As a gauge of how competitive the All-Ireland final was, the free-taking sequence for both sides tells an interesting story.
As a contest it was claustrophobic in its opening half but was changed completely by a red card just before the break: the ensuing space, and two goals early in the second half for the winners, meant the game loosened out considerably and was far more open.
In turn this meant far fewer frees. Kilkenny’s early dominance, though, was reflected clearly in the free count - not just TJ Reid’s proverbial accuracy, but in the number of frees they won in advantageous positions.
In the opening seven minutes alone, for instance, Kilkenny had three scorable frees awarded as they pressured Tipperary’s defence early on.
In fact, three of their first four frees were on or near the Tipp 20m line, a fair indication of the trouble being caused near the Premier goal and the need for Tipp defenders to stop up the way to goal at any cost. The only exception was Kilkenny’s second free, 50m out, but straight in front of the goal and Reid converted nervelessly.
In much the same period Tipperary struggled to gain traction in the Kilkenny half, particularly against a ravenous Cats half-back line. When they managed to get a foothold they won just two frees in that opening quarter, both of them eminently scoreable: Jason Forde obliged, but it showed not just that Tipp were having to fight hard to make headway, but that their opponents clearly held the upper hand.
Kilkenny’s physical dominance of their opponent continued, yielding two more frees before the 20th minute: the second was the most difficult chance Reid faced in the first half, from his own 65, but he found the target. At that point Kilkenny were looking good, and led 0-8 to 0-3.
Tipperary then enjoyed a spell on top, and their return from dead balls underlined that. First of all Forde pointed a 65 almost dead line with the posts, and soon after he tapped over a 30m free.
From the puck-out from that free Padraic Maher won the ball, and found Niall O’Meara, who hit Tipperary’s first goal. Tipp went looking for another goal from the puck-out and John McGrath tested Eoin Murphy at his near post; Murphy saved at the expense of a 65, with Forde again doing the honours.
That was the lead for Tipp for the first time, 1-6 to 0-8, on 27 minutes. Reid was unerring from two close-in frees won in the subsequent minutes but the half ended with a Noel McGrath free from 35m, the midfielder taking over temporarily as Forde got attention for a knock.
At half-time, then, the score was 1-9 to 0-11: 0-6 of Tipperary’s total had come from placed balls, but 0-8 of Kilkenny’s scores were from frees.
The second half was, of course, tilted somewhat by the sending-off late in the first half of Richie Hogan (for fouling Cathal Barrett in the Tipp half; no score accrued from the long-distance free which resulted).
As a result, Tipperary had a spare defender to sweep up, which greatly relieved the pressure on their backs: this is turn meant they were far less likely to leak frees, and in the third quarter Kilkenny only saw one opportunity - a Reid free practically from the sideline on halfway, which the Ballyhale man duly pointed.
Two goals early in the second half gave Tipperary valuable breathing space, and they didn’t need a free scored until the 55th minute, when Forde popped one over from just over 20m out.
With five minutes left Kilkenny were already spurning reasonable chances for points from frees, choosing instead to lob the ball in hopefully around for a goal to spark a revival.
On 69 minutes the Cats won a 20m free and Reid had to go for goal: Tipperary threw the shot back, however. Fittingly, the game ended on a Callanan free from 20m, which went straight over the bar.