Kilkenny edge out Tipp to win National League

Kilkenny 2-26 Tipperary 4-17 (after extra-time)

Kilkenny 2-26 Tipperary 4-17 (after extra-time)

Kilkenny have been crowned NHL Division 1 champions for the first time since 2006 after slugging out a hard-fought extra-time triumph over last year's winners Tipperary.

The All-Ireland champions and arguably their closest current rivals played out a superb game at Semple Stadium which really lit the touch paper for the Championship summer.

In the end, four points in the second half of extra-time from Richie Hogan (2), Eoin Larkin and Eddie Brennan steered the Cats to glory.

Speaking afterwards, man-of-the-match Hogan, who top-scored with 1-10, said: "It was great to win it, it’s always great to win finals whether they are Leinster, League or All-Ireland.

"We beat Tipperary convincingly a few weeks ago, but we knew it was half a fluke. Tipperary are a fantastic team and it took a huge effort to beat them here today."

The one disappointing aspect from today's showpiece hurling league finals in Thurles - Offaly beat Wexford in the Division 2 curtain raiser - was the poor attendance of 17,087.

Especially when you consider last year's Division 1 final, which saw Tipperary beat Galway at the Gaelic Grounds in Limerick, drew a similarly poor crowd of 16,365.

Captain for the day, Henry Shefflin, landed two early points for Kilkenny but Tipperary had the wind at their backs in the opening half and they soon exploded into life.

Determined to make up for their 5-17 to 1-12 defeat by Brian Cody's men in March, Tipp hounded the Kilkenny defence into a series of errors and James Woodlock was on hand to kick the sliotar to the net for the game's opening goal.

There was a real Championship intensity to the tie and after a well-taken point from Shane McGrath, Tipp skipper John O'Brien broke through for his side's second major.

Kilkenny were once again knocked off the ball, this time Seamus Callanan barged Kilkenny centre-back Brian Hogan over with a thunderous shoulder charge that led to Hogan being stretchered off.

The ball was scooped up by Shane McGrath who sent a superb cross-field delivery over to the unmarked O'Brien who raced through and drilled a smart finish to the bottom left corner of PJ Ryan's net.

Hogan's replacement Martin Comerford got involved in an off-the-ball tussle with Declan Fanning and the pair were yellow carded, with Michael Grace and Brendan Maher coming on for them.

By the quarter-hour mark, Tipp were 2-2 to 0-2 to the good after a Woodlock point.

But Kilkenny were starting to click in attack. Brennan ended a long, scoreless spell for Cody's side with a neat point, Aidan Fogarty followed up with another and then, just moments later, it looked like the Emeralds clubman had banged home a legitimate goal.

Fogarty's effort, a well-struck shot from a tight angle, was set up by a pass from Shefflin but the match officials disallowed it after the Kilkenny captain was adjudged to have stepped over the sideline before he played the ball forward.

Callanan, who was in excellent form from long range frees, stretched Tipp's advantage to 2-4 to 0-4 and the sides went point-for-point for most of the remainder of the first half.

Shefflin added two more points to his tally, Callanan and Fogarty traded scores before Shane and Noel McGrath both raised white flags in injury-time.

Tipperary's long-standing goalkeeper Brendan Cummins also showed his class, late in the half, as he produced an excellent full-length save to deny Shefflin a certain goal. The ball was swiftly spread downfield for Noel McGrath's point.

The excitement levels cranked up again on the restart when the sides swapped goals in the space of a minute.

Lar Corbett burst through the centre of Kilkenny's defence and laid off for Callanan to crash home past Ryan.

But the Kilkenny net minder fired a long puck-out down, immediately afterwards, and Tipp were left shellshocked when the ball broke for the 20-year-old Hogan to fire home to the net from a tight angle.

A Callanan free moved Tipp two goals ahead at 3-8 to 1-8 and Kilkenny suffered a considerable blow on 41 minutes when Shefflin was yellow carded for a dangerous pull, with James 'Cha' Fitzpatrick replacing him.

But Shefflin's departure seemed to rouse Kilkenny into action again and Hogan pointed from a free and from play, sandwiching a Noel McGrath score, before Fogarty billowed the net with a stinging, low shot in the 50th minute.

The gap was suddenly down to two points and there was all to play for.

Noel McGrath, who operated as a third midfielder, exchanged points with Hogan and Tipp mustered two more quick scores from McGrath and O'Brien to stretch their lead to four.

However, Kilkenny were not going to give up without a fight. Hogan converted a free and the Cats picked up two more points, making it a one-point game with just five minutes remaining.

Callanan and Hogan swapped frees but Kilkenny's tails were up when substitute Grace did well to create the equalising point for Fogarty.

The tension increased as Callanan was wide with a late free from distance and TJ Reid miscued a sideline cut which could have decided it in normal time.

It was advantage Kilkenny when, in the second minute of injury-time, Hogan brought his personal tally to 1-7 with an excellent free from the right.

But a controversially-awarded free, just a minute later, was converted by Noel McGrath and extra-time was called for with the sides finishing normal time level at 3-14 to 2-17.

Kilkenny looked the stronger in the first half of extra-time. Early points from Reid and Fogarty edged them ahead, before Callanan replied at the other end.

Hogan teed up Reid for another point, moving Cody's charges into a two-point lead again.

Kilkenny needed a goal-line clearance from Tommy Walsh to keep a shot from Micheal Webster out and Tipp had the last say of the half when Callanan cut the gap to the minimum with another pointed free.

Tipp's fourth goal arrived early in the second period of extra-time when Noel McGrath cracked the ball home, but subsequent points from Reid and Hogan squared an intriguing game up again at 4-16 to 2-22.

Quick as you like, Kilkenny left Liam Sheedy's men for dead. The superb Hogan landed a free and followed up with a point from play before Eoin Larkin gave his side a three-point buffer with as many minutes remaining.

Tipp's chances of mounting a late comeback rested on a close range free, which goalkeeper Cummins strode forward to take. The Premier county craved a goal but the Ballybacon-Grange clubman's powerful shot skimmed over the crossbar and registered a point.

It was not enough as despite some late Tipperary pressure, Kilkenny sealed the win with a sublime 100-yard point from Brennan.

A stunning finish to a game that certainly wet appetites for the Championship campaign.

Tipperary: B Cummins (0-1, 0-1f); P Stapleton, P Curran, C O’Brien; Pádraic Maher, D Fanning, S Maher; T Stapleton, S McGrath (0-2); L Corbett, S Callanan (1-7, 0-7f), J Woodlock (1-1); N McGrath (1-5, 0-1f), M Webster, J O’Brien (1-1).

Subs used: B Maher for Fanning (13 mins, yellow), H Maloney for S Maher (14), B Dunne for Maloney (58), S Hennessy for Woodlock (62), D Fitzgerald for Stapleton (70), Patrick Maher for Webster, E Buckley for Pádraic Maher (both 80).

Kilkenny: PJ Ryan; M Kavanagh, JJ Delaney, J Tyrrell; T Walsh, B Hogan, J Ryall; J Tennyson, M Rice; R Hogan (1-10, 0-7f), H Shefflin (0-4, 0-1f, 0-1 '65'), E Larkin (0-1); E Brennan (0-2), TJ Reid (0-4, 0-1sl), A Fogarty (1-5).

Subs used: M Comerford for Hogan (11 mins), M Grace for Comerford (13, yellow), J 'Cha' Fitzpatrick for Shefflin (42, yellow), S Cummins for Kavanagh (78, yellow).

Referee: John Sexton (Cork)

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