It’s amazing the difference a win makes to your week, starting with the long drive home. You can’t wait for The Marty Squad, The Sunday Game, the next day’s papers, the next week’s podcasts.
Your phone battery dies because you’ve watched too many highlight clips on Twitter. You can’t wait to watch back the live coverage on the Sky box. When your team loses, it’s the opposite — you’re trying to avoid it all. Putting your fingers in your ears and singing loudly.
In the last 10 years, Tipp fans have experienced both in equal measure: three All-Irelands lost, three won. That’s part of the magic of sport — that we, as spectators, knowingly set ourselves up for either joy or heartbreak, and then watch our collective fate unfold.
It was hard to tell at the outset which way the day would swing for Tipp. Lar’s astute warning on Up for the Match that Kilkenny were “already built” was echoing in our ears. The sky looked ominous.
In the interim between the minor and senior finals darkness descended on Croke Park, seeming more like a dirty day in November than an afternoon in August. TJ tapped over his second free to the rustle of several thousand raincoats and ponchos being rooted out of bags and thrown on.
The crowd huddled and shivered. Match programmes became protection for thighs, knees and even heads, the gloss laminate cover proving surprisingly rain resistant. Tipp were slow to get going and Kilkenny were mopping up all the breaking ball,unobtrusively slinking into a five-point lead.
Brian Hogan looked fit to cry when HawkEye again belatedly decided that one of his high catches was actually a point. If part of the ball passed over the crossbar (and let’s say, for the sake of argument, that it did), the resulting HawkEye graphic is far from convincing, seeming to place the sliotar several feet behind the posts.
Brian Hogan is a tall guy, but Stretch Armstrong he’s not, and HawkEye might be wise to iron out a few bugs ahead of the 2020 season — even if just for the sake of appearances. For Tipp, leadership came from an unexpected source.
Niall O’Meara, one of Tipp’s hardest-working forwards in the opening quarter, came up with a goal that was pure Bubbles — fancy footwork, skidding finish and all. A goal didn’t look remotely on when he received the ball, and he seemed to conjure the chance out of sheer force of will.
What a way to score your first ever championship goal and settle your team. It was the statement Tipp needed, and everything flowed from there. Then came the plot twist, or record scratch, depending on your perspective.
I didn’t see much from my seat in the Davin Stand. The big screen showed Cathal Barrett’s head snap back in real time but then demurely cut to black. Richie Hogan’s dismissal was a shock, partly because we have been culturally conditioned not to expect any big calls from refs in All-Ireland finals.
Nobody wants to be accused of ruining the occasion.
Having watched it back several times, and listened to Richie’s own testimony on Off the Ball, I think it’s clear that his intent was to hit Barrett a haymaker of a shoulder and send him sprawling out over the line. Win a sideline ball for Kilkenny and put a bit of manners on Barrett; you can see why he went for it. But when you go for the man and not the ball, it had better be an immaculate tackle — Kevin Moran on Joe Canning type stuff.
Because if something goes wrong — if your timing or aim are even marginally off — you lose the ref’s benefit of the doubt. You don’t have the figleaf of ‘I was going for the ball.’
I’m not alone among Tipp fans in being sorry to see Hogan go. When you beat Kilkenny you would rather not have any asterisk or caveat hanging over it — but beyond that, he’s a remarkable player to watch, in the Pat Fox pantheon of small scrappy ball-winners with great hands. He was Kilkenny’s best player in the 2016 final and this year’s decider was poorer for his departure.
At half-time there was a reluctance among Tipp fans to believe the sending-off would be an advantage; the fear was that it’d motivate Kilkenny too much. We’ve been burned so many times by the Cats that we can’t help but look gift horses in the mouth. But in the second half, the gift of Hogan’s dismissal was space.
Acres of it. At one stage, after a long high ball was pumped in on top of Colin Fennelly, Barry Heffernan had time to rise it in the square, turn, steady himself, and clear it from a standing position.
The diagonal ball began to carve up the Kilkenny half, resulting in two stunning goals and a handful of points before the Cats got wise to it.
And yet Tipp never lost the run of themselves. Their methodical short-passing game was frustrating to watch at times — as the repeated exhortations of ‘Ah Tipp, ye’re only messing!’ from the gentleman next to me (my dad) will attest. It was puzzling to see Noel McGrath pop the head up and fire the ball 30 yards when he was in space and had the range to put it over himself.
But Tipp’s discipline in sticking to the gameplan only underlined their faith in their management. The backroom team — impressively rattled off from memory by Seamie Callanan in the Hogan Stand — is a best-of, a veritable who’s who of past management set-ups and former All-Ireland winners. To have an ex-manager as a Maor Uisce is a rare luxury indeed.
It was as cathartic for fans to see Callanan accept the cup as it was to see Eoin Kelly lift it almost a decade ago. Two of Tipp’s most gifted forwards ever, receiving the game’s highest honour at the apex of their careers. Both players were old enough and had won and lost enough to know what it meant.
Callanan played a captain’s role all year, down to dropping an f-bomb in his post-match interview — we can only imagine in solidarity with Bubbles’ infamous 2016 expletive.
You’d wonder what Seamie has to do to win Hurler of the Year. Scoring nine points from play in an All-Ireland final, on top of a commanding season, wasn’t enough in 2016. This year he’s pulled off a different headline-grabbing feat — a goal in each of Tipp’s eight matches. One per game, a perfect symmetrical string; hurling as performance art.
That’s three All-Ireland medals, now, for Tipp’s golden generation of five: Callanan, McGrath, and Mahers Paudie, Bonner, and Brendan. That none were consecutive means that each feels distinct, singular. In a stellar decade of Tipperary hurling, there’s been no era of dominance.
Each time Tipp have won, they’ve had to figure it out as they go, invent new paths to glory.