One county is ecstatic this morning and one despairing, as is always the case after an All-Ireland final. However, 30 other counties probably spent the second half of yesterday’s game wondering if anything decent had recently been uploaded on Netflix.
This is not always the case for an All-Ireland final, but the 2019 version was a dour battle that became a one-sided blow-out. Will Tipperary mind? Are you serious? Yesterday Tipp were everything a manager could want in Croke Park as they cruised to a 28th title and everything their supporters could want as they provided a largely stress-free second half en route to victory, a rare event indeed.
When Tipp got ahead ofKilkenny just after the break they went on to throttle their opponents, bombing over point after point up front and barring the way to goal at the other. With an extra man for the entire second half, they had Mahers aplenty to defend, Noel McGrath to quarterback the attacks, and finishing power aplenty up front.
Tipperary weren’t flattered by their winning margin, and it might have been more if John ‘Bubbles’ O’Dwyer, breaking through late on, had a left foot to match his two hands. He found Hill 16 rather than the net. Kilkenny were still 14 points adrift at the final whistle. It was a curious day in Croke Park in many ways.
For instance, the All-Ireland brings out a different level on the field, but also off it. Witness the fevered injury speculation beforehand, which hung question marks over Cillian Buckley andRichie Hogan, and flatly ruled out Adrian Mullen. The last was a definite non-starter, hors de combat, and there was plenty of detail available about the reason why, if you were interested.
All three played, though none of them were on the field for the 70 minutes. Which brings us early on to the key moment in the game, late in the first half, when Hogan caught Tipp defender Cathal Barrett on the sideline under the Hogan.
Much of the debate which flared immediately afterwards had a kind of circular quality, the pleas for clemency involving appeals to common sense and the occasion; that it was the arm, not the elbow; the conditions had to be taken into account; Hogan had been fouled earlier himself; look at how surprised he was by a red card; it would spoil the game; and, of course, the hoariest of hoary chestnuts. He wasn’t that kind of player.
In reality Hogan could have little complaint. It was a dangerous challenge which could have injured Barrett, and the only real surprise was that referee James Owens enforced the rules. A refreshing close to a season where those rules have not always been followed or enforced.
Until the red card was issued the game was, if anything, being played on Kilkenny’s terms. A rash of early frees and half-chances at goal was testimony to the Cats’ drive up front: Tipperary defenders were turned over and blocked down, and couldn’t find their men up front with quality ball.
Manager Liam Sheedy said that they were gasping for air at that point, and he was right. Their key score was Niall O’Meara’s goal with 10minutes to the break: The man from Kilruane McDonaghs had an easy point on offer when he won the ball but went for glory, and his shot, skidding off a greasy surface, beat Eoin Murphy.
The reason for that greasy surface, of course, was one of the spilling showers which spoiled the day. Or did they? A venerable Cork hurler was fond of saying that the good hurlers come out in the rain, and it’s a difficult thesis to argue against: What a slippery ball demands of a player is greater skill, and O’Meara’s shot exploited the conditions to perfection.
Tipperary also exploited other conditions. Their experience of playing with 14 men — in the semi-final against Wexford — was valuable as they played against 14 men the second half.
Two early goals, from Seamus Callanan and Bubbles O’Dwyer set them up and long before the end Kilkenny were reduced to lobbing high ball into the Tipp goalmouth in search of an energising goal of their own. It never came.
“It’s a long journey,” said Sheedy afterwards. “On the 30th of June (Munster final defeat by Limerick) it probably looked like we were a long way away from here, people were probably very unimpressed by our quarter-final victory, but we built massive momentum from our semi-final when questions were asked, and thankfully we carried that momentum into the final today.
“We were a few pointsdown and we needed Niall O’Meara’s goal, we weregasping for air at the time but then we settled. In the second half we played some outstanding hurling at times. People have questioned the lads’ ability in the trenches or whatever but they answered those questions inside the white lines.
“Today isn’t about me but about that wonderful group of players who’ve given me everything since the middle of November, and they got their just rewards today.”
Kilkenny boss Brian Cody was understandably downbeat after the game.
“I wasn’t expecting a red card. I was very close to it, obviously. I can’t definitively say and I’m not going to start making excuses or start crying about things either, the only thing I will say is that you need to be very very certain to issue a red card, and there was a big discussion for quite a while between the referee and the linesman.
"He (the referee) went over examining people and everything else, obviously he wasn’t too sure himself, and you want to be very sure if you issue a red card.
“I thought we were outstanding to be honest (in the second half) — the honesty, the spirit, the genuineness of the team. The scoreboard doesn’t look pretty, to be certain, but the genuineness of the team, they fought to the bitter end.”
That they did, but it was Tipperary’s day, and the blue and gold was waving in the stands and terraces long before the final whistle.
As mentioned by Sheedy, it’s been a remarkable turnaround by a Tipperary side which couldn’t get out of Munster last year. Will that swing in fortunes energise and inspire other counties as they face into 2020? Perhaps.
Kilkenny will be back, too. Yesterday was a hard lesson, but later in the week similarities with 1999, Cody’s first final as manager, may surface. Another disappointment in the rain; another set of lessons stored for future use, for deployment when these two counties encounter each other again.
When Marshal Petain died in the 50s, Charles De Gaulle corrected those who said it was the end of an era: “It was a great historical drama, and a historical drama is never over.”
This mightn’t have been the greatest, but it was still history. Still drama.