By Donal O'Grady
Sending offs can have major influences on a game. Sometimes they can galvanise the 14 men to raise their game to ferocious heights while the team with the superior number lose their focus a little as they feel that the numerical advantage will win it for them.
If a team is to suffer a reduction in numbers it is always beneficial to lose a man before half-time as it gives the team management 15 minutes to come up with a plan to adjust to the lack of outfield players.
It is usual to adopt a two-man inside line when a corner forward receives a red card. It is an easy decision for those with 15 to keep an extra man in defence but it doesn’t always work out that this extra defender influences the game to a positive degree.
Tipperary got their strategy spot on as Cathal Barrett played the extra man role to perfection as Kilkenny adapted to life without Richie Hogan. Barrett positioned himself in the ‘D’ just in front of full-back Ronan Maher and Barry Heffernan and dropped back quickly to cover any breaks at the edge of the square.
Tipperary then got their bodies back and snuffed out any clearcut goal chances. Barrett had 10 possessions in the second half before he was replaced due to injury. He used the ball well setting up attacks from defence as Tipperary moved the ball through the lines, setting up scoring chances in that second period where they converted 2-14 from play.
Brian Hogan’s puck-outs were also very influential mixing up short ones with long angled deliveries into space that favoured his half-forwards.
They won 75% of their restarts which is a highly impressive tally in an All-Ireland final. Kilkenny’s Eoin Murphy elected to go long with most of his. However, this played into Tipp’s hands as their midfield and defence won most of those which allowed them to set up an attacking platform that powered them forward.
Ronan Maher gave a superb performance in front of his goal and both he and Heffernan were excellent in the air as Kilkenny struck high balls to the edge of the square hoping for a lucky break.
The sending off seemed to suck the energy from Kilkenny and Tipp were allowed to play the ball from man-to-man without any great pressure.
The Cats were unable to pressurise Tipperary as they waltzed out from their half of the field, transitioning ball from defence to attack with little difficulty. The Kilkenny half-back line were under severe pressure as Tipp ruled the middle-third and although Paddy Deegan drove forward on occasion, the final ball failed to put the Tipperary defence in any serious danger.
Kilkenny had one great chance 12 minutes from time when a goal might have inspired a comeback but Padraic Maher made a great block on Walter Walsh and the danger was quickly cleared.
There was a lot of talk about the match-ups prior to this final. When Kilkenny’s management reflect on this game they will feel that they erred on one huge match-up in midfield where they placed Cillian Buckley on Noel McGrath.
Buckley is a similar player to the Loughmore man and on reflection, placing a man-marker on the Tipp midfielder would have been the better choice. McGrath’s movement and positioning had a big bearing on the game throughout but particularly in the second half.
Positioning himself in the centre-half-back zone, he made himself available for out-ball from any colleague under pressure in the middle third. McGrath had the experience and composure to pick out colleagues in space and Kilkenny failed to lay a glove on him. Kilkenny had started well and pressurised Tipperary into conceding frees which were knocked over time and again by TJ Reid.
Reid was covering back a lot, even as far as his half-back line and that movement troubled Tipp. Crucially, though, Kilkenny failed to goal when they were in the ascendancy in those first 25 minutes. A huge turning point arrived after 26 minutes when centre-back Brendan Maher made an inspirational run at the heart of the Cats’ defence.
The resultant free and Niall O Meara’s goal, minutes later, when he was released by John Bubbles Dwyer Jason Forde with a lovely over-the-top pass, shifted the momentum to Tipp. A defensive mistake led to Seamie Callanan’s first goal directly after half-time. When some excellent interplay between Callanan and O’Dwyer led to Tipp’s third, the game ended as a contest.
As the second half wore on, more and more space opened up for the Premier. The excellent Séamus Kennedy drove forward constantly from half-back. Tipp’s replacements knocked over five points to power them home as Kilkenny had no answer to the charging masses.