Since that famous day in September 2010 when Tipperary ended Kilkenny’s record All-Ireland five-in-a-row bid, the Premier County had struggled against the Cats, had lost their last four competitive meetings (two championship, two league) and were now trying to prevent yet another Kilkenny five-in-a-row.
It hadn’t helped Tipperary’s cause that they had been shellacked by Cork in the league opener, pressure added here in that Kilkenny were without five established first-teamers, former hurlers-of-the-year (Henry Shefflin, Michael Fennelly) and multiple All-Stars (Jackie Tyrrell, Michael Rice and TJ Reid), plus newcomers Cillian Buckley and Walter Walsh.
In front of their home fans then, Tipp really needed this win.
They got it, but only just, as a dogged Kilkenny with relative unknowns Conor Fogarty, Paddy Hogan and Lester Ryan taking a big step forward, almost caught them at the death.
“We won a really competitive game, a really honest game, a really enjoyable game,” said new Tipperary manager Eamon O’Shea; “It could have gone either way, they could have got a one-point win but we got it and the team is still alive.”
In near freezing conditions made worse by wind and sleet, Tipp raced three points in front after three minutes.Yet despite playing into the face of that wind and rain, Kilkenny were soon on level terms (0-4 each) , on 14 minutes. A minute later Richie Hogan cracked home a goal, capitalising on a long Lester Ryan centre.
Sometimes, in a game like this, though you need a little luck and in the 27th minute Tipperary got it, a high centre from centre-back Conor O’Mahony deflecting to the net off the helmet of corner-forward John O’Dwyer, a freak ‘header’ that regained the lead for Tipperary. They would never again relinquish that advantage.
A feature of O’Shea’s previous involvement with Tipperary, as coach of the side that won that 2010 All-Ireland title, was the marked improvement in the mercurial Lar Corbett’s play. Already this year, in just two league games, that has again been evident. Introduced as a sub against Cork, the Thurles Sars man notched two fine points and was centrally involved in Tipp’s second half comeback. Here again he was to the fore (as was another veteran, Eoin Kelly), already had a fine point to his name when, in the 33rd minute, he did what he does so well and ghosted in behind the defence to flick home an underhit Padraic Maher shot.
“It was nice for Larry to get the goal and a point,” said O’Shea. “He stayed working all through the game, that’s all you can ask of him, but he has a lot of work to do as well.”
That goal helped the home side to a six-point half-time lead, 2-11 to 1-8, but with the wind now going to favour Kilkenny, all in the shivering crowd of 5,697 knew, this one would go to the wire. In the second half it was Kilkenny applying the pressure, wing-forward Eoin Larkin to the fore, and the Tipp defence began to crack, conceding points from play and placed balls, Richie Power doing the bulk of the scoring, the Hogan brothers Paddy (2) and Richie also chiming in.
By the 59th minute it was back to a one-point game, 2-14 to 1-16, Tipperary fighting to hold on after a Kilkenny four-point run, but substitutes Seamus Callanan and Shane Bourke steadied the ship with a superb point apiece. Kilkenny did score the last two points of the game but Tipperary held on and just about deserved to do so.
As for Kilkenny, how long since they lost their opening two games of the league? “I don’t know, to be honest,” said Brian Cody; “It’s not the start we would have wanted. We’re down at the bottom of the table but we’re not throwing in the towel. Three teams will qualify for (the quarter-finals) and we’ll fight hard to try and get up the table.”
Tommy Walsh (Kilkenny) and Noel McGrath (Tipp), both departed the game early for innocuous second yellow cards though the former’s departure sparked an angry exchange on the sideline between Brian Cody and a member of the Tipperary backroom staff.
Scorers for Tipperary: E Kelly 0-9 (7f, 0-1 65); L Corbett 1-1; J O’Dwyer 1-0; P Bourke 0-2 (1f); P Maher, B Maher, N McGrath, S Bourke, S Callanan, 0-1 each.
Scorers for Kilkenny: R Power 0-9 (8f, 0-1 65); R Hogan 1-2; E Larkin 0-2; P Hogan 0-2 (1f); A Fogarty, M Ruth, C Fennelly, 0-1 each; P Curran 0-1 (own point).
Subs for Tipperary: S O’Rourke (Ryan 51); S Callanan (O’Dwyer 57); T Hamill (O’Mahony 58); B O’Meara (P Bourke 61); J Forde (O’Brien 66).
Subs for Kilkenny: K Joyce (B Hogan 47); T Breen (Ruth 52); G Aylward (Kelly 65).
Referee: M Wadding (Waterford)