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Tipp top as they skin Cats for All-Ireland triumph

Kilkenny 0-20 Tipperary 3-25

Major high: Tipperary’s Ger Browne leads the celebrations
Major high: Tipperary’s Ger Browne leads the celebrations
Declan Bogue

By Declan Bogue

The narrative going into this All-Ireland hurling final was that Tipperary could get away from Kilkenny in an open game, therefore the latter needed to turn it into a war.

But with Tipp a point ahead in the 33rd minute, Kilkenny's Richie Hogan took that instruction rather too literally.

After being side-stepped by Cathal Barrett just in front of his manager Brian Cody, he went for another nibble. This time, his elbow caught Barrett high around the jaw. He took little care of his opponent and referee James Owens could see no alternative to a red card.

From then on, Kilkenny were playing chess without a Queen. From that point, they were outscored 0-10 to 2-17. It was the biggest winning margin in a final since the Cats demolished Waterford 3-30 to 1-13 in 2008 and it puts them in a class all of their own in Liam Sheedy's first season back as manager, having initially retired after halting Kilkenny's five-in-a-row bid in 2010.

Asked if it was the stuff his dreams were made of, Sheedy said: "It is, but a lot of you would have sat in front of me when I started out on this journey and were saying about the risk in coming back.

"I committed to giving this group and this team 100 per cent, and what I got in return was 100 per cent back. Whether we won or lost, we had given everything we possibly could.

"I stood there at half three today knowing I had done everything I possibly could to get that team in the best shape of their lives. That was their work and the way they responded and thankfully we sit here at the end of 2019 as All-Ireland champions, so it's very pleasing from that perspective."

The key passage came in the third quarter. After having a subdued first half on Conor Fogarty, Tipp attacker Seamie Callanan finished off a ball dribbling wide of an open goal. Callanan instantly added another before a trademark over the shoulder effort from John 'Bubbles' O'Dwyer.

Seamus Kennedy put over a brilliant effort from the middle of the park and a minute later a raking delivery from the excellent Barry Heffernan found Callanan.

He was being stood up by Huw Lawlor but nobody paid attention to O'Dwyer sneaking in unattended. Callanan fired a fast delivery, O'Dwyer killed it on his stick and lashed home on the volley.

Eight points up, a man up, this final was over. It felt weird and it was most un-Kilkenny like. Certainly, they had started with their usual purpose, with TJ Reid in typical form pointing eight frees in the first half and, in truth, only Niall O'Meara's superb opening goal on 26 minutes kept them in it.

But nothing could make up for Hogan's absence.

Tipp manager Sheedy brushed past the incident and said nothing of note, but everyone in the post-match press briefing was itching to hear his opposite number Cody's thoughts on the matter.

"I was close to it. I was amazed," he began as the air felt a little harder to come by in the auditorium.

"I am the manager of the Kilkenny hurling team - and I didn't really know. I hadn't a clue, to be honest. I saw he just turned and he went down but the only thing I will say is we won't make any excuses for not winning.

"We were beaten well in the final score but it is a huge decision to make, to issue a red card. You would want to be very, very definite before you do a thing like that and certainly it took the referee a long, long time to make up his mind and say, 'I wonder what that should be?'

"He consulted himself, his linesman and the player himself. And I would say if he knew for certain what it was going to be he would have made his mind up straight away."

For all of Hogan's absence - he has bent games of this magnitude to his will on occasion - Kilkenny's response was found lacking. They moved TJ Reid into full-forward and rained balls deep towards Brian Hogan's goal.

But with Cathal Barrett now the extra defender, Tipp were well-staffed at the back. While Kilkenny hit a wall of Mahers - Pádraic, Brendan and Ronan all in inspired form and - along with Séamus Kennedy and Barry Heffernan all worthy of man of the match contention, they switched nothing.

Well, almost nothing. The deliveries inside became even higher to try to turn it into a lottery.

The monsoon that fell just as the ball was thrown in made the pitch slippy and it wasn't a forward's day, as Cody explained.

"It became very difficult then in the second half to find the men. You are talking about playing a very fine team and conditions not particularly conducive to finding everything you want. I don't think it's down to anything in particular like that," he said.

Tipperary just had to keep it point for point. Substitute Willie Connors came in and garnished the game with two fine strikes from long distance.

The last word goes to Sheedy.

"Ultimately this journey was never about me, this is about this group and all of the credit this evening should go to this group because the way that they have gone about their business in the most professional manner, night in, night out, since November is incredible, and I'm just absolutely thrilled to be a part of that," he added.

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