As hurling people, we live for big days like excited kids on our birthday, but the All-Ireland final is usually our Christmas Day, the day when we are entitled to expect — and usually get — that little bit more.
Yesterday had the sensation of that time when you’re getting that little older, when you’re wondering about Santa and you’re a little bit colder about the whole thing. You’re almost fancying a few quid in a card so you can go out and buy something yourself, instead of the big box with the fancy ribbon.
Tipperary people deservedly had their joyous big day yesterday, but I — and I’m sure most of the hurling community — left Croke Park cold from the experience. Maybe it was the weather and the sending-off, and the sense of inevitability so early in the match, but the whole emotion of the afternoon was suppressed when compared to recent All-Irelands.
I know the last two All-Ireland finals were massive breakthroughs, but even when Kilkenny were dominating the last two decades, you left with something, some level of emotion to keep you buzzing on the journey home. You could say that the 2008 All-Ireland final was over after 15 minutes but we all left Croke Park that day in awe of Kilkenny’s capacity for brilliance and destruction.
Tipp were professional in everything they did yesterday. They are deserving All-Ireland champions. They won’t care what I or anyone else thinks this morning but, I don’t know, I still felt detached from the whole occasion.
It’s a massive tribute to Liam Sheedy and his management to win this All-Ireland after the Munster final, when Limerick looked to have their number, and the old legs seemed to have caught up with a number of players. Yet Sheedy trusted the conviction he held when he returned to the job last October — he knew full well the talent, especially the firepower, still in this team.
You often hear the phrase ‘Never go back’. I never agreed with it. If it’s right, why wouldn’t you go back? Liam may have been questioning himself the night of the Munster final, but Tipp had a lot of the heavy lifting done beforehand, and it’s hard to keep the foot pressed to the gap for the whole season. You nearly need a kick in the backside every now and again just to bring you down to earth.
Tipp always had the players; they just needed to bring the right attitude. Paudie Maher summed it up best in his TV interview afterwards. He spoke about Tipp just not being at it last year, of how the players just didn’t do enough. Yet there seemed to be a pact made amongst the players once Sheedy returned that they would do everything possible to get back to the level they, and everyone within the county, expect of Tipperary hurling.
Sheedy is a serious operator and he assembled the kind of professional framework and backroom team around him which you’d only expect from Liam. During his speech, Seamie Callanan listed a backroom team as big as Mike Tyson’s entourage. Davy Fitz has made a name for having huge backroom teams, but I’m sure he was given a run for his money by Tipp’s list this year.
The main people involved though, are top class operators. I worked with Tommy Dunne in Dublin and he’s a brilliant coach. We all know how highly thought of Eamon O’Shea is in the set-up and you could see his fingerprints all over this performance, especially in how well Tipp used the ball in the second half.
When Eamon was brought in, some of us wondered if it would cause some friction, given that Tommy Dunne was the coach, but he and Eamon have clearly dovetailed beautifully with Darragh Egan.
From having worked with Cairbre Ó Cairealláin in the Limerick academy, I know the value he can bring to a set-up too.
The sending off was a massive factor, but Kilkenny can have no complaints about Richie Hogan’s red card. Cathal Barrett was lucky earlier on for a pull on Hogan but Kilkenny almost seemed mired in feeling sorry for themselves than just trying to pull themselves out the quicksand.
I was still disappointed by Kilkenny in the second half. This may not be the same team of old but it was the same players three weeks ago and they brought a whole different level of ferocity and manic intensity to the Limerick match. I thought they could have reorganised their defence a little better early in the second half, just shore it up more at the back, stay in the game, try and make Tipp panic a little bit, have them thinking ‘We thought we had this crowd beaten now that they’re down to 14 men, but these guys are going nowhere’.
Maybe Kilkenny could have brought back John Donnelly deeper again and just throw a line of bodies across the middle — but once the two goals went in after half time, the game was over. Whatever they did by that stage, it was really too late.
Kilkenny used up a lot of gas beating Limerick and Cork. I don’t care what anyone says but it’s difficult to keep going back to the well, particularly when you’re reduced to 14 men. Tipp managed it against Wexford, but they used up very little energy in the last 20 minutes of the Munster final, while they were always in control against Laois, even if they didn’t play that well. Tipp were heroic in that last 25 minutes against Wexford with 14 men but they were fresh by that stage of the match from not being spent over the previous couple of games.
Tipp were just at it ahead of Kilkenny on every level. They got their match-ups much better than Kilkenny. Ronan Maher did a great job on Colin Fennelly, Brendan Maher held TJ pretty well. Kilkenny didn’t seem to have their midfield pairing right. Cillian Buckley is an excellent player, but he hasn’t been right all season. Putting him on Noel McGrath, who is now the frontrunner for hurler of the year certainly backfired.
The two early goals in the second half nailed the match on the head but, even with the extra man, it was too easy for Tipp to pick Kilkenny apart. There was no usual Kilkenny chaos in that middle third. They couldn’t stay in the game to see if they could hopefully summon that purple patch.
The second goal will haunt Cody. Callanan had all day to lift his head and pick out Bubbles O’Dwyer in front of Eoin Murphy. At the other end of the field, the deployment of Cathal Barrett in the sweeper role worked a treat.
Kilkenny needed a goal by that stage to have any hope of rescuing the match but they started launching these bombs on top of the square that were repeatedly defused by the Mahers and Barry Heffernan. All Ronan Maher had to do was break the ball and let Barrett clean it up.
The second half was like the second half of the 2016 final all over again, as Tipp just sprayed ball all over the place. Kilkenny couldn’t deal with it but Tipp will go to town on any team in that situation.
Kilkenny just seemed to panic afterwards. The long ball option wasn’t working but Kilkenny kept persisting with it. To make it worse, the way Tipp repeatedly kept coming out with the ball just fired up the Tipp crowd even more.
Early on, I’m sure many of the same Tipp people were in the horrors because Kilkenny were dominating the match. Tipp looked confused. They didn’t know what to do with puckouts.
When they went short, they were being turned over. When Tipp went long, they had no ball winners. They just lost — but Kilkenny didn’t put them away and Tipp were already beginning to find a rhythm before the sending off.
Brian Cody never likes losing but the manner of this defeat will have hit him hard. He has done a brilliant job in rebuilding this team, especially when he had one new player on every line. He is there a long time now but Brian will call it whenever he wants. You don’t do what Cody has done without wanting to do more, but he may have enough of it after yesterday. Who knows? Whatever he decides, nobody has any right to question any decision the man makes.
Hurling is a funny game. It can change at any stage, both on and off the field. Players retire, guys get injured, stuff happens. Tipp have been on top of the world twice already before yesterday and they didn’t exactly build on that promise and position.
Yet they didn’t have Sheedy at the helm after those successes in 2010 and 2016. But they will have next season.