Cody's Cats get back in the groove
Allianz Hurling League Div 1
BRIAN Cody leaned back against the wall in the corridor outside the Semple Stadium dressing-rooms and got down to what he has done so often over the past 13 years -- discussing another Kilkenny victory.
A win in a first-round league game on a miserably wet February night is relatively low down the food chain when it comes to comparing the many tasty dishes Kilkenny have served up during his stewardship, but Saturday night's success was nonetheless significant.
Kilkenny like to do things right and that includes making the most of the league, a policy which has served them extremely well over the years.
They took the first confident stride in that direction while also seizing the early advantage in what is certain to be a fierce psychological battle with Tipperary throughout the year.
A good night for Kilkenny then, who out-scored Tipperary by 1-13 to 0-4 from the 23rd minute on. That included a 0-9 to 0-1 superiority blitz before half-time, followed by a goal from the impressive Colin Fennelly 20 seconds into the second half. That goal ensured a Kilkenny victory and, from there on, the second half wound its way to an inevitable conclusion.
As the rain intensified, it made catching, passing, foot-holding and striking increasingly difficult but, cushioned by a substantial lead, Kilkenny negotiated it comfortably against a Tipperary team whose fortunes fluctuated wildly over the 70 minutes.
The All-Ireland champions were ahead by 1-6 to 0-4 after 22 minutes and seemed poised to hand new manager Declan Ryan a winning start, only to lose their way to such a degree that at no stage in the second half did they look like challenging Kilkenny's dominance.
Their early enterprise stemmed from many quarters, with Shane McGrath, Pa Bourke, Padraic Maher, Hugh Maloney and Noel McGrath busy and effective. Ger Ryan whipped in their goal after nine minutes and when Shane McGrath put them five points clear after 22 minutes, their supporters in the 9,465 crowd must have felt that Tipperary were on their way to a third successive win over Kilkenny in a year.
"From there on, our legs seemed to go a bit. Kilkenny were a lot stronger and made full use of their chances," said Tipp's new manager.
"Tipperary were going very well early on. They had great movement in attack and were making things hard for our defence. But there was still an awful long way to go and, once we settled in, things changed," said Cody.
They most certainly did and nowhere was it more pronounced than in the duel between Jackie Tyrrell and Pa Bourke, or in the influence exerted by Michael Fennelly. Bourke's sniping runs, combined with his accuracy from frees, were central to Tipperary's early advantage but once Tyrrell locked onto his game he quickly secured the No 6 and surrounding areas.
Fennelly started at centre-forward but made by far a bigger impact when switched to midfield, while John Mulhall prospered from his move in the opposite direction. Aidan Fogarty launched the Kilkenny surge in the 23rd minute and they added eight more points before the interval, interrupted only by a John O'Neill point for Tipperary.
Kilkenny led 0-13 to 1-7 at half-time, leaving Tipperary in need of a good start to the second period. However, it had barely begun when a swift Kilkenny attack sent Colin Fennelly powering through for a goal.
Tipperary had made three substitutions at half-time ("injuries and a few guys with a bit of tummy bug that's going around," explained Ryan) and had used the full quota of five by the 54th minute. Kilkenny, in contrast, played the same 15 all through, a most unusual development in the modern game.
"Not too many of them (subs) were putting their hands up to go out on such a horrible night," joked Cody before explaining that the lack of bench action was down to the success of the starting 15 on the night. "As the game went on, we got stronger and stronger and thankfully we avoided injuries too. It's like this: nobody earned the right to be taken off," he said.
With both sides well below full-strength, no great atmosphere in a stadium which was four-fifths empty and with heavy rain making life very awkward for the players, the game didn't quite live up to its billing but in terms of putting the early-season jigsaw pieces together, Kilkenny were far more successful.
After the early promise, Tipperary were out-hurled and out-muscled, especially in attack. A four-point return (three from open play) in the final 48 minutes was disappointingly low, all the more so when contrasted with the 1-6 haul in the opening 22 minutes.
"Kilkenny are probably a couple of weeks ahead of us in preparation. Our guys seemed to tire as the game went on," said Ryan.
As for positives, Ryan said that it gave him a chance to assess the extended squad, although he can't have been too pleased with what he saw.
For Kilkenny, it was business as usual, once they warmed to the challenge. "You always like to make a good start to the league so it's satisfactory from that point of view," said Cody. More than that, it's ominous for the rest of the contenders.
Scorers -- Kilkenny: R Hogan 0-10 (8f), C Fennelly 1-0, A Fogarty, J Mulhall 0-2 each, M Fennelly, E Brennan, T Walsh 0-1 each. Tipperary: P Bourke 0-4 (4f), G Ryan 1-0, N McGrath 0-2 (1s-l), S McGrath, J O'Neill, Patrick Maher, T Hammersley 0-1 each.
Kilkenny -- D Herity; J Dalton, JJ Delaney, P Murphy; T Walsh, J Tyrrell, PJ Delaney; M Rice, J Mulhall; R Hogan, M Fennelly, A Fogarty; C Fennelly, E Brennan, TJ Reid.
Tipperary -- D Gleeson; P Stapleton, Padraic Maher, C O'Brien; D Young, C O'Mahony, H Maloney; B Maher, S McGrath; G Ryan, P Bourke, N McGrath; T Hammersley, Patrick Maher, J O'Neill.
Subs: B O'Meara for Hammersley (h-t), S Hennessy for S McGrath (h-t), M Cahill for O'Mahony (h-t), J Woodlock for O'Brien (49), B Dunne for B Maher (54).
Ref -- B Gavin (Offaly)