Saturday 3 December 2016

The Premier were ravenous for this win

Published 05/09/2016 | 02:30

The inspirational McGrath brothers and their family celebrate Tipperary’s comprehensive
win over Kilkenny in the All-Ireland hurling final. John (left) scored Tipp’s crucial second goal,
Noel (right) picked up a second medal just a year after recovering from testicular cancer and
younger brother Brian (centre) was the captain of the victorious minor team. Photo: Damien Eagers
The inspirational McGrath brothers and their family celebrate Tipperary’s comprehensive win over Kilkenny in the All-Ireland hurling final. John (left) scored Tipp’s crucial second goal, Noel (right) picked up a second medal just a year after recovering from testicular cancer and younger brother Brian (centre) was the captain of the victorious minor team. Photo: Damien Eagers

How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. And if the elephant bites back, you chew harder and faster, not letting up until you have a plate of bones in front of you, licked clean. Only then can you afford to loosen your belt.

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You could smell the appetite off the Tipperary players the moment they bounded out of the tunnel.

Tipp fans show their delight at the final whistle. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Tipp fans show their delight at the final whistle. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Hungry? They were waving their hurleys about like soup spoons.

Up for it? They were soaring into the air with such zeal that they must have made their Kilkenny counterparts realise that, for the first time in a long time, things were not going to go their way.

With the Minor victory already in the bag and smarting from the useful injustice of being labelled the underdog, you could feel the fire roaring in the Tipp bellies.

The Kilkenny fans were stalking the city streets with an air of entitlement, almost indifferent to the evocative 'Up for the Match' atmosphere unfolding around them. They wanted the three-in-a-row - in the same way that a diner desires dessert after gorging on a rich banquet beforehand.

Danielle and Niamh Slattery get ready for the game. Photo: Doug O’Connor
Danielle and Niamh Slattery get ready for the game. Photo: Doug O’Connor

Having tucked the 1916 Commemorations tidily away in the past, we had forgotten that the All-Ireland hurling final, too, would be an emotionally important event.

The GAA had printed special commemorative programmes and a pre-match performance of 'Mise Éire' by Sibéal Ní Chasaide stirred the soul as her warm, lilting voice filled that sacred ground on a fine, sultry day.

Tipperary’s Seamus Callanan with his father and the Liam McCarthy cup. Picture credit; Damien Eagers
Tipperary’s Seamus Callanan with his father and the Liam McCarthy cup. Picture credit; Damien Eagers

On the way into Croke Park, a Tipperary teen had casually thrown a hoodie emblazoned with the slogan 'Fabulously British' over his blue and gold jersey.

Indeed, how times have changed. It would have been interpreted as a political statement a few short years ago.

The Artane Band had barely struck their last note when Tipp were off - Seamus Callanan sending the sliotar sailing over the bar. Kilkenny's answering point came nonchalantly. They knew how to do this. But they weren't reckoning on the determination of the Premier County.

Point matched point in a way that seemed almost wearily tit for tat in the first half. But it was the way this had to be done - and it seemed a neat mirror image of the Dublin-Kerry football semi-final, with two teams of equally fine merit playing at perfect pitch.

Daniel Luttrell and Aoife Corcoran support their counties. Photo: Doug O'Connor
Daniel Luttrell and Aoife Corcoran support their counties. Photo: Doug O'Connor

Veteran sports commentator Jimmy McGee (left) was watching the storm on the pitch intently from the press box, his walking stick laid neatly on the table in front of him. He wouldn't have missed this classic for the world.

"Go on Tipp! 'Tis there for you," yelled a fan in the Hogan stand.

The attendance was 80,016, but by the sounds of them, you would have thought it was mostly Tipp supporters.

Kilkenny were quiet and growing quieter by the moment, their cages well and truly rattled as Kevin Kelly's goal was topped by John 'Bubbles' O'Dwyer's goal for Tipperary.

Everybody was conscious of the notorious Cats' side-swipe - you could never be too careful.

Paula Dunne and Kate Slattery on their way to Croke Park. Picture credit; Damien Eagers
Paula Dunne and Kate Slattery on their way to Croke Park. Picture credit; Damien Eagers

But by the second half, Tipp's determination left Kilkenny limping and demoralised, as they fumbled the sliotar and stumbled around the pitch.

"Everyone doubted us from the start of the year," roared Bubbles afterwards. "We proved our doubters wrong today. We're champions of f**king Ireland!"

Dropping the 'F Bomb' may not have been the thing - but with a double in the bag for the first time since 1949, who could blame Bubbles for getting a little carried away?

Veteran sports commentator Jimmy McGee. Photo: Doug O'Connor
Veteran sports commentator Jimmy McGee. Photo: Doug O'Connor

Irish Independent

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