Michael Ryan’s stamp delivers title for Tipperary tigers

Tipperary 2-29 Kilkenny 2-20: Just how “bloody arrogant” can you get? On the Irish Examiner podcast this past week, former Offaly hurler Daithí Regan mentioned how Tipperary aren’t lacking in the confidence department. After being under Kilkenny’s thumb these last five seasons, they had been given every reason to keep their optimism in check but then they produce a meteoric performance like this and combust any sense of inferiority. Indian sign? What Indian sign?

The sight of Michael Ryan smiling and laughing on Croke Park’s big screens as Richie Hogan desperately flung his hurley to stop an errant TJ Reid pass in the final minute of action seemed to peeve those Kilkenny supporters who remained on for additional time even though the game was more than up on their team’s three-in-a-row hopes.

Fuel for the 2017 fire, perhaps, but it’s Tipperary’s inferno that now burns the brightest.

Coupled with the minors’ victory, it was the first double for Tipperary since 1949 on what was a day of so many firsts for the county.

Their first All-Ireland SHC title for Munster champions in 11 years. The first All-Ireland SHC title for winning Munster quarter-finalists since 1995. The first championship win over Kilkenny at the sixth time of asking. And a first All-Ireland title for a debutant manager since Michael Bond with Offaly in 1998.

As a selector, Michael Ryan has been around the block with this group but the newness he has brought with him since taking the baton from Eamon O’Shea, so evident in the Munster SHC, was here for all to see when it was required most.

The strength of character to respond with 1-4 to Kevin Kelly’s early second-half goal had been evident in seeing off Limerick with 14 men in a provincial semi-final. The aggressiveness was shown yesterday in emerging from so many congregations with the ball in hand.

The honesty illustrated in the determination of the Tipperary attack to snatch and strip Kilkenny backs as they attempted to clear their lines.

The elements O’Shea brought to the Tipperary set-up were still there – the emphasis on movement and skill have never been sacrificed but married with the rugged, artisan hurling Ryan has championed it is quite the package.

The indicators were there in the first-half when, although the teams were level on 10 occasions, Tipperary went into the break ahead 0-12 to 0-10 but having created almost double the amount of scoring opportunities.

Kilkenny were banking on Reid’s free-taking whereas all but John O’Dwyer’s free that finished out the half came from play. By the half hour mark, all of Tipperary’s six forwards had raised a white flag. In contrast, just three of Kilkenny’s attack managed points from play in that period.

However, the Cats had a couple of goal chances. Darren Gleeson was sharp to deny Colin Fennelly in the 18th minute and then Eoin Larkin struck a ground shot wide after a long delivery from Reid.

At the same time, Seamus Callanan could have goaled with his final point of the half and Patrick Maher also blazed over after another ball was stolen from a Kilkenny hand.

The pressure exerted on Kilkenny’s backs could hardly have been more crushing. Noel McGrath and Seamus Kennedy were two men who profited from steals with scores. It was no wonder Michael Ryan was happy.

“To be honest, from the off I was very happy with the nip and tuck nature of the game. I thought we were right up there. And there was nothing in it, it ebbed and flowed but we felt the vital period was yet to come, and that was the whole of the second-half.”

A Callanan free opened the gap to three in the first minute of the second-half but Kilkenny came back with a brace prior to Kelly’s goal, a result of Walter Walsh finding Liam Blanchfield whose ground stroke found its way to Kelly to scoop to the net.

“Kilkenny have that knack of lifting the intensity and forcing you to make errors and paying big prices for it when they get that chance,” said Ryan. “For us, it didn’t materialise like that, thankfully.

"At no stage in the game did I feel like we were out of it. I know Kilkenny got that goal to drive them up two points, I think, at the time, but if anything that helped our guys refocus again.”

Indeed, Kilkenny goals are often portents of doom but Tipperary weren’t buying that on this occasion. Callanan points either side of a Jason Forde point came before O’Dwyer’s 48th minute goal.

Cathal Barrett battled his way out of defence and delivered into the top left corner where O’Dwyer was able to round Paul Murphy and shoot low and hard past Eoin Murphy.

Tipperary were playing without fear and O’Dwyer looked in for a second goal only for goalkeeper Murphy to deny him – passing the ball across to Callanan may have been the wiser option but O’Dwyer had found himself in a similar scenario to his goal against Galway.

Forde and John McGrath then had attempts at finding the net only to be denied by Murphy and the leg of a Kilkenny defender respectively but Pádraic Maher was on hand to at least make the attack count with a point.

A Reid free ended the siege but only temporarily as Callanan added a free and then, after John McGrath found his range, a gorgeous score from play.

At the other end, Gleeson was sharp to deny Kelly a second goal. Padraig Walsh did add a brace of points but each of them were cancelled out by Tipperary efforts as was a Reid free by Forde’s second.

A Kelly sideline was bettered by John McGrath’s goal, which was put on a plate for him when Noel McGrath intercepted Shane Prendergast, all of it coming in the 61st minute. Nine points up, the game was Tipperary’s.

Hogan had his fist raised aloft seconds later when he pulled on a loose ball past Gleeson in the wake of Fennelly making a dart for the posts but it triggered nothing but another wave of Tipperary score to see out a most deserved 27th All-Ireland title for them.

Brian Cody’s synopsis of the game was sobering as it was extremely matter of fact.

“I think the usual thing after an All-Ireland final, the better team wins the game. The better team won today. There are no excuses, there is no if only this had happened or only if that had happened.

“There was nothing in it at half-time essentially, the first half was just toing and froing I suppose — two points in it at half-time. We got a good start to the second-half, we got a goal, but we didn’t drive it on after that. When they got their goal they did drive it on. They were very, very good.”

If it was arrogance, it never looked as good.

Scorers for Tipperary:

S Callanan (0-13, 3 frees, 1 65); J O’Dwyer (1-5, 0-1 sideline, 0-1 free); J McGrath (1-3); J Forde, Patrick Maher (0-2 each), N McGrath, S Kennedy, D McCormack, Pádraic Maher (0-1 each).

Scorers for Kilkenny:

TJ Reid (0-11, 10 frees, 1 65); K Kelly (1-2, 0-1 sideline); R Hogan (1-1); E Larkin, P Walsh (0-2 each); W Walsh, C Buckley (0-1 each).

TIPPERARY:

D Gleeson; C Barrett, J Barry, M Cahill; S Kennedy, R Maher, Pádraic Maher; B Maher (c), M Breen; D McCormack, Patrick Maher, N McGrath; J McGrath, S Callanan, J O’Dwyer.

Subs:

J Forde for M Breen (45); N O’Meara for D McCormack (62); D Maher for M Cahill (65); K Bergin for N McGrath (70); T Hamill for S Kennedy (70+3).

KILKENNY:

E Murphy; P Murphy, J Holden, S Prendergast (c); P Walsh, K Joyce, C Buckley; TJ Reid, C Fogarty; W Walsh, R Hogan, E Larkin; K Kelly, C Fennelly, L Blanchfield.

Subs:

R Lennon for K Joyce, L Ryan for E Larkin (both 60).

Referee:

B Gavin (Offaly).



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