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Kilkenny bravehearts put their hands up

Kilkenny 0-20 Tipperary 1-14
To quote a line from William Shakespeare, Tipperary went to Nowlan Park on Saturday evening for this winner-take-all All-Ireland qualifier ‘to bury Caesar, not to praise him’.

They didn’t succeed but what an effort they made, and what an effort it took to repel the would-be assassins!

Nowlan Park was a steaming teeming cauldron on Saturday, a sellout crowd of just short of 24,000 who had come to see their hurling gladiators engaged in a fight to the death. The home side had the bulk of the support, the roof almost lifting from the various stands when it was announced that ‘there is one addition to the Kilkenny panel.....’ and that was as far as the announcer got.

The returning Henry Shefflin did eventually make an appearance in the 65th minute, and almost immediately contributed, muscling his way into space before setting up Richie Power for a crucial point.

Arguably, however, as far as events on the field went there was an even bigger announcement before that, another addition to the match programme – injured corner-back Paul Murphy had made an even more miraculous recovery from injury to take his place on the starting 15 and play a crucial role in a match-winning defence superbly marshalled by centre-back Brian Hogan.

"It’s hard to single out anyone," said Hogan of the defensive foundation on which victory was built; "Jackie (Tyrrell) came back with a sore calf, supposedly, but the way he was charging out with balls there .

"Murph set the tone in the first ten or 15 minutes, came out like a train with balls, no-one going to get in his way. Then you had Joycey (wing-back Kieran Joyce), he’s been catching great balls all year — I think Tommy (Walsh, the other wing-back) felt a bit left out so he came in with a few great catches."

Hogan could have added full-back JJ Delaney and himself to those four because in the final quarter it almost became a contest among those Kilkenny backs as to who could make the most spectacular or the most telling catch.

Mind you, at the other end the same thing was happening, the Tipperary defensive sextet of Conor O’Brien, emergency full-back Paddy Stapleton (Paul Curran a late cry-off), Michael Cahill, Brendan Maher, Conor O’Mahony and Padraic Maher also in commanding form. The difference, ultimately, was that the Kilkenny attack were able to make just enough inroads into that defence to get the occasional score. Walter Walsh (three points); Richie Hogan, (three points); Richie Power, (two points) and captain Colin Fennelly with one point. That four have scored more, and will score more again, but they will never score more valuable points.

The game was decided only in the last ten minutes, a time when many felt that if Tipperary were to win this was where a Kilkenny side coming off two really hard games in the last two weeks, four defenders over 30, temperature peaking at 26 degrees, would be most vulnerable. They were wrong. It was tied at half-time, 0-9 to 1-6, free-taker Eoin Larkin with five for Kilkenny, on-song Lar Corbett with the Tipperary goal in the 23rd minute but then forced to depart with a pulled hamstring only six minutes later. It was still tied 14 minutes into the second half (0-12 to 1-9), low-scoring but a million-miles-an-hour.

"It was tense and intense," said Brian Hogan, "Even the lead-up to it. Lads were anxious, playing on your home patch you never want to lose, especially when you’re playing the neighbours, that adds a little extra pressure.

"The match itself was fierce intense, not much of a breeze, the heat, the physicality thrown in top of that. It was a real battle, never very much between us."

Even with only two minutes remaining on the clock there was still just two points between them, Tipperary attacking. "Oh God, would someone please speed up that clock!" Barry Henriquez, local Kilkenny radio commentator, implored.

It wasn’t necessary and it was Kilkenny, that ‘old’ defence dominating, who finished stronger. The obituaries? Hold them for a while, the advice of Brian Hogan. "We didn’t talk about it but I’m sure players were conscious of it individually — I know I was. We’re in this for ourselves, we’re in it to win and lads aren’t ready to hang up their boots just yet. The realisation was that if we lost today we’d be out of the championship in early July. None of us wanted that as a legacy."

Scorers for Kilkenny: E Larkin (0-11, ten frees); W Walsh (0-3); R Hogan (0-3); R Power 0-2; C F Scorers for Tipperary: E Kelly (0-5, five frees); J O’Dwyer (0-3); L Corbett (1-0); S Callanan (0-2); J Woodlock, J O’Brien, N McGrath, K Bergin (0-1 each).

Subs for Kilkenny: G Aylward for Fennelly (inj. 20); A Fogarty for Aylward (52); H Shefflin for Ruth (65).

Subs for Tipperary: S Callanan for Corbett (inj. 29); K Bergin for S McGrath (35); J Forde for Patrick Maher (53); G Ryan for O’Brien (54); B O’Meara for Kelly (64).

Referee: B Gavin (Offaly).

KILKENNY: E Murphy; P Murphy, JJ Delaney, J Tyrrell; T Walsh, B Hogan, K Joyce; L Ryan, E Larkin; M Ruth, R Power, C Fennelly; TJ Reid, W Walsh, R Hogan. TIPPERARY: B Cummins; C O’Brien, P Stapleton, , M Cahill; B Maher, C O’Mahony, Padraig Maher; J Woodlock, S McGrath (c); Patrick Maher, N McGrath, J O’Brien; J O’Dwyer, E Kelly, L Corbett.