Perhaps we should have expected it after a recent history of thrillers between these teams.
Still, though, this did catch us all by surprise.
It’s barely a week since the hurricane winds lifted the roof off the old stand in Nowlan Park, while the effect of the sustained early-year rainfall is evident in all the still-flooded fields around the city. Conditions around the country are still black wintry, so the near-9,000 diehards who ventured to the Park wouldn’t have been expecting this, nor indeed anything like it. But they got it, summer-style hurling and summer-style scoring.
Tipperary lost full-back Conor O’Mahony before throw-in, started with late call-up Thomas Stapleton as a direct replacement but with a few strange calls beyond that — sterling half-back Padraic Maher in midfield, Conor O’Brien at centre-back.
That certainly didn’t disrupt the visitors early on, however, and within 15 minutes of the throw-in they had three goals recorded, one each from the full-forward trio of Noel McGrath, teenager Jason Forde and veteran Seamus Callanan.
Oddly, the first two of those were directly related to lapses in the Kilkenny defence, lapses that would continue for the remainder of the half. There was one major mitigating factor, however — the wind, a gale blowing behind Tipperary.
Kilkenny did fight back, wing-forward Walter Walsh with four fine points from the right touchline, centre-forward Colin Fennelly cracking home the first of his three goals after TJ Reid’s shot had come back off the crossbar, so that on the 25th minute there was just a goal between them (3-5 to 1-8).
Tipperary then came with another surge, 1-4 without reply, Michael Cahill (shifted to midfield off the rampant Walsh) with two points and setting up Callanan for his second major.
Just before the break though, came probably Kilkenny’s most significant scores, 1-1 from a fired-up Henry Shefflin (the goal a truly sublime close-range finish) leaving them two goals behind at half-time, 4-9 to 2-9.
“The second goal kept them really close to us,” acknowledged Tipperary manager Eamon O’Shea; “I wasn’t overly concerned, I thought we were hurling well and I thought we had good resolve.”
Correct on both counts, and Tipperary continued to hurl well in the second half, continued to show good resolve. It was now a different game for them, however, facing into the gale against a much-changed Kilkenny side.
Gone from that first-half defence were newcomer Willie Phelan and veterans Brian Hogan and Tommy Walsh; in their places the outstanding Paul Murphy, team captain Lester Ryan (shifted from midfield to centre-back, shored up the middle) and Cillian Buckley.
Into the side also had come Richie Hogan, partnering the increasingly impressive Pádraig Walsh in midfield — all those changes improved Kilkenny, the fightback began, but really, this would now become the Colin Fennelly Show.
For years Colin has laboured in the considerable shadow of his big brother Michael, former Hurler of the Year; yesterday he stepped into the light. It wasn’t a one-man show by any means — along with those already mentioned Kilkenny also had sterling performances from defenders Kieran Joyce and Joey Holden, and from the hard-working TJ Reid and Mark Kelly up front.
In this half Fennelly scored 2-3 from play to add to the 1-2 he had recorded in the opening half. It was a tour de force, and more than Tipperary could withstand.
Seamus Callanan did continue his own scoring heroics at the other end, completed his own hat-trick in the 50th minute with a superb finish, added four second-half points in a game that was still in the balance with just seven minutes to go (tied 4-17 to 5-14).
After yet another scorching Fennelly run, however, it was full-forward Kelly muscling home Kilkenny’s fifth major, Fennelly firing over his final point between a fine brace from Richie Hogan.
All in all, magnificent.
Scorers for Kilkenny: C Fennelly 3-5; H Shefflin 1-5 (5f); W Walsh 0-5; M Kelly 1-1; R Hogan 0-2; P Walsh, TJ Reid, 0-1 each.
Scorers for Tipperary: S Callanan 3-6 (0-3f, 0-2 65s); N McGrath 1-3; J Forde 1-0; M Cahill 0-2; B Maher, P Murphy, J Woodlock, 0-1 each.
Kilkenny: D Herity; W Phelan, K Joyce, B Kennedy; J Holden, B Hogan, T Walsh; L Ryan (c), P Walsh; W Walsh, C Fennelly, H Shefflin; JJ Farrell, M Kelly, TJ Reid.
Subs for Kilkenny: P Murphy for Phelan (26); R Hogan for B Hogan (35); C Buckley for T Walsh (35);
E Larkin for Farrell (52); J Brennan for Fennelly (69).
Tipperary: D Gleeson; P Stapleton, T Stapleton, C Barrett; S McGrath, C O’Brien, M Cahill; P Maher, J Woodlock; K Bergin, P Murphy, B Maher (c); N McGrath, S Callanan, J Forde.
Subs for Tipperary: Patrick Maher for Forde (51); J O’Dwyer for Bergin (60); D Maher for S McGrath (63); M Heffernan for P Murphy (67); R Maher for O’Brien (69).
Referee: D Kirwan (Cork).