Kelly the hero as Kilkenny strike late to sink Tipp
Kilkenny 2-17 Tipperary 0-18
Tipperary left Nowlan Park with a 'how did that happen?' look of bewilderment after all their hard work and determination yielded nothing but utter frustration and yet another reminder of Kilkenny's extraordinary powers of survival.
The clock had ticked past the 67th minute without Kilkenny ever leading and while Tipperary's advantage at that stage was a single point, they had defended their goal well enough to suggest that Darren Gleeson would not be beaten.
All changed when, in a flash of creativity, Walter Walsh and Jonjo Farrell combined to offer Kevin Kelly a goal opportunity, which he took with consummate efficiency.
Deep in stoppage-time, Kelly pounced again,whipping in a second goal which not only ensured Kilkenny's first win of the League but contributed generously to their points difference, which could be crucial in what's likely to be a closely compacted table at the end of Round 5.
It was all so disappointing for Tipperary, who got a great deal right for long stretches before leaking 2-3 in the closing minutes.
Michael Ryan put the experience down to being part of learning process for a panel in transition under new management. Besides, losing to Kilkenny in Nowlan Park isn't exactly unusual for Tipperary or any other county for that matter.
"We're not the only team that's ever come down to Kilkenny and lost. It's February so I wouldn't be panicking. It was a good game of hurling and we were in it right until the end.
"We will take a lot of positives and as I keep saying, you learn an awful lot more about yourself in defeat that you ever do in victory," said Ryan.
Tipperary already knew that if Kilkenny are offered even a hint at an opening, they will exploit it with ruthless efficiency but they still couldn't prevent it from happening at the end of both halves.
Tipperary led by four points on the half-hour mark in the first half but Kilkenny had cut it to one by half-time (0-9 to 0-8), which was a very promising-looking position after playing against a substantial wind.
Indeed, if TJ Reid's radar had been on full efficiency, Kilkenny might well have led at the break as he was off target with three frees in the first half.
Tipperary scored two points in the first minute of the second half and coped quite well with Kilkenny's rise in intensity as the game progressed. They led by two points after 65 minutes but everything changed from there on.
"It was a tough battle all the way through - there was never much between us. The two goals made all the difference. And, to be fair, they were two good goals," said Brian Cody.
After losing to Waterford in the first round, Kilkenny needed a win to kickstart their season and, having achieved that, the rate of improvement is likely to accelerate quite rapidly.
"It was better than last Sunday. That's for sure but then it had to be, Tipp had two points from last week so it was important for us to get on the board because this is one very competitive League," said Cody.
He will have been delighted with the performance of 20-year-old James Maher, who did extremely well, both as a finisher and in other more mundane duties.
He scored 0-4 from open play and came within inches of adding a goal in the second half.
The St Lachtain's man looks a real find and, on yesterday's evidence, will be in strong contention for a starting place against some big names later on in the season.
Eoin Murphy's contribution at the other end was equally important, for in addition to making a few good saves, he was consistently reliable in his handling and deliveries.
His 46th-minute block from 'Bonner' Maher was especially significant as a goal would have put Tipperary four points clear at a time when the general balance of play was tilted marginally in their favour.
"Eoin was really good today. Even in the first half when they threatened us, he did very well. His eye for the ball was very good," said Cody.
But then, Kilkenny's all-round game was much better than a week earlier when they were badly out of sorts against Waterford.
Padraig Walsh, Robert Lennon and Diarmuid Cody formed a solid barrier in the half-back line, and with Reid and Maher busy and effective in attack, there were clear signs that the empire is beginning to crank up again.
Kelly took his two goals expertly, while Walter Walsh played his way into the game in the second half.
Kilkenny were without Richie Hogan, who had to withdraw with a back problem, while Tipperary missed last week's top scorer Jason Forde due to illness. His replacement John O'Dwyer impressed, while John McGrath also showed up prominently.
"We probably didn't make enough of wind advantage in the first half," said Ryan. It meant that they had to work all the harder in the second half and while there was certainly no question marks about their application, they will be very disappointed with the manner in which they left Gleeson exposed late on.
"We're learning and we'll continue to do that. It's still very early in the season," said Ryan.
Having been dragged into the relegation zone last year - they survived in 1A after winning a play-off against Clare - Kilkenny are determined to avoid a repeat this year, and with Galway next up (also in Nowlan Park) they will be delighted with yesterday's win over a Tipperary team that produced some thrilling hurling in their win over Dublin.
"The important thing is that we're really competitive again. We had to be today," said Cody.
The looked vulnerable at times in the first half but, typically, finished strongly. Ultimately, that was important as it meant that Tipperary were facing the wind in the second half with only a tiny advantage.
In fairness, they minded it well for a long time, only to be caught late on by a trademark Kilkenny flourish.
"We took the goal chances when they came, which was very important," said Cody.
Scorers - Kilkenny: TJ Reid 0-10 (6fs, 1'65'), K Kelly 2-1, J Maher 0-4, P Walsh, W Walsh 0-1 each. Tipperary: J O'Dwyer 0-9 (4fs, 2'65s'), J McGrath 0-4 (1f), C Kenny, N McGrath 0-2 each, M Breen 0-1.
Kilkenny - E Murphy 8; P Murphy 6, J Holden 7, S Prendergast 7; P Walsh 7, R Lennon 7, D Cody 7; L Ryan 6, C Fogarty 7;C Fennelly 6,TJ Reid 8, J Maher 9; W Walsh 7, K Kelly 8,J Power 5.
Subs: K Joyce for Holden (63), JJ Farrell for Power (63).
Tipperary - D Gleeson 7; C Barrett 7, T Hamill 6, M Cahill 7; B Maher 7, J Barry 6, Padraig Maher 6; M Breen 6, D Quinn 6; D McCormack 6, Patrick Maher 6, J O'Dwyer 7; N McGrath 6, C Kenny 6, J McGrath 8. Subs: N O'Meara 6 for Kenny (50), R Maher 6 for Quinn (52), J Meagher for Padraig Maher (68), A Coffey for McCormack.
Ref - C McAllister (Cork)