THUS far, but no further. The gods beckoned Kilkenny towards immortality's door only to change their minds and issue an exclusion order to a team that seemed destined to become the first to win the All-Ireland five-in-a-row in either hurling or football.
It fell to Tipperary to lock Kilkenny out, a task they executed with style and vigour as they won the title for the first time since 2001 and for the 26th time overall. Few will have tasted as sweet as yesterday's success coming, as it did, a year after being denied on the home stretch.
Tipperary surrendered a three-point lead in the closing 10 minutes of last year's final, but this time they took a four-point advantage into the same period and increased it by a further four to rack up the biggest score against Kilkenny since they were hit for 5-18 by Galway in the 2005 All- Ireland semi-final.
Since then, they had won 21 successive championship games, an all-time record, but they needed one more for the elusive five-in-a-row. They threw themselves into the attempt with as much courage and perseverance as they could possibly muster, but it was Tipperary who illuminated a dank, drizzly afternoon with some spectacular finishing.
None shone brighter than Lar Corbett who hit three goals, the first two of which were hugely influential in shaping what was a thrilling contest.
His first, pilfered with ease in the 10th minute off a delivery by Shane McGrath, put Tipperary five points clear and into a confidence-building groove that would prove crucial. The second in the 42nd minute reasserted their authority at a time when Kilkenny's trademark defiance had edged them back into contention.
Corbett's third goal in stoppage time was a colourful decoration on a brilliant performance that did so much to undermine Kilkenny.
There were other destructive forces at work too, which presented Kilkenny with problems that ultimately proved unsolvable.
The knee injury sustained by Henry Shefflin in the semi-final was the most damaging of all, for while he lined out yesterday, his voyage lasted just 13 minutes before he had to head ashore.
Kilkenny survived without him when a knee injury forced him out during the 2007 All-Ireland final against Limerick, but Tipperary were an altogether different proposition.
With the exception of the inexplicable aberration against Cork in the Munster quarter-final in late May, Tipperary have been closest to Kilkenny in terms of power and efficiency for the past two years, so Shefflin's absence was always going to prove critical. It's impossible to quantify the precise extent of the impact, but, suffice to say, there would have been much more order to Kilkenny's attacking game if Shefflin were around to orchestrate things.
Shefflin's departure dramatically altered the odds and, as Kilkenny's attacking shortcomings mounted against a well-organised defence, Eddie Brennan, Aidan Fogarty and TJ Reid were all replaced in the second half.
Replacements Derek Lyng, Martin Comerford and John Mulhall did well, but so too did Tipperary substitutes Seamus Callanan, who marked his introduction with two precious points in quick succession, Benny Dunne and Seamus Hennessy, who each landed late points.
The key period in a game which was played with the same level of intensity as last year's final came early in the second half after Kilkenny had drawn level through a pointed sideline cut from Reid.
It marked the completion of an excellent recovery by Kilkenny, who trailed by six points on four occasions in the first half.
Among Tipperary's repertoire in that period was a superb point from a long-range free by Brendan Cummins, who used the wind effectively to get the distance.
Tipperary led by 1-10 to 0-7 after 32 minutes, but, typical of Kilkenny, they battled back bravely with Richie Power scoring 1-2 before the interval.
His goal came in the 33rd minute and he followed up with two pointed frees to leave Kilkenny just a point behind (1-10 to 1-9) at half-time. Reid's levelling point in the 39th minute looked as if it might be the catalyst for a 'business as usual' surge from Kilkenny, but it wasn't to be.
Tipperary deserve enormous credit for remaining calm and focused at a time when it would have been easy to allow doubts creep into their game after having had such a big lead pegged back.
However, their response to the changed circumstances was quick, effective and ultimately proved to be the tie-breaker.
Eoin Kelly pointed them back in front from a free, before Corbett and Noel McGrath struck for goals in the 42nd and 44th minutes. It's most unusual for the Kilkenny defence to be caught for two goals in such a short space of time, but then they had security issues throughout much of the game, with Tipperary's policy of attacking them straight down the middle proving productive.
Michael Fennelly, JJ Delaney, Jackie Tyrrell, Eoin Larkin and Richie Power acted as Kilkenny's chief rallying agents as they made a desperate bid to restore stability and keep the 'drive for five' alive, but they found it very difficult to make progress against a vigilant Tipperary defence, where Padraic Maher, Paul Curran and Michael Cahill were excellent.
Kilkenny pared the deficit back to three points (3-12 to 1-15) after 58 minutes, but once again Tipperary's response to approaching danger was to meet it head-on. Callanan and Kelly scored three points between them to re-open a six-point lead, a margin that proved too much for Kilkenny, whose misery was compounded by Corbett's late goal.
The Tipperary supporters heeded the GAA's call not to come on to the pitch afterwards, opting instead to enjoy the presentation from stand and terrace at the end of what really has been a remarkable season. A 10-point defeat after a dismal performance against Cork 14 weeks previously looked to be from a totally different age by comparison with yesterday's powerful exhibition.
Granted, it was made considerably easier by Shefflin's departure, but, even then, Tipperary knew they had to deliver at a level previously not reached by this team. They did it in style to restore themselves to the No 1 spot, finally dislodging a Kilkenny team that has been a force of nature for so long.
The five-in-a-row proved beyond them, but they will go down in history as possibly the best team of all time. They still remain an outstanding outfit and while things didn't go their way yesterday, they will back as strong contenders again next year.
Indeed, they have already been installed as 10/11 favourites to regain the title in 2011, with Tipperary at 6/4.
Scorers -- Tipperary: L Corbett 3-0, E Kelly 0-7 (0-7f), N McGrath 1-0, J O'Brien, S Callanan, B Maher 0-2 each, B Cummins (0-1f), G Ryan, B Dunne, S Hennessy 0-1 each. Kilkenny: R Power 1-9 (0-8f), TJ Reid 0-4 (0-1 line ball), H Shefflin (0-1f), A Fogarty, D Lyng, J Mulhall, M Rice 0-1 each.
Tipperary -- B Cummins; P Stapleton, P Curran, M Cahill; D Fanning, C O'Mahony, Padraic Maher; B Maher, S McGrath; G Ryan, L Corbett, Patrick Maher; E Kelly, N McGrath, J O'Brien. Subs: C O'Brien for O'Mahony (57), S Callanan for J O'Brien (58), B Dunne for McGrath (62), D Young for Fanning (68), S Hennessy for B Maher (69).
Kilkenny -- PJ Ryan; J Dalton, N Hickey, J Tyrrell; T Walsh, J Tennyson, JJ Delaney; J Fitzpatrick, M Fennelly; TJ Reid, H Shefflin, E Larkin; E Brennan, R Power, A Fogarty. Subs: M Rice for Shefflin (13), D Lyng for Fitzpatrick (51), M Comerford for Brennan (51), R Hogan for Fogarty (55), J Mulhall for Reid (62).
Ref -- M Wadding (Waterford).