Tipp five seconds from glory

IT took a late, late injury-time goal for Kilkenny to survive this fantastic encounter in Croke Park yesterday, so late in fact that it came after the announced three minutes of added time had elapsed.

But let no-one talk of robbery here, let no-one talk of heartbreak, of disappointment.

Gallant and all as was their effort, Tipp weren’t robbed, not when you consider that it took a series of absolutely breathtaking saves from their ’keeper Gerry Kennedy to deny that Kilkenny goal much earlier, or that it took several goal-line clearances by an overworked defence to keep out a powerful Kilkenny team hell-bent on justifying their hot favourites tag.

No, there should be no disappointment, no complaint, because this was magic, this was uplifting, this was everything you would ever want to see in an All-Ireland final.

Certainly Tom Fogarty, Tipperary manager, was in no such humour. "Five seconds?" he said, alluding to the time beyond the three minutes on which came the equalising Kilkenny goal. "You can’t complain about that, it would be unfair. If we’d been lucky enough to come out and clear that ball that would have been it, but it didn’t happen. It was a great goal by Kilkenny, worthy of any All-Ireland."

That it came on a day when the GAA made history by coupling a hurling final with a camogie final, made it even more gratifying. The girls too lived up to expectations, even if the senior camogie decider was a bit one-sided, the skills shown by both Cork and Tipp in that game matched anything seen in the hurling.

It was a glorious day for both codes.

Back-boned by John Tennyson, Cha Fitzpatrick and Richie Power, three of the stars of last week’s senior triumph, against an unheralded Tipp side, Kilkenny were expected to win this one comfortably.

They didn’t, for the same simple reason the senior team did the business last week — hunger. Then, it was the Cats, driven on by the likes of Cha, Richie, John, who showed the greater appetite for the fray, gobbled up every loose ball, devoured their more vaunted opponents. Yesterday it was Tipperary.

"We have a panel of honest players," said manager Fogarty. "You can have all the hurling you like but if you haven’t a good work ethic you’ll win nothing. When we set out this year to pick an U-21 panel we took time out to reflect on the glory years of Tipperary hurling back in the ’40s, the ’50s, the ’60s, the early ’70s, and we asked the question: what made them successful? We had great players like Mick Roche, Jimmy Doyle, Theo English, Tony Wall, all those great players, but they weren’t just great hurlers, they had a tremendous work-rate as well, worked hard for the full 60 minutes.

"That’s what we had to re-discover in Tipperary to get to the level of Kilkenny and Cork — we have to play with passion, commitment and ferocious intensity. I felt this was a real never-say-die attitude from the players."

One of those who felt the full impact of that Tipp ferocity was the aforementioned Cha. Last week he was close to a man-of-the-match performance against Cork; yesterday, he and his senior midfield partner Michael Fennelly, despite both playing reasonably well, had to give of their best just to gain parity with James Woodlock and Stephen Lillis.

"A lot of credit must go to Tipperary," reckoned a relieved Cha. "They’re a fine team, and on the day they performed better than us. We’re just lucky to be still alive. It was a tough game, very tough, high intensity again, every bit as intense as the senior All-Ireland."

A lot of credit too, however, must go to Kilkenny. As Cha said, Tipperary were the better team, blended and bonded just that bit tighter than the perennial Leinster champions. But Kilkenny had that bit more individual class.

Tennyson started at full-back, did so well that he forced Tipp to push their senior panellist Darragh Egan outfield early on; as the game wore on, however, John came further and further upfield, ended the match almost at full-forward, showing true leadership as Kilkenny went in search of that all-important goal.

Cha was always prominent, as was Power, at full-forward. It was another budding star, however, who shone brightest at the climax. Richie Hogan is only just out of minor, a cousin of the great DJ. In the year that the hurling genius from Gowran announced his retirement, could his replacement have announced himself?

Twenty minutes was all he got yesterday, but 20 minutes was enough. He notched a superb shot from the sideline to give Kilkenny the lead in the 52nd minute, a lead Tipperary soon overturned.

But it was Hogan who was on hand in those final seconds to beat a heroic Gerry Kennedy in the Tipperary goal to bring this game to a replay.

"He was unbelievable," said a gracious Cha, of the Tipp ’keeper. "He made so many outstanding saves he must have been dizzy at the end. Absolutely fantastic."

Any fears the Tipp fans may have that their team must be gutted and will find it hard to lift themselves next week are rubbish according to Fr Tom.

"Gutted? No they’re not gutted. If you want to look at this another way, we came up as rank outsiders, we were rank outsiders against Cork in the Munster final as well. It looked at one stage as if Kilkenny were pulling away from us, we came back, went a goal ahead. We needed, I think, at that stage, to go another point ahead, and we had a couple of chances but didn’t take them.

"That happens in a game like this that is so keenly contested. They will be disappointed, they are only young lads, but I said to them, that’s the test of character. They’re going to have to lift themselves and come back again. We had no divine right to win this game. But it was really an epic encounter — it seemed to me, on the line, to be a great game."

Oh it was, Tom, it was, and thanks for that to two outstanding teams.