Cats bare claws to reclaim crown
Tipperary have no answer to Kilkenny's perfect blend of steel and silver
THE old order has been restored -- Kilkenny are back on the hurling summit, gleefully looking down on collapsed empires scattered below them.
Among the crushed forces are Tipperary, who started as favourites to retain the All-Ireland title for the first time in 46 years and ended it as so many have done over the last 11 years, feeling the pain of a collision with the immovable object that was a Kilkenny team which simply wouldn't take no for an answer.
It was all so reminiscent of the 2006 final when Kilkenny, who were the outsiders then too, subjected Cork to a dreadful ordeal of non-stop intensity from which there was no escape. It was the same yesterday for Tipperary, who must have felt that Kilkenny had somehow managed to remove all the oxygen from the air, leaving the reigning champions gasping desperately for breath.
It was a most uncomfortable environment for Tipperary, who were never allowed to get any real structure into their game. Instead, they were chasing it from the second minute when a Henry Shefflin free put Kilkenny ahead and, while the gap between the teams varied from eight to three points over the course of the game, Tipperary were always in the disadvantaged zone.
They were driven there by relentless pressure which Kilkenny whipped up from the start. They needed a good launch and they got it, picking the blue and gold defence for five points in the first 15 minutes, while serving restraining orders on the vaunted Tipperary attack.
Jackie Tyrrell switched sides to deal with the Lar Corbett threat and, with half-backs Tommy Walsh, Brian Hogan and JJ Delaney imposing their power and aggression on a struggling Tipperary half-forward line, the agenda was altogether different from a year earlier.
By the end, Tipperary's starting six forwards had managed just three points from open play between them, whereas their Kilkenny counterparts had returned 1-12. The rest of Tipperary scores came from seven placed balls (Eoin Kelly), midfielder Ger Ryan, centre-back Conor O'Mahony, subs Benny Dunne and Pa Bourke and two sideline cuts by Noel McGrath.
Corbett, who scored three goals in last year's final, drew a blank against Tyrrell, while McGrath and Kelly, who also did well in 2010, got lost amid the heavy traffic.
Indeed, one incident involving Corbett typified the extent to which Kilkenny's zeal for hard work made such a crucial difference.
With the Tipperary supply lines to their inside forwards under constant attack, Corbett moved outfield on occasions in search of action and, a few minutes before half-time, he found himself back in his own half-back line. As he tried to get in a delivery, Colin Fennelly sped in, got in a block, but took the force of Corbett's hurley which left him with a nasty cut.
It was one of the defining moments in terms of emphasising how driven Kilkenny were for a battle which they won more comprehensively than the margin suggests. They had far more possession than Tipperary, but wasted more than usual.
Indeed, when Tipperary managed to pare an eight-point deficit after 49 minutes back to three points with six minutes remaining, it looked as if Kilkenny's failure to capitalise on their all-round superiority earlier on, might undermine them on the home run.
However, they held their nerve, twice edging four points clear, only to have it cut to three before Eoin Larkin ensured victory with the last score of the day in the 72nd minute.
Kilkenny's post-match celebrations were, if anything, more jubilant than after their four-in-a-row success two years ago, but then the stakes were enormous. Another defeat would have left Tipperary as the unquestioned No 1, a possibility that filled Kilkenny with a heavy sense of dread.
Their response to the enormous challenge was to return to first principles, where hard work and team ethic dominated all else. Kilkenny felt last year that they made life for too easy for Tipperary, conceding relatively easy goals after failing to close down space.
Yesterday, they expanded themselves as much as was humanly possible to crowd Tipperary into submission. A flick here, a touch there a block anywhere -- this was Kilkenny at their united best, squeezing the life out of frustrated opposition.
Tipperary didn't land their first score until the 16th minute, but when they added two more to reduce the margin to two after 23 minutes, they would have felt that, despite the slow start, they had played their way back into contention.
However, they were reminded that there would be no easy solutions this time when Kilkenny midfielder Michael Fennelly powered onto a pass from Richie Hogan in the 35th minute and fired the ball past Brendan Cummins. It helped Kilkenny to an interval lead of 1-8 to 0-6 after a half in which four of Tipperary's scores had come from frees.
They had begun their repair work on the half-hour, sending Brendan Maher in for John O'Keeffe and continued it at half-time, replacing midfielder Shane McGrath, who had taken a heavy knock in the first-half, and wing-forward Seamus Callanan with Benny Dunne and Pa Bourke respectively.
It meant that Tipperary had used three of the five subs at the start of the second half, pointing to difficulties which would increase throughout the third quarter. Indeed, it was that period which cemented Kilkenny's dominance, enabling them to bank enough scores so that they could withstand the inevitable backlash.
Leading by 1-12 to 0-8 after 45 minutes and by 1-12 to 0-10 shortly afterwards, the game lurched heavily in Kilkenny's direction in the 49th minute when a driving run by Eddie Brennan split the Tipperary defence. He off-loaded the ball to Richie Hogan who balanced it beautifully on his hurley before lopping a spectacular shot past Cummins high into the net.
It left Kilkenny eight points clear and in direct eye line of another title.
Pa Bourke's goal in the 55th minute gave Tipp hope, but they needed all of their game in full flow to have a real chance of completing the recovery. Instead, they continued to misfire, despite the energetic efforts of 'Bonnar' Maher and with the Kilkenny defence back on Triple 'A' security alert, Tipperary ran out of openings.
Meanwhile, at the other end Shefflin, Colin Fennelly and Eoin Larkin continued, as they had done all day, to test the Tipperary defence, while midfielder Fennelly maintained his tempo.
Kilkenny had the ideal blend throughout all sectors, unlike Tipperary who lost most of the key battles and ultimately the game and their All-Ireland crown.
Scorers -- Kilkenny: H Shefflin 0-7 (5f), R Hogan 1-1, M Fennelly 1-0, C Fennelly, E Larkin, R Power 0-2 each, E Brennan, M Rice, TJ Reid 0-1 each. Tipperary: E Kelly 0-8 (7f, 1 '65'), N McGrath 0-3 (1 s/l), P Bourke 1-0, G Ryan 0-2, B Dunne, C O'Mahony, J O'Brien 0-1 each.
Kilkenny -- D Herity; J Tyrrell, N Hickey, P Murphy; T Walsh, B Hogan, JJ Delaney; M Fennelly, M Rice; E Brennan, R Power, H Shefflin; C Fennelly, E Larkin, R Hogan. Subs: TJ Reid for Brennan (60), J Mulhall for R Hogan (65).
Tipperary -- B Cummins; P Stapleton, P Curran, M Cahill; J O'Keeffe, C O'Mahony, Padraic Maher; G Ryan, S McGrath; S Callanan, N McGrath, Patrick Maher; E Kelly, J O'Brien, L Corbett. Subs: B Maher for O'Keeffe (29), B Dunne for S McGrath (h-t), P Bourke for Callanan (h-t), D Young for O'Mahony (57), J O'Neill for O'Brien (66).
Ref -- B Gavin (Offaly).