John Allen, an ex-intercounty manager these past few years, will surely be surprised to find himself popping up not merely in this article today but in its very intro. There’s a very good reason why.
The 2006 All-Ireland final, y’see. Allen, boss of the defeated Cork team, who incidentally were chasing three in a row, has never been able to bring himself to watch the video of the game. After yesterday he’ll never have to. All he needs to do is watch the video of this game instead.
For red and white then read black and amber now. For black and amber then read blue and gold now.
What Tipperary did to Kilkenny, John, was exactly what Kilkenny did to your boys ten years ago. They outworked them in defence and attack, hassled them into insensibility, forced a world-record number of turnovers - and then cut their throats.
Michael Ryan got the blend of his cloth perfect. Fifty per cent steel, 50 per cent satin. Coming to a gentleman’s outfitters near you shortly.
Not quite as cerebral as Eamon O’Shea’s brand – there, by the by, is a man whose role in helping to make this team what it became shouldn’t be forgotten – but beautiful nonetheless.
The high priests of intensity were out-intensitied, if that’s a word (and if it wasn’t before it is now). What was it Shakespeare said about inventing instruments that proceed to come back and plague the inventor?
Something like that anyway. Kilkenny got out-Kilkennyed.
Look at the goal that put the winners nine points up with nine minutes remaining. Kilkenny in possession in defence, Tipperary pressure forcing yet another turnover and Noel McGrath setting up his little brother for the matador’s thrust.
All afternoon the challengers had been content to pick off their points, up to the moment John O’Dwyer changed the order of business with that collector’s item of a goal. Now the game was afoot and Tipperary scented blood.
There was a reason why they’d managed 12 points from play in the first half and Kilkenny only six. One team was functioning smoothly and creating the space for scores from play. The other crowd were hanging in there and relying on TJ Reid to do his stuff from frees.
Far from triggering one of the holders’ patented third-quarter surges it turned out that Kevin Kelly’s goal six minutes after the restart had brought about a mini avalanche at the other end. In the ten minutes it took Brian Cody’s team to get their next score after Kelly’s effort, Tipp hit them for 1-4. The dynamic had changed utterly alright. Just not in the way we might have expected.
Two years ago Tipperary hit 1-28 against the men in stripes and didn’t win. Here they hit 2-29 and were worth every point of their margin of victory, plus a point or two on top of it. Senior champions, minor champions and the jubilee team. Truly their pint glass of Clonmel chardonnay doth runneth over.
Yet here’s the odd part. Humongous finishing tally or not, this final was won in defence as much as it was won in attack. That Seamus Callanan finished with nine points from play said plenty about his talent. It also said plenty about both the quality and the quantity of the ball coming into him. Kilkenny were unable to cut off the supply at the tap, their forward line asphyxiated by the ferocity of the opposition’s tackling.
This was the day that all those near-misses, all those years of pent-up frustration, found their vent. It may well also prove to be the day that gives a new lease of life to the longer serving Tipperary players. Defeat would have resurrected all the old questions about them. Instead, should they desire it, the rest of their hurling lives starts today.
It might be argued that the quantity of good hurling they’ve done since 2010 entitled them to win a second All-Ireland.
But sport doesn’t work that way. Triumphs have to be earned. This one was, comprehensively. Quarried out of desire and determination, then topped off with a gloss finish. Practically everything they hit from distance in the second half went over, but those points didn’t go over by themselves.
Speaking of which, Jason Forde’s introduction worked like a charm. Enter a proven point scorer to take advantage of the opportunities Tipp’s aggression was creating. That’s how you up the ante alright.
The deposed champions? You read it here on Saturday: this final found Kilkenny at the bottom of their cycle. So straitened for viable options as to be forced to hand a first championship start to not one but two members of their full-forward line.
As it happened, Liam Blanchfield and Kevin Kelly did about as well as they were entitled to; Kelly, the scorer of the opening goal, has every right to look back on his afternoon with quiet pride.
But they were never going to displace the volumes of water, and put the Tipp defenders back on their heels, the way the Kilkenny forwards of a few years ago would have.
Cody waited until ten minutes from time before making his first substitution. There was a very obvious reason for that. No bench.
And yes, Michael Fennelly was missed, particularly in the first half when Kilkenny lacked someone to charge forward from deep, create an overlap and generally give the enemy defence something to think about.
Ultimately, however, his absence made not a blind bit of difference.
Of more significance was Tipperary’s success in ensuring Richie Hogan, so often their nemesis, wasn’t allowed to find those little zones of dark matter he drifts into and employs to create havoc.
Certain Kilkenny folk, not least those from around Callan and Johnstown and Urlingford and such places, will doubtless have reflected that losing to Waterford first time around may have been a preferable fate to this.
But that would have deprived both them and us of a night for the ages in Thurles.
Kilkenny supporters will always have the semi-final replay to take from 2016. Tipperary supporters will always have yesterday.
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