Hogan produces extra dimension

AFTER a lack-lustre football decider the week before and all the hype created by the Heineken Cup semi-final, this epic Allianz National League final in Thurles yesterday was just what hurling and the GAA needed to reclaim the feelgood factor.

The only pity was that there had to be a loser after a marvellous contest which stretched the physical resources of both teams to the limit as much as it asked serious questions about their abilities – especially Tipperary who had been humiliated in Nowlan Park six weeks ago.

The All-Ireland champions triumphed ultimately by outscoring the hosts in the second period of extra time, which began with Tipp being boosted by a Noel McGrath goal within 30 seconds of the throw in and ended with goalkeeper Brendan Cummins failing in his effort to level the scores from a close-in free.

And, in the absence of Shefflin (captain for the day after Michael Fennelly had to withdraw, but yellow-carded early in the second half), Danesfort’s Richie Hogan emerged a Kilkenny hero with some terrific scores when they were needed and ending top scorer with 1-10.

Whatever about doing their damndest to challenge the idea of Kilkenny invincibility, Tipperary’s determination to win back their self-esteem after their 16 points defeat in the third round saw them thunder into the game from the throw-in, most noticeably in the way they raised the physical stakes by being so strong in the tackle.

Complemented by very sure striking, powerful support for the man in possession at both ends of the field and midfield dominance, they were able to largely achieve their objective by banging in two goals within eight minutes.

The first came from James Woodlock, after Micheal Webster charged into James Ryall and forced him to spill the ball and John O’Brien scored the second, which came from an imaginative cross from Shane McGrath.

Reminiscent of the way Kilkenny had been able to impose their will in the March 22 game by goaling twice in six minutes, it gave Tipp the confidence to dictate the trend of the game and stay in front by denying the visiting forwards space and time on the ball.

Notably, Martin Comerford was yellow-carded along with Declan Fanning after getting involved in a scuffle, the irony being that he was only just after coming in as a replacement for Brian Hogan (forced off with a suspected broken collar bone). Even at this early stage it was obvious Kilkenny were starting to struggle for scores and this resulted from the excellence of Tipperary’s defensive play and the fact that they benefitted from the wind advantage.

Kilkenny had to contend with a disallowed goal from Aidan Fogarty in the 19th minute because Shefflin had been flagged for stepping over the sideline before delivering the ball in.

And, nearing half time, another Shefflin break promised to deliver a goal until Fogarty hit over the bar instead. The end result was that Tipperary stayed in the lead thanks to the accuracy of Seamus Callanan from frees and their more inspired play. The led 2-7 to 0-8 at the break, with Cummins bringing off a great safe from Shefflin in injury-time.

Goals on both sides – from Callanan and Richie Hogan – within two minutes of the resumption, set the tone for an epic second half which saw the favourites coming under further pressure after Shefflin was dismissed for a tackle on Shane McGrath. Tipp remained in control, with Noel McGrath winning some vital possession when he moved out towards the middle of the field and with Paul Curran and Padraic Maher both playing key roles in the central positions, Paddy Stapleton at right corner-back was another to perform heroics under pressure.

Inevitably, however, Kilkenny started to get their game together, with Tommy Walsh exerting a grip at half-back, TJ Reid contributing after he was switched out to the half-forward line, Eddie Brennan much more influential and Eoin Larkin, hitherto not really involved, raising his standard too. An Aidan Fogarty goal in the 49th minute gave their recovery a significant impetus and Hogan put over some terrific frees to give it further momentum.

Still, Tipperary were not prepared to yield their advantage on their scoreboard, but the pressure told when Hogan put over a difficult free in the 67th minute and sub Michael Grace set up Fogarty for an equaliser shortly afterwards.

Crucially, Callanan had his first miss from a free before Hogan edged Kilkenny in front but almost three minutes into injury-time Tipp’s courage was rewarded with a McGrath point which forced the game into extra-time.

The most noteworthy feature of the first ten-minute period was a superb goal-line clearance by Tommy Walsh from a Webster ground shot. Kilkenny turned over with a one point advantage, but the destination of the title remained in doubt to the final whistle, with Hogan again to the forefront.

Cummins – as alert and as dependable as ever in his distinguished career – had a late chance of earning Tipp a replay from a 25 yards free. But, his shot flew over the bar – and with it Liam Sheedy’s hopes of redemption.

Scorers for Kilkenny: R. Hogan 1-10 (0-7 frees); A. Fogarty 1-5; S. Shefflin (0-1 free, 0-1 ‘65) and T. J. Reid (0-1 sideline) 0-4 each; E. Brennan 0-2; E. Larkin 0-1.

Scorers for Tipperary: S. Callanan 1-7 (0-5 frees, 0-1 ‘65); N. McGrath 1-5; J. Woodlock and J. O’Brien 1-1 each; S. McGrath 0-2; B. Cummins 0-1 free.

KILKENNY: P.J. Ryan; M. Kavanagh, J.J. Delaney, J. Tyrrell; T. Walsh, B. Hogan, J. Ryall; J. Tennyson, M. Rice; R. Hogan, H. Shefflin (capt.), E. Larkin; E. Brennan, T.J. Reid, A. Fogarty.

Subs: M. Comerford for B. Hogan (injured, 10); M. Grace for Comerford (yellow card, 13); J. Fitzpatrick for Shefflin (yellow card, 43); S. Cummins for Kavanagh (yellow card, 78).

TIPPERARY: B. Cummins; P. Stapleton, P. Curran, C. O’Brien; D. Fanning, P. Maher, S. Maher; T. Stapleton, S. McGrath; J. Woodlock, S. Callanan, J. O’Brien (capt.); N. McGrath, M. Webster, L. Corbett.

Subs: B. Maher for Fanning (yellow card, 12); H. Maloney for S. Maher, (injured, 14); B. Dunne for Maloney (58); S. Hennessy for Woodlock (62); D. Fitzgerald for T. Stapleton (et); Patrick Maher for Webster (80); E. Buckley for Padraic Maher (91).

Referee: J. Sexton (Cork).

*Attendance: 17, 087 (last year – 16,325).

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