DONAL O'GRADY: Cats prove an old cliché still rings true: Goals do win games

The statistic that jumps out from Sunday’s game is the scoreline for the last 25 minutes.

Ten minutes into the second half, there were two points between Tipp and Kilkenny; in the final 25 minutes Tipp tacked on three points, two from John O’Neill, a 63rd-minute sub, while a superb Kilkenny hit 3-10.

When sports historians scrutinise the exploits of this great Kilkenny team at the end of the Brian Cody era — which looks a long way off — it is their capacity to score goals at vital times that marks them out.

The main play in Sunday’s game came in the 45th minute when Aidan Fogarty burst on to a breaking ball and ran through to score their all-important second goal. Tipp keeper Brendan Cummins was perfectly positioned to stop the shot but the slightest of hooks by Conor O’Mahony on Fogarty’s hurley caused the ball to spin and it careered into the corner of the net off the edge of Cummins’s stick.

This opened a gap of five points but Kilkenny were now in control. Their defence was comfortable and they won almost 90 % of their own puck-outs in the second half — nearly treble the usual average. They also won 60% of Tipperary’s puck-outs: a solid possession platform for their win.

Eoin Larkin’s 52nd-minute goal killed the game as a contest, and it illustrates the difference between the teams. Kilkenny forwards are well aware of the goal opportunities that exist when they are left in a one-on-one with a defender and Larkin had the strength, determination, balance and — crucially — the pace to take on his man, finishing superbly into the corner. Tipp didn’t have that facility at the other end.

Tipp would have been pleased to go in at half-time a point up but in order to win, they needed to build pressure, by keeping the game tight in terms of discipline. It didn’t happen. Henry Shefflin hit eight points, a third of Kilkenny’s points tally, from frees.

Tipp needed to take all their opportunities and keep mistakes to the minimum. They had a half-chance of a goal in the seventh minute but Kilkenny custodian David Herity stood firm.

Wing back Padraic Maher was pressurised on 10 minutes into a poor clearance when better support play — a problem for Tipp throughout the game — would have allowed a decent clearance, instead of giving a point to Kilkenny.

The scores were tied at five points each when Pa Bourke and then Noel McGrath hit two poor wides inside a minute at the end of the first quarter. They fouled Kilkenny corner back Paul Murphy when two men had him covered, and TJ Reid grabbed an inspirational point, winning the resultant free.

Tipp were failing to create anything of note up front, depending in the main on Pa Bourke for scores from placed balls. They responded well to TJ Reid’s goal in the 27th minute but their defence as a unit was unable to suffocate their direct opponents the way Kilkenny’s did with the Tipp attack.

In the second half, Tipperary bunched a lot up front, playing deep, with no scoring forward in front of goal. This played into the hands of Brian Hogan, JJ Delaney and Jackie Tyrell as they allowed the defence to operate as a unit.

Tipp were also obsessed with limiting the influence of Tommy Walsh — on a yellow card from early on — by wasting their top forward Lar Corbett in a largely negative role.

The attitude to good defence has always been that defenders never mind not hitting the ball once their opponents aren’t hitting any either. Tipp would have been more productive if they had played “Bonner” Maher on Tommy Walsh from the start. The greatest method of limiting Walsh’s influence is not to hit the ball directly to him, as Tipp proved in the second half of last year’s final.

Placing Lar Corbett at the edge of the square and Noel McGrath at centre forward would have made for a better structure. Tyrrell is a superb corner back and loves the freedom of patrolling out the field as there is no goal threat out there, but he doesn’t look comfortable at full-back.

It’s immaterial now. Kilkenny were excellent. They won all the battles and Tipp looked a frustrated shadow of the 2009-10 team.


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