Did Shefflin injury circus distract Cats?

Tipperary enjoyed an edge in determination yesterday, sweeping onto breaking ball with relish, and they confined Kilkenny to rare moments of freedom.

A superb final.

And superb champions: for the history they stopped, and for the history they created.

SO, er, um, it seems Tipp hold the odd training session too. ‘Good for hurling’ is one obvious reaction to yesterday’s All-Ireland final. But, ultimately, the main reason hurling might be the winner is not that Kilkenny were stopped in their tracks on the drive for five, but rather that they were derailed by a team playing magnificently.

It is always ‘good for hurling’ when the better team wins. For the past few years, as other teams fell in front of the Kilkenny juggernaut, no team really emerged to meet the challenge head on.

Finally, unexpectedly, someone shouted stop.

In leaving no room for arguments, Tipperary have done the state some service. It’s not the fact that they won, but how.

There had been a tendency of late to depict Kilkenny’s fast-swelling empire as somehow having a negative impact on the game. “It’ll kill hurling,” was the sentiment: but what, pray tell, were Kilkenny obliged to do?

Limp in front of the lame to allow the lame to catch up?

Kilkenny did what they were conditioned to do. They pushed on and on, remorselessly, and set the bar higher and higher.

To even wish that Kilkenny would drop their standards is counter-evolutionary.

When Roger Bannister broke the four-minute mile, the natural reaction of the world’s top-class milers was to try and follow suit. No-one expressed the hope that Roger and his contemporaries would slow down and allow the chasing pack reel them in.

This morning, hurling looks far from dead: a new era of possibility opens up. A whole fresh set of questions presents itself.

Can Kilkenny come back to wrestle back their title? No-one needs reminding that Kerry dusted themselves down after Seamus Darby ‘82 and Tadhg Óg Murphy ‘83, and returned to win three more All-Ireland on the trot.

Or are we looking at the start of a period of Tipperary dominance, yesterday’s watershed victory finally clearing the way for recent underage glories to translate into senior successes?

Indeed, might others be sufficiently emboldened by this breakthrough?

The instructive value of this victory is that Tipperary ended Kilkenny’s reign by soaring to their highest standard to date, not by lying low and hoping to catch Kilkenny on the downward flight. Once again, we are reminded that even the greatest teams can be beaten, and that some of their perceived invincibility stems from the self-doubt lurking in the minds of their opponents.

Wisdom after the event is the preserve of the Monday morning columnist, and so, without any shame, we explore some straws in the wind.

Did the Henry story become too much of a circus in the build-up to the game? When first we heard public notice of the hope that Gerard Hartmann would get Henry on the field for the final, we remarked at the sheer unKilkenny-ness of such a proclamation.

It kick-started a whole chain of events where Henry’s recovery became the dominant theme of the build-up. It is now clear that Henry’s return was carried out with undue haste.

To elevate one player is not the Kilkenny way, even when that player is arguably the greatest of them all. In the semi-final, when Shefflin got injured, Cody moved immediately to deal with the void.

Yet, it seemed that Kilkenny could not entertain the notion of taking to the field without him yesterday – a curious, tacit admission by a side which has always been governed by an unwavering team ethic.

All those paeans to Kilkenny must have irked Tipperary no end. Full-page reports on Kilkenny training sessions made for insightful reading for all sports fans, but they surely generated some wry commentary in the Tipperary camp.

We have this image of Brian Cody watching the growing hype with growing alarm. If, for instance, he happened to catch Charlie Carter and Brian O’Meara on RTÉ News the other evening, he may have wondered at the impact the consensus would have on his team.

Charlie said he expected Kilkenny to win, by six or seven points. O’Meara said Tipperary would settle for one. If every Kilkenny player going about his business these past few weeks was hearing that kind of talk from former players, it made Cody’s task of keeping feet on the ground all the more difficult.

Still, there was little enough in the air to forecast a Tipperary win. Their form had been less than convincing, and Kilkenny’s was so compelling. Tipperary enjoyed an edge in determination yesterday, sweeping onto breaking ball with relish, and they confined Kilkenny to rare moments of freedom.

A superb final. And superb champions: for the history they stopped, and for the history they created.


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