Into the pantheon of classic league games this will rank with other gems like Cork v Kilkenny 2016, Kilkenny v Tipperary in 2014, and Kilkenny v Dublin 2012 (note the common denominator).
Matches at this time of year aren’t expected to be perfect, not when players’ preparations are laden with physical work and less with skill, the turf has yet to turn, and, in Saturday’s situation, the presence of floodlights. Indeed, the second half was strewn with errors. Nevertheless, this gripping encounter will underline that no pairing thrills more than these two. From 2009 on, they have provided some of the greatest sport seen in this country.
What’s more, the appetite to see them rut continues to grow. The 14,763 crowd on Saturday, while augmented slightly by the football curtain-raiser, was up on the corresponding 10,421 attendance in Thurles two years ago and the 10,982 in Nowlan Park for last year’s fixture.
Having had more than enough reason to watch the game back yesterday morning, we can vouch that it was just as enthralling on second viewing. Eir should be thrilled to have televised such a spectacle but how many missed out on it?
On Twitter, Newstalk journalist and Kilkenny native Kieran Cuddihy expressed his frustrations at half-time: “22 scores in the first half in Thurles. Only on subscription tv. Meanwhile the national broadcaster is showing teenage rugby.” Eir do package the GAA coverage well but it’s at times like Saturday when RTÉ’s seven months without live Gaelic games becomes so apparent. That will become eight with the introduction of August All-Ireland finals from next year.
After Sunday’s game, Kilkenny chairman Ned Quinn exclaimed in the direction of a few journalists coming down the tunnel under Semple Stadium’s Kinane Stand to interview Brian Cody that “we’re not dead yet!”
In 2012, Quinn remarked to journalists, again in a tunnel but this time in O’Moore Park, to “keep writing about the football, boys!” It came after Kilkenny had seen off Dublin by 18 points in a Leinster semi-final some in the media had predicted they would lose. Few do class better than Kilkenny but they are no slackers when it comes to being indignant either. On Saturday, they showed they aren’t going anywhere.
Their 100% record becomes an unbeaten record but a win or a draw against Cork in 13 days’ time and Tipperary will have gone 12 months without a defeat. They will take some encouragement from their finish to this game although it was evident they were rusty in some of their decision-making and the pressure Kilkenny were putting them under was not something they had yet experienced. In Saturday’s Irish Examiner, Larry Ryan suggested with only part of his tongue in his cheek that Tipperary may want to rein in all the glowing reports about them so as to avoid the praise affecting them negatively. A draw was the perfect way of doing just that.
When Sky Sports joined the GAA’s media rights stable in 2014, some of the Irish reaction to first-time viewers like Joey Barton and their feelings about Gaelic games was embarrassing. So much attention was paid to what others thought about us that it underlined our insecurities.
When they spoke positively, we were like a chorus of Sally Field’s in her Oscar acceptance speech in 1984 — “you like me, you really like me”. On Saturday evening, Scottish National Party MP Angus MacNeil tweeted: “What a game.... pulse raising.” MacNeil, who has a shinty background, would be no stranger to hurling. It was the type of acclaim the game can easily accept.
Kilkenny supporters in the Ryan Stand in Thurles were audibly frustrated when Cillian Buckley was denied what looked to be a point in the 18th minute. Positioned behind Buckley, they would have had a better view of his score attempt than those in the Kinane Stand.
When it became clear that HawkEye was not in operation, their angst grew.
HawkEye is expected to be on call for Tipperary and Cork’s Munster opener on May 21 but if the score detection technology can be used for league games in Croke Park, then why can’t the same be applied in Semple Stadium?