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Friday 15 December 2017

Tipperary cut a dash in clash of the ash

Corbett hat-trick has Cats licking wounds

Jason O'Brien

SO was this the end of something really special, or maybe the beginning, or perhaps a continuation?

Yesterday's blistering All Ireland hurling final was good enough to stand on its own merits as one of the greatest sporting contests in living memory.

But it won't be judged solely on that by historians, or the GAA sages down in your local. It's also about the context.

They will obviously talk of it in future years as the thwarting of Kilkenny's bid for an unprecedented fifth Liam McCarthy Cup in a row.

But they may yet also note it as the beginning of a period of dominance by an apparently super-charged Tipperary side.

Or perhaps -- as some of the emotionally drained fans claimed while leaving Croke Park yesterday -- it will eventually go down as the second instalment of a simply sensational rivalry between these two county teams, following last year's enthralling clash.

"Look, if that pair meet in the championship next year they may put an extra couple of tiers on Croke Park," Josie Tierney from Tipperary town said.

"The hitting from both sides would make you wince if you had time to think about it, and that was in the stands.

"Tipp and Kilkenny wasn't a friendly rivalry but it wasn't a nasty one either, because they didn't meet that often.

"Now there's a real edge because they know they are the best two teams in the country. And that tension and edge has spread to the fans."

"But that game today, just. . . wow."

The result -- not to mention Lar Corbett's sublime hat-trick -- obviously helped her mood, but her succinct analysis of the game was faultless.

There are many who worry about the future of hurling, with a noticeable dearth of quality matches this year and the number of genuine All-Ireland contenders again restricted to four or five counties.

And yet, when you witness a game played at the searing intensity, breathtaking bravery, and sheer speed -- of body and mind -- on show throughout yesterday's offering, you worry instead for marketing departments of any other sport you can name.

"What we witnessed today proved it is not just talk to call hurling the greatest field game in the world," a reflective Joe Cleere from Callan in Kilkenny said.


"It's not hyperbole. There's nothing like that anywhere else. Jaysus, I was exhausted simply watching it."

Like the rest of the Cats, he was off home to lick his wounds.

He was also correct: it was extremely raw out there. Primal. Emotional.

Tipperary manager Liam Sheedy wasn't the only one in tears afterwards, from either side.

The coming togethers were even brutal off the pitch.

"As the Minister for Sport I should be impartial but I'm not," Mary Hanafin said with a shrug before throw-in, displaying her Tipperary colours.

Then she spotted someone else who is no stranger to brazening it out.

"Ah, hello Bertie," she greeted the former Taoiseach. "You said last year we were robbed."

"And ye were," Mr Ahern replied, before the pair embraced awkwardly.

We decided to avert our eyes and concentrate instead on what was happening between the whitewash.

It's a cliche to say the atmosphere was electric, but the GAA could have run the floodlights off the tension and desire in the crowd.

It was another level on the pitch: two prize-fighters, both throwing everything at each other, even the odd hurl at times.

Repel and attack, repel and attack.

Only in added time, when Corbett landed that killer blow, did the fans from the Premier County know it was their 26th All-Ireland title.

"Tipp slugged it out with us today, really went toe-to-toe with us and they were deservedly the ones left standing at the end," Elaine Keating from Thomastown said.

Magnanimous in defeat, just as they had been imperious in victory on four successive first Sundays in September.

You have to believe they'll be back. You also believe that Tipperary will be waiting for them.

Their fans didn't make a serious attempt to invade the pitch at the end. Maybe they were too exhausted after what they had gone through.

Tipp captain Eoin Kelly found the energy to climb the steps of the Hogan Stand, and reclaim his county's place at the pinnacle of hurling.

But this game, just. . . wow.

Irish Independent

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