THERE was a song sung by Tipperary substitute Pat Kerwick at the end of the game yesterday, The Galtee Mountain Boy – I think it was about the famous Tipperary revolutionary, Dan Breen.
Breen used plan ambushes around the country during the War of Independence – in all his time, I don’t think he ever formulated a better plan than the one fabricated by Liam Sheedy in Croke Park yesterday.
This was the ultimate ambush, the most powerful army that hurling has ever seen, destroyed, and destroyed emphatically. Hunger, that was what made it for Tipperary, and that hunger was in every fibre of their bodies – you could see it in their eyes before a ball was pucked. You can only admire Liam Sheedy, Michael Ryan and Eamonn O’Shea, in fact you can only admire everyone involved with this Tipperary team, and foremost among those of course, the players themselves. Last year’s defeat could have set them back, but it didn’t. They used what I call the Never Twins – never give in, and never give up.
The biggest single factor in Tipperary’s win was the directness of their play. They didn’t give a damn how the ball came to them, whether it was high or low, fast or slow; they didn’t give a damn either how they got rid of it – they were just going to win every ball, every battle, they were going to win this game. Nowhere was this more evident than in their defence, in the full-back line particularly. Paddy Stapleton, Paul Curran, Michael Cahill, all three of them were outstanding, never took their eye off the ball but never took their eye off their man either. Outside them, Declan Fanning (until he ran out of steam), Conor O’Mahony (until he got injured) and especially, Padraic Maher, were supreme. Last year the Tipperary half-back line, with Brendan Maher on Padraic’s wing, did really well against the Kilkenny half-forward line – yesterday they were better.
The real engine of this team, however, is in midfield.
Brendan Maher, what a first half, and continued that after the break – hurled himself to a standstill. Shane McGrath also did well, but this was Brendan Maher’s day. Up front, of course, was where the real damage was done. When a team scores 4-17 in an All-Ireland final there can be no argument about the quality of the attack. Patrick Maher was the only man not to score, Eoin Kelly didn’t score from play, but that didn’t matter a damn; Eoin Larkin didn’t score at the other end either for Kilkenny yet he was probably their outstanding forward. There was a real unselfishness about Tipperary’s play; they didn’t care who scored, as long as the score was got. Didn’t care either how hard they were hit, and this is a Kilkenny defence that knows how to dish out the pain – legally, of course. Tipp played with old-fashioned Tipp steel – Patrick Maher, Eoin Kelly and Gearoid Ryan did the navvy work, while others got the scores.
Which brings me to Lar Corbett; three goals in an All-Ireland final, all from play, each one a superb finish – Lar was my man-of-the-match but is he now also going to get player-of-the-year?
I have to mention the moves from the two benches here; Liam Sheedy brought on Seamus Callanan and Seamus Hennessey up front – both scored, Callanan with two brilliant points. Benny Dunne came on at midfield and scored a point – surely makes up for last year’s final, when he saw red. In the defence, Colin O’Brien and David Young also made favourable impressions when replacing Fanning and O’Mahony. The substitutions worked, the tactics worked – good day for them.
FOR Kilkenny, I said at the start of the year that loyalty could be a factor in the drive-for-five, staying too loyal for too long with established players.
Kilkenny stuck with Noel Hickey, Eddie Brennan and Cha Fitzpatrick for too long yesterday; Eddie and Cha have served the Kilkenny cause brilliantly for the last several years but they weren’t good yesterday, could have been called ashore earlier. Noel Hickey was left in place for the full game – he too has been a great warrior for this team, but was caught yesterday, on a few critical occasions.
And then one of the players they took off – TJ Reid was actually having a decent game, scoring, getting into position. Making changes isn’t an exact science; sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t but the results can be critical to the outcome. Didn’t work for Kilkenny yesterday.
But I can’t finish without paying tribute to this Kilkenny team. I thought I’d see history made in Croke Park yesterday, the five-in-a-row – I don’t think I’ll ever see it now.
A pity in a way, because this team would have been worthy of it. John Dalton was brilliant yesterday, as was JJ, Eoin Larkin, Richie Power doing damage, but over the last five years, over the last decade even, Kilkenny have been the outstanding county in the country. I don’t think we’ve seen the last of them, they’ll be back, but I wonder – have we seen the last of Brian Cody? I think a few of his players will go, and he’ll surely consider his own future – my own hope is that he stays on.
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