The 14,763 spectators in Thurles this evening were treated to an absorbing show of hurling as last year’s All-Ireland finalists had to settle for a point, writes John Fogarty.
Tipperary’s unbeaten run going back to last April continues but they will rue their 10 second-half wides, particularly their ones late on including Seamus Callanan’s ground stroke after Eoin Murphy had saved superby from John McGrath in the 66th minute.
Kilkenny merited their share of their spoils although they didn’t go ahead until seconds after McGrath and Callanan's shots when the excellent Cillian Buckley broke forward from a puck-out.
However, Tipperary substitute Steven O’Brien brought Tipp back level again and it was they who had the better chances to take the two points in the closing stages.
TJ Reid’s third goal in the 56th minute, his second from a penalty, had brought Kilkenny level after Pádraic Maher had committed a needless free on Liam Blanchfield. If Tipperary were the better in the first half, Kilkenny, led by Richie Hogan with four second-half points, were superior in the second.
Tipperary breached Murphy’s goal-line as early as the third minute when Ronan Maher fetched superbly, offloaded to Sean Curran who delivered long into the full-forward line. After Callanan had failed with his initial shot, Paul Murphy left John McGrath too much space to send the ball to the net.
Kilkenny, who had gone their previous five outings without a goal, responded with one just two minutes later when Reid finished spectacularly to Daragh Mooney’s top left corner from distance.
Tipperary came back with the next four points of the game before finding another goal in the 22nd minute when John O’Dwyer had the awareness to find an unmarked Niall O’Meara.
The score put Tipperary eight points ahead although Kilkenny found their range with the next three, all of them from Reid, two of them frees. He then converted a penalty on the half hour mark when Michael Cahill was adjudged to have fouled Alan Murphy in the penalty area after a Reid point attempt fell short.
It catapulted Kilkenny to within two points of their neighbours but Tipperary saw out the half the stronger, scoring five of the remaining seven points, to lead by 2-11 to 2-7 at the break.
Scorers for Tipperary: S. Callanan (0-6, 3 frees, 1 65); J. McGrath (1-2); N. O’Meara (1-1); D. McCormack, S. Curran (0-2 each); P. Maher, N. McGrath, J. O’Dwyer, S. O’Brien (0-1 each).
Scorers for Kilkenny: T.J. Reid (3-5, 2-0 pens, 0-4 frees); R. Hogan (0-4); C. Buckley (0-3); W. Walsh (0-2).
TIPPERARY: D. Mooney; J. O’Keeffe, J. Barry, M. Cahill; T. Hamill, R. Maher, P. Maher; S. Curran, M. Breen; D. McCormack, N. O’Meara, N. McGrath; J. O’Dwyer, S. Callanan, J. McGrath.
Subs for Tipperary: K. Bergin for M. Breen (35+1); J. Forde for D. McCormack (55); S. Kennedy for M. Cahill (58); S. O’Brien for N. O’Meara (68).
KILKENNY: E. Murphy; P. Murphy, P. Walsh, C. O’Shea; C. Fogarty, S. Prendergast, J. Cleere; P. Deegan, C. Buckley; C. Fennelly, R. Hogan, T.J. Reid; A. Murphy, W. Walsh, L. Blanchfield.
Sub for Kilkenny: J. Maher for A. Murphy (40).
Referee: J. Owens (Wexford).
Cody hails Kilkenny's spirit
Brian Cody took pride tonight in how his Kilkenny men showed that they have the mettle to match Tipperary in a remarkable contest in Thurles.
Kilkenny had been dismissed by some but they almost pulled off a victory, which would have ended their neighbours’ 11-month unbeaten run.
“I learned that what I always feel we’re capable of they’re still capable of. I think they showed the spirit tonight that we always need to show. I would imagine several questions were being asked of the players.
“Tonight was just one game. Just because the response is good tonight, the thing is only starting. It’s only March. But I think it was still an important challenge we faced tonight and we faced it well.”
Michael Ryan wasn’t one of those who had been tempted to dismiss Kilkenny. “I think ye (media) boys will be in business for years! It just gives and gives. Ye might write it but ye didn’t believe it – those guys are not written off or anything like it. They’ve been at this point over the last 15 years on how many occasions?
“It takes a really good team to come out there, two really good teams, to serve up that game. And we got away on them – we were well away there in the first half but in typical Kilkenny style, they came roaring back into the game. They’re just a quality side – we know that, there’s no secret about that.”
Neither Ryan nor Cody complained about the result. Ryan said: “I think it’s a very fair reflection of the game. We’ve often lost those tight ones! It would have been awful hard for either team to go home without something from the match. It gave and gave. Those are the games that give you a really good measure of where you’re at this point.
“Remember, it’s only March 11 – great data for both sides on their squads, we go ahead again, matchday 4, another one coming in two weeks. It’s a great League, we give out about it at times but it’s a great League. Conditions would have helped a lot of the quality of the hurling out there tonight.”
Cody lauded the performance of Cillian Buckley, who was sensational for the visitors. “He was very, very good. There’s no doubt about that. He worked up and down the field all night, I felt. He got onto ball, he won ball, he scored. He just did great work. He has that ability. Cillian’s a terrific athlete as well so he took on great responsibility.
Like Ryan, Cody appeared to question the value of hurling under lights. “Maybe for supporters (it is good) but I’d say players would prefer for it not to be played under lights because it’s not something they do.”