By Jim O’Sullivan
THIS was a marvellous victory for Kilkenny craft and guile — to which the remarkable DJ Carey made the type of contribution which was always going to be hugely influential in deciding Clare’s opponents in the Guinness All-Ireland hurling final.
By no means was it a one-man show, taking account of the huge impact from the likes of Peter Barry, Andy Comerford and Henry Shefflin in the overall performance. Yet, it would be hard to argue against the view that his addition to the Kilkenny attack was arguably the principal factor in Tipperary's elimination.
However, in real terms, what was crucial ultimately was Kilkenny's stronger finish, highlighted by Carey's fourth point in injury time.
In advance of the game it was the big imponderable. But Carey more than vindicated the management's faith in him after just six weeks in training, demonstrating the range of skills which set him apart in the modern game and, most impressively of all, showing his old speed and dash. In miniature, it was a master-class and it inspired his team-mates.
After eight minutes, scores were level for the first of nine times. It was indicative of the evenly balanced nature of the contest, which was to produce the hurling game of the year. Notably, since he was to make a few uncharacteristic errors later on, Brendan Cummins made a vital save from John Hoyne in the ninth minute, but after that it was Kilkenny who were twice fortunate not to concede a goal in the 13th and 15th minutes.
Then, passes to Eoin Kelly from Brian O'Meara and John Carroll respectively, were not accurate enough for him to take full advantage.
There were intriguing personal duels being fought at both ends, between good friends Eamonn Corcoran and Henry Shefflin for instance, in which each enjoyed periods of dominance, but which the Kilkenny man crucially shaded in the second half. Likewise, while Kelly looked very sharp at times especially in the way he poached two good scores on the opposite wing to which he was playing Philip Larkin made an incredible amount of good clearances. Another example of Kilkenny guile, in the manner of his father Fan.
Carey wasn't seeing much of the ball but he still looked a threat (and sadly was booed before he put over the first of two points from 70s in the 12th minute). And while Philip Maher was a powerful figure at the edge of the Tipp goalmouth, Martin Comerford still troubled him.
Out around midfield, brother Andy was producing his best hurling of the year, of the standard expected from a Kilkenny captain, and, in positive terms, was achieving more than the Tipp captain Thomas Dunne. Crucial, too was the quiet but highly efficient manner in which Peter Barry was nullifying the threat from John Carroll, while Noel Hickey behind him was almost totally dominant against Eugene O'Neill.
After 20 minutes scores were tied at 0-6 each, and twice more over the next 10 minutes. What it amounted to was that the quality of the defensive play on both sides as for instance when a vital tackle on Martin Comerford in the 26th minute denied Kilkenny a possible goal severely limited attacking options. Still, Tipp were doing more to force the pace, with Mark O'Leary and Brian O'Meara showing up well at stages while John Hoyne and Carey complemented the efforts of the two middle men in the Kilkenny attack.
With another Carey point in the 34th minute from a 70 having given Kilkenny the lead for the first time in half an hour, an O'Neill score had the sides level 0-10 each at the break.
Kilkenny looked the sharper side on the resumption, producing two points inside 40 seconds before Carey put over a great score from about 65 yards.
The initiative was now with Brian Cody's team for the first time and Tipp were prone to the occasional error with Cummins lucky not to concede a goal to the excellent Shefflin after dropping a ball. With the attack losing some of its power because of some massive defensive work, they also fell down in their finishing a few times.
Nevertheless, with John Carroll goaling in the 47th minute after James McGarry saved from able substitute Conor Gleeson the champions were back in contention. Significantly though, they were never to take the lead again, which was further proof of Kilkenny's more confident play which saw a determined Charlie Carter being denied a goal by Cummins shortly after his introduction.
Thomas Dunne came more into the game for Tipp, the consistent Morris and Paul Kelly made some good clearances and Corcoran finished strongly, but crucially Kilkenny maintained their stranglehold down the middle.
With a possible draw looming, Carey stepped in with a blistering run through the centre to set up substitute Jimmy Coogan for Kilkenny's goal in the 59th minute.
And while both sides were to produce some excellent scores in the closing 10 minutes, effectively Kilkenny had the high ground and they were not going to be moved from it.
*I wouldn't have expected Aodhan MacGearailt to referee the game as well as Dickie Murphy (whom he replaced), but apart from a small number of questionable decisions he did quite a good job.
Scorers for Kilkenny: H. Shefflin 0-7 (0-3 frees); J. Coogan 1-1; D.J. Carey 0-4 (0-2 70s); D. Lyng and A. Comerford 0-2 each; M. Comerford, J. Hoyne, E. Brennan and C. Carter 0-1 each.
Tipperary: E. Kelly 0-4 (0-1 free); J. Carroll 1-0; M. O'Leary 0-3; P. Kelly 0-3 (0-2 frees, 0-1 70); E. O'Neill 0-2; T. Dunne, B. O'Meara, L. Corbett and E. Corcoran 0-1 each.
KILKENNY: J. McGarry; M. Kavanagh, N. Hickey, P. Larkin; R. Mullally, P. Barry, J.J. Delaney; A. Comerford (capt), D. Lyng; J. Hoyne, H. Shefflin, B. McEvoy; E. Brennan, M. Comerford, D.J. Carey. Subs: C. Carter for Brennan (44th minute); J. Coogan for McEvoy (55th).
TIPPERARY: B. Cummins; T. Costello, P. Maher, P. Ormonde; N. Morris, E. Corcoran, P. Kelly; T. Dunne (capt), E. Enright; M. O'Leary, J. Carroll, B. Dunne; E. Kelly, E. O'Neill, B. O'Meara. Subs: C. Gleeson for Enright (44th minute); L. Corbett for B. Dunne (48th); J. O'Brien for O'Neill (64th).
Referee: A. MacSuibhne (Dublin).