A reasonable first-half gave way to second-half fireworks, with Kilkenny hitting two goals to lead, Tipperary responding with two goals to lead, and Richie Leahy hitting a winner.
Any game that finishes 2-22 to 2-21 needs parsing, and Tipperary manager, Michael Ryan, was happy to invite the media to figure out the twists and turns of a game that yielded 47 scores over 70 minutes. “That’s your job,” he said, with a smile. “Do ye want me to write it for ye, as well?
The smile was significant: this was a game with something for everyone. The supporters got a contest crackling with cameo, from Walter Walsh’s thunderous, doom-laden trundle (does anyone gather momentum like Walsh, apart, maybe, from Tom Devine?) to Brendan Maher’s elegant, smooth striking, as eternal as Rome.
It also assumed its due position in the pantheon of springtime entertainments offered up by Tipperary and Kilkenny, though Ryan’s counterpart was poker-faced when reminded that Kilkenny haven’t lost to Tipp at home since 2008. “I didn’t realise that, at all,” said Brian Cody. “That’s a statistic, but I’m not particularly into them.”
Tipperary and Kilkenny — and Galway, and Cork, and Waterford, and all the rest — are more concerned about the future and its uncertainties, and little wonder. The challenges of this summer’s championship, with its demands on strength and conditioning, its disruptive calendar, its emotional toll — all of those are never too far from consideration. The proof is close to hand. For all those who thought they heard ancestral voices prophesying war along the banks of the Nore yesterday, consider Cody’s reference to the absent Ger Aylward: “He’s ready-to-go. We are being very, very careful with him . . . he could have played today, but we weren’t prepared to take a chance on him. We got a nice bit of training into him, yesterday, to give him a further chance.”
Or Ryan’s answer, when asked if it occurred to him to throw in Padraic Maher or Noel McGrath to get his team over the line. “No, no. Would it have swung the match? We don’t know is the honest answer to that. We’ve got to learn, we’ve got to let our guys experience what it’s like to play top opponents, like Kilkenny, on their home patch, and experience it. That’s what hurling is all about.”
All managers are trying to do what Cody and Ryan are doing. Building the panel. Spreading the experience. Making sure that number 24 won’t be dazzled by the bright lights, if he has to make his debut in June. If you’re still doubtful, consider this post-game comment from yesterday: “We’re trying to spread the net as far as possible. Lads just jump up and take their chances; it’s not just plain-sailing. Lads who played well last Sunday just doesn’t go out and play fantastic today. That is not the real world; it’s all part of the education they get in these kinds of games.”
Or this one: “As I keeping saying, we are carrying almost 40 fellas. We’ve a lot of injuries, the squad is pretty depleted, at the moment, and we need everybody. We take a view that that’s fine. That’s why these guys get an opportunity to play here today. You couldn’t buy it.” (Cody was the first speaker. Ryan the second.) This is the over-arching strategy of all hurling managers. To create a functioning panel, and prevent a steep trailing-off in effectiveness the higher the squad number, is a challenge that overshadows winning and losing in the league.
Trace elements of this strategy are scattered here and there. Tipperary trying different players on the frees yesterday. Brian Cody making the most of Eoin Murphy’s absence to get a game into Darren Brennan in goal. Joey Holden’s shift at full-back. Ronan Maher
going into centre-back, despite TJ Reid’s display.
There were plenty of consolations. Mark Russell’s muscular beachhead, inside the Kilkenny 20-metre line, was one that Ryan and co will file away. Paddy Deegan’s channeling of Dick O’Hara in defence will have pleased the Cats’ sideline. (Not as much, maybe, as Lester Ryan’s storming block in the second-half. “It was a great block,” said Cody, whose inner defender shone through describing the incident. “I could see the ball being thrown up, the wind-up, it looked a point. That is what you want. People talk about skill. That is a terrific skill. Fair play to Lester on that.”)
Sun Tzu sketched the difference out for bainisteoirs in China a couple of years ago: all men can see these tactics whereby I conquer, but what none can see is the strategy out of which victory is evolved. Check back in with us in June, for an update.
TJ Reid (0-13, 7 frees, 2 65s, 0-1 pen), W. Walsh, L. Scanlon (1-0 each); R. Leahy (0-3); J. Maher, L. Blanchfield, P. Lyng, C. Browne, R. Reid, A. Murphy (0-1 each).
M. Breen (2-9, 6 frees); B. Maher (0-4); N. O’Meara (0-3); C. Darcy, S. Curran, B. McCarthy, M. Russell, R. Maher (sideline) (0-1 each).
D. Brennan, E. Morrissey, J. Holden, P. Deegan, C. O’Shea, C. Buckley, C. Browne, J. Maher, L. Blanchfield, M. Keoghan, TJ Reid, P. Lyng, R. Leahy, W. Walsh, L. Scanlon.
A. Murphy for Blanchfield (47); L. Ryan for Lyng (50); R. Reid for Keoghan (60); C. Martin for Scanlon (65).
D. Mooney, A. Flynn, T. Hamill, S. O’Brien, S. Kennedy, J. Barry, D. Maher, B. Maher, R. Maher, S. Curran, B. McCarthy, P. Maher, G. Browne, M. Breen, N. O’Meara.
M. Russell for Browne (HT); C Darcy for O’Meara (inj, 42).
A. Kelly (Galway).