Tipperary won’t give a care and who could blame them? They’re number one, it’s All-Ireland number two for Liam Sheedy and number three for those older players he felt so compelled to return to the sideline to steer to glory.
The most one-sided All-Ireland final since 2008, Tipperary’s biggest win over their neighbours since they won the decider by the same margin in 1964, it was coloured by the loss of Richie Hogan to a red card two minutes before the end of regulation-time in the first-half. But was it a deciding factor?
Tipperary, after a start almost as shaky as their semi-final performance against Wexford, had settled by the time Hogan departed, so much that they were leading Kilkenny by a point at that stage having been five points in arrears in the 21st minute.
Indiscipline has been an issue for Tipperary going right back to the opening day win over Cork on May 12 and by half-time TJ Reid had eight frees to his name. The downpour of rain that beset the opening 10 minutes was to neither team’s liking but the movement and support play of Kilkenny was standing out, as was Walter Walsh’s presence on the half-forward line.
Some of their Tipperary fouling was on the side of professional as Kilkenny were on the verge of breaking through. Afterwards, Sheedy made reference to the lack of sharpness among his players on the field before the ball was thrown-in: “I even felt in the warm-up, I just felt guys were a little bit – we went to some balls that normally on a Tuesday night in Thurles they pick them and they’re gone, we just didn’t have our flow.”
And yet, this turned out to be Tipperary’s fourth clean sheet out of eight games this summer, their first since their final provincial round-robin game against Limerick in Thurles. Brian Hogan’s goal-line was breached on six occasions in the three games that followed but here it remained intact.
It remained that way because of interventions like John McGrath’s hook on Colin Fennelly in the second minute and the downright belligerence of their defensive unit to deny Kilkenny in the second half, Barry Heffernan and Ronan Maher being the main heroes.
But in the opening half it seemed Tipperary were under serious pressure defensively. By the 21st minute, Kilkenny had opened a 0-8 to 0-3 lead but only two of their scores had come from play. TJ Reid was the executioner as infringements on Conor Browne, John Donnelly, Reid, Walter Walsh and Richie Hogan all produced points.
Tipperary, too, weren’t doing much in the way of scoring from open play, Michael Breen’s fourth-minute score only one of three points from play in the first-half. True, Seamus Callanan deserved a penalty in the eighth minute having twice been fouled by Huw Lawlor, first outside the large rectangle and then in it, but his team were a distant second.
A rejig of positions, as it did in their semi-final, transformed Tipperary, though. After Forde’s placed balls had brought them to within three points, Pádraic Maher had been redirected to right-wing back where Walsh had been dominating.
After Forde had penalised a free by Conor Fogarty on Brendan Maher, Pádraic caught the resultant puck-out, supplied Kennedy who sent a diagonal ball into O’Meara. The forward passed to Forde and received a clever handpass in return. O’Meara then soloed, weaved his way past the Kilkenny defence and sent a skidding, low shot past Eoin Murphy; Tipperary were back in business.
A Forde 65 followed and although Kilkenny returned fire with Reid (free) and John Donnelly (HawkEye) to go ahead once more, it was short-lived as Kennedy and John McGrath sent over points.
Hogan’s moment of madness followed in the 33rd minute, the former hurler of the year taking exception to another Cathal Barrett sidestep and while such incidents have merited yellow cards in the past, James Owens made the call to send him to the line, an astonished Hogan receiving some words from Brian Cody as he crossed back over the whitewash.
Cracking down on head-high challenges has been an official Croke Park directive this year but Cody was queasy about the decision.
All I will say about the red card is that it appeared to me that the referee was absolutely not certain what to do. And then he decided he would give him a red card. That is what he decided. You better talk to him.
Cody was magnanimous, though hurt by what happened. What may have disappointed him more was just how his team srruggled in the second half. Tipperary went into the turnaround a point up, 1-9 to 0-11, but the distance had grown to five just five minutes into the new half.
Reid had actually equalised with his ninth free but then came the barrage - Callanan following up on a John McGrath shot to continue his fantastic run of goals in this year’s championship and tagging on a point for good measure. John O’Dwyer opened his account a minute later and from getting back to business, Tipperary were now looking it.
O’Dwyer’s 42nd minute goal, superbly set up by Callanan, put Tipperary eight up. Kilkenny weren’t short of possession but what they were doing with it was meat and drink to the Tipperary defenders.
As they were with the slow Tipp start and the HawkEye shout, the echoes of the Wexford game were there as they were in the substitutes getting in on the scoring act, this time five points being supplied from the bench.
With O’Dwyer’s second point in the 64th minute, he raised a fist as if to signify the end, Tipperary going 10 points up with his long-range effort. Sheedy had once again delivered.