controversially awarded Kilkenny a penalty which Henry Shefflin gratefully drove to Tipperary’s net. To most observers it seemed at best a 21 yard free.
Sensing blood the holders then struck a second goal through substitute Martin Comerford and all of a sudden it was Tipperary who were in arrears, trailing by four points..
There was still a total of six minutes remaining, but you sensed then that Tipperary’s challenge, brave as it was, had run its course unless somehow they could conjure us a much needed goal.
That never materialised and now Cody’s men can lay claim to being the greatest side the sport has witnessed.
To their lasting credit the losers contributed enormously to a game that more than lived up to pre-match expectations with the lead repeatedly changing hands, seven times the teams were level in the first-half alone.
King Henry Shefflin wasn’t the dominant figure of previous finals, but he still managed to contribute a goal and eight points, the goal from the penalty spot coming at a crucial moment.
More than anyone else it was Kilkenny keeper PJ Ryan who was the game’s most influential figure. In the opening minute of the second-half it needed a flying save to deny Tipperary’s Seamus Callinan a goal.
Minutes later he was again equally alert to deny full forward Eoin Kelly another possible goal opportunity.
In fairness to Kelly his scoring heroics were responsible for providing the catalyst for the loser’s challenge on a day he finished up with 13 points.
Lar Corbett had to settle for four points, but he was a constant threat.
In Kilkenny’s roll of honour half back Tommy Walsh was magnificent leading from the front. Eddie Brennan supplied the scoring threat in the opening half with Eoin Larkin and Martin Comerford making notable contributions late in the game, Comerford’s goal eventually sealing a famous victory
KILKENNY: PJ Ryan; M Kavanagh, JJ Delaney, J Tyrell 0-1; T Walsh,0-1 B Hogan, J Tennyson; D Lyng 0-1,, M Rice; R Hogan, 0-2 H Shefflin 1-8, E Larkin 0-3; E Brennan 0-3, R Power, 0-1 A Fogarty. Subs: TJ Reidy 0-1 for A Fogarty, M Fenlon 0-1 for D Lyng, M Comerford 1-0 for R Hogan
TIPPERARY: B Cummins; P Stapleton, P Maher, P Curran; D Fanning, C O’Mahony, B Maher; J Woodlock; S McGrath, P Kerwick, S Callinan; N McGrath, E Kelly, L Corbett.
Referee: D Kirwan (Cork).