Tipp fire too hot to handle
TIPPERARY succeeded where so many teams had failed in the past and beat Kilkenny at their own game.
We have seen it so many times before with the Cats, who have made a living out of suffocating teams.
The tables were turned on Brian Cody's side, who didn't get a minute's peace in Croke Park yesterday and that intensity and work-rate would prove to be the difference.
That's not to say it all went Tipp's way right from the get-go. How they went in at half-time just a point up is a mystery and, given the pattern of last year's decider, they could have been forgiven if a few doubts slipped into their heads. They controlled much of that half, but in typical Kilkenny fashion the Cats clawed their way back into the game and would have been delighted to be so close to Tipp, despite not finding anything like their best form in the opening 35 minutes.
There's no doubt that rhythm was upset by Henry Shefflin's injury. And while Michael Rice did a good job on his introduction, at times Kilkenny looked like an orchestra whose conductor had gone missing.
Shefflin's importance to the side was underlined by Cody's decision to start the Ballyhale man, even though there was a chance his afternoon would end like it did. And for all the talent in their squad, replacing a player like Shefflin was too much, even for a team like Kilkenny.
With Shefflin confined to the bench, someone else was going to step in the spotlight. Richie Power led the line gamely for Kilkenny, but yesterday was Lar Corbett's day. His three goals were excellently worked and while he'll score more spectacular ones, he showed remarkable calm to pick his spot on three different occasions.
Further out the field, Noel McGrath's classy stickwork was probing for gaps in the Kilkenny defence. Shane McGrath and Brendan Maher had an exceptional day in midfield and squeezed the life out of Kilkenny pair James 'Cha' Fitzpatrick and Michael Fennelly, who had an excellent season.
Padraic Maher was immense in a Tipp rearguard that put in a brilliant performance. If they had lost yesterday, they would have been accused of giving away too many frees, but they were dead set on not conceding goals and they did whatever was necessary to protect Brendan Cummins.
Kilkenny never got the run of scores that normally serves them so well, as everywhere they went they ran into Tipp jerseys. With the game going away from them late on, even the famous depth of Kilkenny's panel couldn't see them out of the hole they were in at that stage.
In fact, Tipperary's bench made the bigger impact just as it did against Galway in the All-Ireland quarter-final. Seamus Callanan used his pace to good effect when he came on and fired over two important scores. Seamus Hennessy also hit a point, while Benny Dunne completed his redemption with a score to finally wipe out the memories of his contribution to last year's All-Ireland final when he was sent off just a few minutes after coming on.
Tipp should be around for a few years too. The age profile of Liam Sheedy's squad is quite young and a few of them will be in action again this weekend in the U-21 decider, meaning that the future is bright for the Premier County.
The 'five in-a-row' now seems further away than ever for a GAA team, but regardless of their failure to reach that landmark, this is a fantastic Kilkenny team who were great champions.
Shefflin on crutches at the end was a sad sight, but there was some cheer for Kilkenny with their minors picking up the county's 20th All-Ireland title in the grade. However, it was nothing like as one-sided as we were told it would be and Clare will be cursing their luck this morning. When they were on top in the first half, they needed a goal to cement their dominance, but it never came and Kil-kenny rallied to edge over home.
That Kilkenny team were being described as one of the best to ever come out of the county and it's difficult for minor players to hear that sort of talk and not let it get to them.
Clare have some fine hurlers there and after their U-21 success last year, the future looks bright for them and that's good news for the game.