And so with one bound they were free, these cornered, scalded felines.
Again. How many lives do they have left now? In a way it doesn’t really matter. Patrick Kavanagh could have been writing about Brian Cody’s Kilkenny. Gods do indeed make their own importance.
Yet this raucous, rockin’ evening at Nowlan Park – there is no truth in the rumour Bruce Springsteen, who plays the venue in a few weeks, burst into tears while viewing the match via satellite and moaned, “I know I’m famous for my live shows but I’ll never be able to match that atmosphere” — was about Tipperary as much as it was about the hosts.
It was a defining match for Tipperary in a way it wasn’t, because it couldn’t have been, for Kilkenny. The epitaph of the current Kilkenny team was written long ago. The epitaph of the current Tipp team can at this stage be graven in stone too. It’ll read something along the lines of, “Promised the earth. Didn’t come close to delivering.”
After the league final two months ago a media pundit from the county tweeted blithely that the Tipp of 2009-10 would be “more fondly remembered” than Cody’s Kilkenny. In his house, yes, but around the country too? It was hard to decide which was more staggering: the presumptuousness or the self-delusion. We can now be certain what the Tipp team of 2009-10 will be remembered for. That coffin on the poster in Gortnahoe last week? They had it the wrong way around. This was the final nail in the blue and gold coffin, not the black and amber one.
The 2011 All-Ireland final was the first nail. The 2012 semi-final was the biggest nail. Last Saturday was the clincher. The golden generation will not now inherit the world and its wonders. What an unfortunate fate: damned to be good in an age when the neighbours were all-time great. Nobody’s interested in prosecco when they can be drinking Krug.
The usual failings haunted Tipperary here. Incapable, yet again, of eking out primary possession. Unable to gain any purchase on a striped rockface where Paul Murphy’s return demonstrated his multi-faceted importance – he can sweep across the full-back line and ride shotgun for Tommy Walsh in addition to playing his own position while Kieran Joyce was a lighthouse under the dropping ball.
The big guns misfired. Brendan Maher’s performance was, a couple of first-half interventions in defence apart, a mile back on his swashbuckling display in the league final at the same venue. Bonner Maher was scarcely mentioned in running. That the losers were still hanging in there at the end, despite all of the above, does merit praise. It may be we won’t see Brendan Cummins and Eoin Kelly in blue and gold again. If so, it has been a pleasure and a privilege.
Close your eyes and recall the manner Cummins contorted his body in about three different ways in the space of half second to stop a signature Paul Flynn mortar shell in Pairc Ui Chaoimh in 2004. Close your eyes and recall Kelly’s bulging portfolio of points from all distances and angles over the years, many of them while leading the charge on mediocre Tipperary teams, perhaps the best of them an effort over his shoulder and between the Davin End uprights while being coursed by JJ Delaney in the 2009 All-Ireland final.
After plugging away through the barren years, both were there when the sun came out again in 2010. They’ll always have that and they couldn’t have deserved it more. If there is a shred of a silver lining for the county it is that, after last Saturday and the Limerick game before it, at least the way forward for Eamon O’Shea is clear. He cannot harbour the slightest doubt which players he wants on the bus next year and which players he does not. Might he have been less cautious in his team selection here? He might, and that’s not being wise after the event. Instead of choosing a side to deconstruct Kilkenny by running around them, as in 2010, Tipperary chose a side to go toe to toe with them. That was never going to succeed. Not against these guys. Not on their manor.
Still, if we’ve learned anything from the past week it’s that a manager is entitled to – nay, must – pick his team as he sees fit. The implication being, O’Shea didn’t see enough in training to prompt him to alter his thinking. And, as an aside, nobody can argue his employment of Seamus Callanan didn’t work better off the bench than as a starter. O’Shea’s opposite number got it just right in delaying the return of the king till the 64th minute. Six minutes in which Henry Shefflin merely had to do the best he could. Not long enough for the move to backfire but time enough for him to maybe manage one thing that mattered. Thus it transpired.
Outfielded by Noel McGrath for the first ball that came his way, he atoned for it by hammering forward with the second and shovelling out a handpass – undercooked, admittedly — to Richie Power for the point that put the winners three ahead. Very Shefflinesque.
Shefflin is not DJ. He doesn’t try to be. He rarely does brilliant things. What he does is do the right thing, the difficult thing, the unglamorous thing, over and over again. It is the essence of the man. In another life he’d have dug trenches for a living. The match turned on what happened – and, more importantly, what didn’t happen – in the space of two minutes early in the second half with the visitors 1-8 to 0-10 ahead. Kelly missed a free, then had a goal chance blocked as JJ Delaney got his body in the way and the ball squirted out for a 65’ that the Mullinahone man put wide.
Still a point in it where there might have been five. Where Tipp would have been newly energised and sufficiently emboldened to try a few of their party tricks. Where Kilkenny would have struggled to find another gear, a gear they haven’t possessed for quite a while, to close the gap. Instead Eoin Larkin, whose resisting at midfield got him into the game from the off, levelled from a free moments. From there on Kilkenny kept grinding. And grinding. And grinding.
They didn’t so much rise from their beds as barrel out of the ER and announce their return to health with a loudhailer. Watched by a man who not long ago was in hospital himself and who was now overseeing a famous victory in a stadium a few miles from his house.
Brian, take a good look around. This is your hometown. This is your hometown.
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