Tipperary boss Mick Ryan urged his All-Ireland intermediate champions to take their inter-county careers to the next level following Saturday’s victory over Kilkenny at Semple Stadium.
The Tipp team was laced with former minor and U21 All-Ireland winners while corner-forward Mikey Heffernan, a 2010 senior medallist, has now won All-Ireland medals in the four main grades.
Tipperary’s starting line-up featured James Logue, Kevin O’Gorman, James Barry, Sean Carey, Heffernan, Joe Gallagher and Damien O’Brien from the 2007 All-Ireland minor winning set-up. Logue, O’Gorman, Barry, Carey, Heffernan and Gallagher all started for Tipp against Galway in the All-Ireland U21 final, with Christy Coughlan, Gallagher and Kieran Morris introduced as subs against the Tribesmen two years ago.
The rule change introduced in 2011, whereby Tipperary could field senior club players for the county’s intermediate team, was another positive move, from a Premier County perspective.
But Ryan’s men had to fight hard for Tipp’s first intermediate title since 2000, as Kilkenny rallied from 12 points down at half-time to trail by just one with nine minutes remaining.
Tipp eventually came through with two points to spare but had goalkeeper James Logue to thank for a couple of stunning late saves to deny Rory Hickey from a 54th-minute penalty and a 20m free in stoppage time.
Logue, tipped as a future senior goalkeeper, was excellent throughout and blotted his copybook just once, when Geoff Brennan’s speculative long ball in the 42nd minute ended up in the net.
That score was part of a blistering Kilkenny run after half-time as the Cats hit 1-7 without reply, having trailed 0-6 to 3-9 at half-time.
Kilkenny, who were also runners-up in 2011, were 0-4 to 0-2 ahead in the early stages but Tipp, playing with the wind, embarked on a run of 2-6 without reply in front of 3,022 spectators at Semple Stadium.
By half-time, Tipp’s inside line of Morris, Heffernan and David Butler scored 3-6 between them.
Tipp’s interval lead looked a match-winning one but Kilkenny boss Pat O’Grady somehow inspired a massive second half from his players, as the Noresiders outscored the hosts by 1-11 to 0-4 after half-time.
Kilkenny were out early for the second half and O’Grady revealed: “There’s not a whole lot that you can say to them, only have a look at themselves and the jersey that they’re wearing. And ask themselves is that how they want to be remembered in an All-Ireland final? We left them to talk among themselves for a couple of minutes and gave them a bit of a talk then. We let them out then and to a man, they were raring to get out. They didn’t want to be remembered for that first half — they wanted to atone for that and they did that.”
Tipp boss Ryan admitted: “It was tense there in the second half. We hurled super stuff in the first half. We knew at half-time that Kilkenny were going to come back at us but we didn’t think they’d come as hard as they did.”
Ultimately, it was pride restored for Tipperary following the 18-point mauling in the senior semi-final against Kilkenny.
And Ryan added: “Hopefully there are players out there that can make the next step up. That is what this is used for.”
Scorers for Tipperary: M Heffernan 1-4, K Morris 1-3 (0-1f), D Butler 1-2, M Gleeson, P White, S Carey & P O’Dwyer 0-1 each.
Scorers for Kilkenny: R Hickey 0-8 (4f, 2 65s), G Brennan 1-0, K Kelly 0-3, N Walsh 0-2, B Kennedy, L Harney, J Lyng & JJ Farrell 0-1 each.
TIPPERARY: J Logue; C Coughlan, K O’Gorman, G Walsh; J Barry, E Connolly, R Sherlock; M Gleeson, P White; S Carey, D O’Brien, J Gallagher; K Morris, M Heffernan, D Butler.
Subs: R Ruth for Butler (38), E Sweeney for Gallagher (47), C Dillon for O’Brien (56), P O’Dwyer for White (56).
KILKENNY: R O’Neill; M Phelan, A Walsh, J Corcoran; B Kennedy, B Beckett, L Harney; J Lyng, P Murphy; N Walsh, R Hickey, K Kelly; R Walsh, JJ Farrell, G Aylward.
Subs: P Hartley for Murphy (19), M Malone for R Walsh (28), G Brennan for A Walsh (30+1), C Kenny for Farrell (60).
Referee: J Owens (Wexford).