Kilkenny retained their Allianz National Hurling League Division 1 crown at Nowlan Park this afternoon.
The Cats claimed the title for a 16th time with a hard-fought three-point victory over Tipperary.
Both sides finished the game with 14 men as Kilkenny full-back JJ Delaney and Tipp forward Lar Corbett were both sent off in the 46th minute.
The pair ended up grappling on the ground 14 yards from goal following an off-the-ball scuffle and referee Barry Kelly issued straight red cards.
Kelly, who left some Kilkenny supporters unhappy with a number of his calls, also issued eight yellow cards during the game – four for each side.
But the real statistic that mattered was the final scoreline and Kilkenny edged out their great rivals in front of 21,447 spectators.
Kilkenny manager Brian Cody was absent once again as he continues to recuperate from heart surgery.
But he surely had an impact behind the scenes – relaying instructions to Martin Fogarty and Mick Dempsey.
And it was one of Cody’s best players – Michael Fennelly – who was superb in the first half.
The Noresiders may have finished with a tally of eleven wides in total but Fennelly, returning from injury, was the star turn before the break.
Fennelly scored 2-3 in the first half as Kilkenny led by 2-7 to 0-11 at half-time.
Fennelly was immense while at midfield, Lester Ryan produced another superb display.
Tipp, so prolific during the League to date, struggled to create goal chances –with Patrick Maher fluffing their best one in the first half.
It was an afternoon when Tipp’s forwards failed to fire but the fact that they still registered 0-20 and lost by just three points will hearten manager Eamon O’Shea.
But Tipp will have to face Limerick in the Munster SHC semi-final on June 9 without Corbett – with Delaney ruled out of Kilkenny’s clash with Offaly through suspension.
In the early exchanges, it looked like Kilkenny might blitz Tipperary – as they did in last year’s All-Ireland semi-final.
They led by 1-2 to 0-0 within three minutes – with Fennelly storming through to bury his first goal.
Tipp responded to trail by a point before Fennelly struck again in the 21st minute – beating Darren Gleeson at his near post.
But Tipp were on terms by the 33rd minute through Noel McGrath before Kilkenny captain Colin Fennelly and Gleeson, with a monster free, traded scores.
Kilkenny finished the half strongly as Ryan and Fennelly chipped over scores to open up a two-point interval lead.
Kilkenny were first back out onto the pitch for the second half and Tipperary could face a fine from Croke Park after they were late out.
Kilkenny hit back with two points before the break to lead again and they stayed in front until the 50th minute, when Brendan Maher lofted over his fourth point from play.
Both sides were now down to 14 men and Kilkenny, playing with the breeze, were not ruffled by Tipp’s comeback.
Points from Richie Hogan, Larkin (free) and Cillian Buckley put them three points in front again.
It was a lead they would hold all the way to the finish but the feeling leaving Nowlan Park this evening is that these two sides will meet again in the championship. And what a game that promises to be.
KILKENNY: E Murphy; P Murphy, JJ Delaney, J Tyrrell; T Walsh, B Hogan, K Joyce (0-01); L Ryan (0-03), M Rice (0-01); C Buckley (0-01), M Fennelly (2-03), E Larkin (0-06, 5f 1 65); R Hogan (0-01), C Fennelly (0-01), A Fogarty.
Sub: M Ruth for Fogarty (62).
TIPPERARY: D Gleeson (0-01f); C O’Brien, P Curran, M Cahill; C O’Mahony, Pádraic Maher (0-01), K Bergin; B Maher (0-04), S McGrath; N McGrath (0-03), L Corbett, Patrick Maher; S Bourke (0-01), E Kelly (0-05, 3f, 1 65), S Callanan (0-02f).
Subs: J O’Dwyer for Kelly (48), J Forde for Callanan (57), J O’Brien (0-01) for S McGrath (58), P Bourke (0-02f) for S Bourke (61), J Woodlock for Patrick Maher (67).
Referee: B Kelly (Westmeath).
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