I WANT to compliment whoever made the following decisions at Croke Park yesterday: (1) the band playing the national anthem, the voices coming only from the crowd; (2) the common sense that prevailed at the end of the game, when the crowd broke the cordon on Hill 16 and the decision was made to move the presentation back to the Hogan Stand, thus allowing the Kilkenny supporters to do what has always been done traditionally on All-Ireland final day in Croke Park and mix with the players; (3) and this one is crucial – the appointment of Diarmuid Kirwan as referee.
This was a big game, was always going to be a hard-hitting game, could have been destroyed by a petty referee – Diarmuid Kirwan let it flow, and the spectacle was all the better for that. I know there’s a bit of upset in Tipperary over a couple of decisions, but those were calls made in an instant, without the benefit of any replay – overall, I thought he did a fantastic job.
The match? Moderation is fatal, nothing succeeds like excess – Kilkenny fit that bill. When I talk about excess here, I’m talking about four All-Ireland titles in-a-row, I’m talking about four Leinster titles in-a-row, I’m talking about a team that hasn’t lost a championship match in four seasons – that’s excess, isn’t it?
This was an historic achievement, a special achievement by a special group of players, a special occasion for all of us privileged to be there, to witness the final act. I said on Saturday that we could expect an explosive contest – we got that. Every quality you want to see in a hurler was evident in Croke Park yesterday, every manly quality; the tackling, the intensity, the courage, the strength, the power, the skill, the will-to-win, and it was there in both teams.
I’ll have to start with the champions.
I’d heard it said and seen it written coming into this final that Kilkenny were a team in decline, that this team was showing signs of slippage – there was no sign of any of that yesterday.
If there had been, and believe me when I say this, they wouldn’t be champions today. It starts at the back, and here, again, I’ll go back to something I said on Saturday, about the goalkeeper – remember that?
No Kilkenny keeper has won an All-Star under Brian Cody, but I predicted that after this game, that could change. I’m certain now that it will, and if it doesn’t, well, I give up.
PJ Ryan was absolutely brilliant for Kilkenny yesterday, made four breathtaking saves in the second half, saves that kept Tipperary out when they were threatening to break through, kept Kilkenny in the game. Another man I spoke of at the weekend, a man for whom I have fantastic admiration, is Tommy Walsh – what a performance from this man, in the first-half especially. A hurler to his fingertips, and proved it again yesterday.
Look at the incident where Benny Dunne was sent off – it was a really wild pull, right across the front of his body, decked him, but immediately Tommy was back on his feet.
Where another man might have stayed down to make sure that Benny got a red card, Tommy was actually doing the opposite – now that’s my idea of a man, a true sportsman. Let no-one ever again question this guy’s credentials.
I also spoke on Saturday of the need for the Kilkenny forwards to play as a unit in this game, that in all their championship games up to this they’ve been relying on one man to star, a couple of others to offer support, while three stood back and looked on. Yesterday, five of the starting six scored, with Derek Lyng coming in for a point from midfield, and all three subs adding to the mix – add in Tommy Walsh and Jackie Tyrell and that’s 11 different scorers, and that’s what I call teamwork.
And they needed every one of those guys contributing. I also spoke of the strength of the Kilkenny bench – again, this was another huge element in the Kilkenny win. TJ Reid, Michael Fennelly and Martin Comerford were introduced in the second half, all made an immediate impact, all scored.
TO TIPPERARY. I’m sure about one thing after this All-Ireland final yesterday – unlike other teams in the past few years, there will be no talk in Tipperary that they played their part in a fantastic All-Ireland final, that they did well, that they had run Kilkenny to four or five points.
There will be only disappointment , and bitter disappointment at that, because they’ll know – this was a game they could have won. Another thing you won’t hear coming out of Tipperary – excuses.
Tipperary, when they lose, they lose with honour – they lost with honour yesterday, and lost no caste in defeat. Their supporters can feel hugely disappointed, yes, but they should also feel proud of this team.
It wasn’t just their hurling that was top class, it was their spirit, their heart, their sportsmanship (that incident notwithstanding, and these things happen in sport – I’m sure no-one will feel worse about it now than Benny Dunne) right to the end.
Tipperary came to Croke Park to win this game, they set their stall out early, took the game to Kilkenny, took everything Kilkenny had to throw at them, and kept coming back for more.
It was not a place for the faint of heart, and no-one in a blue-and-gold jersey fit that description yesterday.
Nowhere was this more evident than at full-back, where youngster Padraic Maher, barely 20, was outstanding. Declan Fanning on the wing, Conor O’Mahony playing a captain’s part and leading by example, another youngster in Brendan Maher, Shane McGrath in midfield, well supported by James Woodlock, but above all, Lar Corbett and Eoin Kelly up front – all were outstanding.
The experience of those last two at this level was going to be crucial for Tipperary – so it transpired. They were superb, both of them, but they also got great support from Noel McGrath and Pat Kerwick – if only Pat’s finishing hadn’t let him down.
While it’s disappointing for any team to lose an All-Ireland, I believe Tipp’s time is coming, and soon. For that to happen, however, it’s crucial that Liam Sheedy and his current management team stay in place.
They have two Munster championships and won a National League title in the last two years, were just beaten in the All-Ireland final yesterday by one of the great hurling teams – I believe the big one isn’t far away for them.
Perseverance, that’s what it will take; Kilkenny aren’t going to go away, but Tipperary proved yesterday that they are a close second-best – their day is coming.
Finally, I always said that the 1972 All-Ireland final between Kilkenny and Cork was the best I’d ever seen, a game Kilkenny came back from the dead to win; yesterday was better, and yesterday was an even better team performance from Kilkenny than that from the team of ‘72, not least because of the occasion, and the quality of the opposition.
Entertainment at its best, and we were privileged to be there.
By the way, having tipped the All-Ireland hurling winners from way back, a freebie for ye – have a few bob on Cork to win the football!
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