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Hurling: Kilkenny win back All-Ireland Championship

Kilkenny 2-17 Tipperary 1-16: The old, all too familiar order is restored. Having ‘loaned’ the All-Ireland hurling title to Tipperary last year, Kilkenny reclaimed the accolade for the eighth time under Brian Cody’s magisterial watch in stunning style at Croke Park yesterday.

There never of course has been the slightest doubt for some time now that this Kilkenny side is truly one of the greatest ever to have graced the sport.

What this latest thrilling coup has done is merely reaffirm the message to those other sides who might harbour ambitions of dining at the top table just how far they have still to travel to seriously challenge the Cats’ authority.

Cody’s battle-hardened warriors may not quite have offered the complete performance on this occasion but the levels of fitness, intensity, passion and skill they displayed not only blunted Tipperary’s renowned attacking edge but lacerated their morale for large chunks of a riveting contest that captivated the 81,314 crowd.

The only surprising element is that the Cats did not win by a more handsome margin.

This though can be attributed in large measure to the defiant streak, hard labour and incessant running that Tipperary offered from the outset.

However, it was their marked inability to harness these laudable qualities to cohesion, opportunism and flair that cost them their title in the end.

In contrast, Kilkenny had stellar performers at the back in Tommy Walsh, Noel Hickey, Paul Murphy and JJ Delaney; a power-packed midfield duo in Michael Fennelly and Michael Rice; and supreme finishers in Henry Shefflin, Eddie Brennan and Richie Hogan.

Hickey, Shefflin and Brennan all collected their eighth All-Ireland medals yesterday to join Christy Ring and John Doyle in the ranks of the sport’s immortals.

And Cody cemented his status as the greatest manager in the history of hurling, his glowing record of achievement testimony to his unrivalled tactical expertise and superb motivational skills.

Kilkenny galloped through the first 15 minutes during which they hit the reigning champions with a five-point blitz, Shefflin (2), Hogan, Eoin Larkin and Richie Power all on target.

It was not until the 16th minute that Tipperary, with goal-scoring ace Lar Corbett particularly subdued, hinted that they were actually involved in the contest when Noel McGrath swept over a long-range point that proved the precursor to two successful frees from Eoin Kelly.

And suddenly from living off scraps Tipperary were handed the chance to sample more lavish fare as the Cats failed to exploit their territorial advantage.

A further exchange of points between Shefflin and Kelly suggested that Tipperary would remain on the leaders’ shoulder but the landscape suddenly changed dramatically in the 35th minute.

Shefflin, oozing class and guile, cleverly swept the sliothair in from the flank to Hogan and the latter’s deft flick was eagerly gobbled up by the in-rushing Michael Fennelly who lashed in a superb goal to hoist Kilkenny into a rather more comfortable 1-8 to 0-6 interval lead, McGrath the only Tipperary forward to have scored from play at that juncture.

Yet Tipperary — despite having to rely far too heavily on skipper Kelly for points from frees, scoring 0-8 in all — never allowed Kilkenny to slip over the horizon.

The holders, though, were plunged into deeper trouble when Hogan drilled in a second Kilkenny goal in the 48th minute.

But Pa Bourke’s clinical 54th minute goal helped to sustain Tipperary’s effort.

But nothing was going to deny Kilkenny the victory.

Tipperary: B Cummins; P Stapleton, P Curran, M Cahill; J O’Keefe, C O’Mahoney (0-1), Padraic Maher; G Ryan (0-2), S McGrath; S Callanan, N McGrath (0-3), Patrick Maher; E Kelly (0-8, 0-7 frees, 0-1 ‘65’), J O’Brien (0-1), L Corbett. Subs: B Maher for O’Keefe (29 mins), P Bourke (1-0) for Callanan, B Dunne (0-1) for S McGrath (both half-time), D Young for O’Mahoney (57), J O’Neill for O’Brien (65)

Kilkenny: D Herity; P Murphy, N Hickey, J Tyrrell; T Walsh, B Hogan, J J Delaney; M Fennelly (1-0), M Rice (0-1); E Brennan (0-1), R Power (0-2), H Shefflin (0-7, 0-4 frees); C Fennelly (0-2), E Larkin (0-2), R Hogan (1-1). Subs: T J Reid (0-1) for Brennan (59 mins), J Mulhall for R Hogan (64).

Referee: Brian Gavin (Offaly).

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