This had been labelled a fallow season for Kilkenny, a time when they have been given dispensation to revive their crop.
As it turns out, their yields could be considerably more bountiful earlier than expected.
Brian Cody never mentions the phrase but borrowing from Éamonn Fitzmaurice’s parlance this would have been anticipated as a two-year project.
It may well turn out to be just that but here Tipperary, a team second favourites to regain an All-Ireland title back from Galway, were second best to a seemingly second-rate side.
Sure, Kilkenny had come into the game on the back of five straight wins but home advantage wasn’t expected to be enough to keep Tipperary from compensating for last year’s final embarrassment.
It wasn’t. This Kilkenny win was founded on gargantuan amounts of graft synonymous with Cody’s best teams and the winning of key individual battles. Paddy Deegan was a defiant figure for the entirety of the game. TJ Reid’s class shone out, as did the resilience of Walter Walsh to put behind him a shoddy first half with an electric second that started with a goal in the first minute and finished with a brace of points close to the end.
Tipperary will look for comfort in the fact Seamus Callanan, Patrick Maher, Dan McCormack, and Noel McGrath were marked absent yesterday. Michael Ryan touched on their absence following the match but then Brian Cody was without Colin Fennelly, Richie Hogan, and Paul Murphy.
No, the Munster side will have to go search again if they are to hang this latest Nowlan Park reverse, their eight in a row against Kilkenny, on that premise.
Both teams were as unconvincing in the first half as the official attendance that was given — 17,608 — when the 23,000-capacity Nowlan Park looked much fuller.
Tipperary, aided by a breeze, ended it 1-10 to 0-11 ahead but without much authority considering the ill thought-out way in which they were feeding their forwards.
At the same time, Michael Breen and Willie Connors were finding their markers particularly difficult.
John McGrath’s eye for goal was as sharp as ever in the 24th minute when he collected an Alan Flynn ball and rather than take a handy point picked out Forde who belted past Eoin Murphy.
Regardless of the half-time lead, Ryan was worried. “We didn’t get to the level, we simply didn’t get to the level and I was concerned from the off. This was not what we wanted to bring to Kilkenny. I just thought we were a little bit slow, a little bit lethargic and you can’t come down and expect to get a result with that kind of performance, it has to be of the highest level.”
Tipperary’s first touch left a lot to be desired also.
“It felt like a hot potato or it looked like a hot potato at times,” admitted Ryan.
“We didn’t show the composure we needed to show, that’s a credit to Kilkenny for their work-rate and they were quite the opposite as far as I could see.”
For whatever reason, Tipperary arrived back out onto the field several minutes later than Kilkenny, who appeared to be insulted by their tardiness. Walsh fetched above James Barry to claim a Conor Delaney ball and he bee-lined towards goal before finishing with authority.
Tipperary were back on level terms within three minutes but John Donnelly’s point sent Kilkenny into a lead that turned out to be permanent. Murphy played a major part in ensuring that when he made a wonderful save to prevent a goal from substitute John O’Dwyer a minute later but it was no let-off. The next three scores were Kilkenny’s, two of them Reid frees.
Tipperary’s discipline was once more amiss and 11 of Reid’s 15 points were punishments for indiscretions, four of them coming between the 48th and 54th minutes when Kilkenny really turned the screw.
Cody knew how valuable Reid was in that capacity as he was in the first half when he scored his team’s first point from play after 21 minutes.
“He’s been really consistent for us. And, I mean, that’s the level he’s at. TJ is on the team a long time now, an outstanding hurler, and he has to step up… he has to be the player he’s capable of being, not just a player who is tipping away at maybe scoring five or six points.
“He’s capable of playing at that level. That’s his ability, and his application has been terrific. His fitness levels are huge as well, so he’s reaping the benefits of the work he’s put into it.”
Forde was doing his best to keep Tipperary in touch with his own placed ball execution and the margin was five in the 58th minute but then Walsh claimed a quick brace and replacement Conor Fogarty followed a Forde sideline with a solo goal to push Kilkenny nine points clear.
Forde finished out the scoring when his 20-metre free was deflected over the goal-line.
The remaining six minutes of action were scoreless as the home side absorbed the powerpuff blows a beaten Tipperary threw at them.
Kilkenny are back, it will be exclaimed.
Thing is, they never went away.
T.J. Reid (0-15, 11 frees, 1 sideline); W. Walsh (1-2); C. Fogarty (1-0); J. Donnelly (0-2); E. Murphy (free), R. Leahy, M. Keoghan, L. Blanchfield (0-1 each).
J. Forde (2-12, 1-9 frees, 0-1 65, 0-1 sideline); J. McGrath (0-2); W. Connors, S. Curran, S. Kennedy (0-1 each).
E. Murphy; J. Holden, P. Walsh, P. Deegan; C. Delaney, C. Buckley (c), E. Morrissey; R. Leahy, J. Maher; M. Keoghan, T.J. Reid, J. Donnelly; A. Murphy, W. Walsh, B. Sheehan.
L. Blanchfield for A. Murphy (41); L. Scanlon for B. Sheehan (44); C. Fogarty for R. Leahy (48); C. Martin for J. Donnelly (63).
D. Mooney; A. Flynn, J. Barry, M. Cahill; B. Heffernan, R. Maher, P. Maher (c); B. Maher, S. Kennedy; S. Curran, B. McCarthy, J. McGrath; W. Connors, J. Forde, M. Breen.
J. O’Dwyer for M. Breen (h-t); C. Barrett for S. Kennedy (45); M. Russell for S. Curran (60); D. Maher for J. Barry (61).
A. Kelly (Galway).