Game of inches adds up to a thriller

Kilkenny 3-22 Tipperary 1-28: The finest of fares. The finest of margins.

There have been many pretenders but this was the quintessential game of inches.

Those pesky units denied John O’Dwyer a score so audacious it would have been an appropriate finish to settle such a spectacle. But them blasted inches were all that separated Brian Hogan from a legitimate exchange with Pádraic Maher which, instead of giving O’Dwyer his chance from 90-plus metres out, could have been given the other way.

A few more inches past the 20m line and maybe, just maybe, Seamus Callanan and O’Dwyer would have made better fists of their penalties.

Perhaps we should be thankful for all them adding up and canceling each other out. What was delivered to us by these incredible men was monumental and can rightly take its place in the pantheon of finals, superseding what the counties offered up in 2009 and ’10. Although, right now asking more of the same on September 27 seems a mite greedy.

There was rarely a moment in this game which struggled to arrest the 82,179 crowd. From the moment Hawk-Eye made its introduction in the first minute to confirm that a Colin Fennelly point was good, the game gripped and its vice held.

Level on 12 occasions, six in each half, Tipperary pulled themselves alongside Kilkenny for the ultimate time when O’Dwyer craftily slotted over his seventh point of the game in the 68th minute.

On three occasions, they trailed by four points in the second half having led 1-13 to 1-11 at half-time. The damage had chiefly been done by TJ Reid and Richie Power’s second goal, his first coming in the 26th minute when Reid lost James Barry and Power showed composure to tap the ball past Darren Gleeson before finding the net.

His second had come after Reid blasted past a blind-sighted Gleeson in the first minute of the second half. Taking a delivery from Michael Fennelly, Power tapped the ball down to himself, soloed towards goal and unleashed a shot high into the corner.

The sides had been level for an 11th occasion just prior to the goal and Kilkenny kept ahead until three Tipperary points on the bounce in just over a minute. The super O’Dwyer fired over scores either side of one from substitute Jason Forde and parity was restored.

Receiving a clearance, Brian Hogan strode forward only to be met with Pádraic Maher, which Barry Kelly deemed was worth a free the Tipperary man’s way. O’Dwyer’s awesome shot was only marginally inaccurate.

A fair result at the end?

Yes and no. After what Richie Hogan offered in the second half with five points and so much more in general play, it would have been unjust on him to bow out without a medal. Just as apt was it that Tipperary didn’t lose having had two penalties saved.

That might not seem all that inequitable. After all, both Callanan and O’Dwyer’s shots could have been struck better. But we use the word ‘penalties’ loosely. Patrick ‘Bonner’ Maher and Lar Corbett had been brought down as they honed in on goal. Asking the placed ball-takers to score from outside the 20m line against three players with oversized hurleys hardly seemed rewards for Tipperary or punishments for Kilkenny.

However, Kilkenny too had reason to quibble about frees that somehow went un-blown for Eoin Larkin in the first half. Darren Gleeson’s challenge on the same player in the second half was risky too and went unpunished.

Power scored a brace but it was Larkin, Reid and Richie Hogan who galvanised their side both in the second half as they manufactured a lead and in the first when they were chasing a Tipperary side who had the better of general play.

Hogan’s switch with Michael Fennelly in the second half, Hogan moving to centre-forward, was a key one.

“He got some great scores and Michael Fennelly thundered into the game,” said Brian Cody. “But, look it, they’re flexible — they were probably more natural positions for both of them in lots of ways. Overall, it went well after that.”

Yet the defiance of Tipperary was something Kilkenny couldn’t shift. Corner-backs Paddy Stapleton and Cathal Barrett could hardly do more. Shane McGrath’s revival continued. O’Dwyer, Bonner Maher and Callanan? Mighty in making the ball stick.

Although, Kilkenny’s economy with their goal chances were better. That much might seem obvious, scoring three to Tipperary’s one, Bonner Maher claiming a ball behind Brian Hogan — was there a push? — and his shot seconds later deflecting off Eoin Murphy and over the goal-line.

Murphy was on his toes to send a Bonner Maher shot over the bar in the 57th minute. Earlier in the half, Lar Corbett, enjoying an excellent third quarter, smashed a strike past Murphy only for it to come back off the angle of the posts.

Eamon O’Shea wasn’t prepared to beat his attack up by their somewhat disappointing goal conversion rate. They had, in fairness, posted just one first-half wide with a success rate close to 90%.

“Look, they’re forwards, they work on instinct,” he said. “Sometimes these things turn out right, sometimes it doesn’t. You have to go with it. You can’t have an enquiry every time a guy takes a decision

Yesterday displayed plenty of them when neither team lost, neither team gained. The only winners on the day were us. Spectators of history. How privileged we should be.

Game-changer

Suppose you could pick out John O’Dwyer’s mammoth free which went inches wide but it was his 68th-minute point that ultimately tied up the game.

Talk of the town

Just where this final will rank not just in the titanic battles between the counties of late but in the greatest deciders of all time. On one viewing, we’d put it ahead of last season’s drawn final.

Did that just happen?

Hawk-Eye earned its corn by deciphering O’Dwyer’s 85-metre free went wide.

Best on show

Richie Hogan was exceptional in the second half and probably bested an excellent supporting cast of TJ Reid, Eoin Larkin and Cillian Buckley. Tipp had commanding displays from Noel McGrath, Bonner Maher, Cathal Barrett, Paddy Stapleton and Seamus Callanan. Bonner Maher’s duel with Paul Murphy was magnificent.

Sideline superior

It’s easy to suggest given the scoreline that it was honours even. But the move by Brian Cody to switch Richie Hogan and Michael Fennelly really paid off.

The man in black

A strange call against Eoin Larkin in first half and second penalty foul may have taken place outside area but Barry Kelly was largely at the top of his game.

What’s next?

For a third year in a row, it will take at least a second final meeting to decide the champions. They do it all again on Saturday, September 27 with 5pm a likely throw-in.

Scorers for Kilkenny: TJ Reid 1-8 (6f), R Power 2-1, R Hogan 0-6, E Larkin 0-2, C Fennelly, M Fennelly, C Fogarty, W Walsh, B Hogan 0-1 each.

Scorers for Tipperary: S Callanan 0-7 (2f), J O’Dwyer 0-7 (2f), Patrick Maher 1-1, N McGrath 0-4, S McGrath, L Corbett 0-2 each, J Woodlock, G Ryan, M Cahill, P Stapleton, J Forde 0-1 each.
 
Subs: M Cahill for G Ryan (49), E Kelly for Woodlock (61), J Forde for S McGrath (66), J O'Brien for S Callanan (70+1).

KILKENNY: E Murphy; J Tyrrell, JJ Delaney, J Holden; P Murphy, B Hogan, C Buckley; R Hogan, C Fogarty; C Fennelly, M Fennelly, E Larkin; R Power, TJ Reid, W Walsh.

Subs for Kilkenny: A Fogarty for W Walsh (48), P Walsh for J Holden (61), H Shefflin for C Fennelly (67), J Power for R Hogan (inj 70+1).

TIPPERARY: D Gleeson; C Barrett, J Barry, P Stapleton; K Bergin, B Maher, Padraic Maher; S McGrath, J Woodlock; G Ryan, L Corbett, Patrick Maher; J O’Dwyer, S Callanan, N McGrath.

Subs for Tipperary: M Cahill for G Ryan (50), E Kelly for S McGrath (67), J O’Brien for S Callanan (70+1).

Referee: B Kelly (Westmeath)



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