THE thing that struck me most about yesterday’s All-Ireland final was the celebrations.
Have you ever seen anything like the emotion from Kilkenny when Brian Gavin blew his whistle after what was a richly deserved victory?
The celebration after four in a row wasn’t as jubilant as that. And when they stopped Cork doing three in a row in 2006, there wasn’t quite the same outpouring of joy as we witnessed from Kilkenny yesterday.
A Kilkenny woman said to me afterwards that this was probably the sweetest All-Ireland victory over Tipperary and, after what happened last year, you couldn’t argue with her.
A million little things go into deciding a hurling match but, yesterday, hunger was one of the most prevalent forces. Overall, Kilkenny just had that raw hunger and they had everything perfectly worked out going into the game.
The victory was built from the back up, and, considering the events of last September, that was always going to be the case.
Right from Paul Murphy through to Michael Fennelly and Michael Rice, Kilkenny defended brilliantly and they never allowed the space to open up like they did in last year’s final.
Murphy had a fine game in the corner and on the wing when he was needed. Noel Hickey was up to make amends for what happened last year and Jackie Tyrrell had a fantastic game on Lar Corbett.
Ahead of that, Tommy Walsh, Brian Hogan and JJ Delaney were all magnificent and if you can have that sort of work rate and performance out of your defenders, half the battle is won already.
If anything, Kilkenny should have won by more and I’m sure, had they lost, Brian Cody would have been asking Fennelly why he didn’t tap that ball over the bar instead of giving it to Brendan Cummins before Tipp got their goal.
But Tipperary only had three wides so that just shows how few openings they created in the face of such staunch KIlkenny resistance.
There was huge talk last year about the space that Tipperary created and whether the Kilkenny backs had the legs for that sort of explosive forward play, but the Cats were so tight yesterday and they looked fitter and meaner too.
The mitigating circumstances of a year ago were all turned on their heads.
Hickey was back to his best after |a disrupted season last year. Hogan was fully fit, thus giving them one of the steadiest centre-backs in the game.
Even Henry Shefflin staying on the pitch for 70 minutes is such an important thing for Kilkenny. It was all so solid and all so fluent from Cody’s men.
And the result just proves that if you really want it in your belly, you will get over the age barrier.
In attack, too, Kilkenny thrived. Richie Hogan took his goal superbly – and the positioning of Eddie Brennan on Pádraic Maher, what a masterstoke!
None of us expected Cody to put him there and I would say the most surprised man on the field was Maher himself.
Kilkenny timed this one to perfection. They had yesterday’s date on their mind and I would be sure that us beating them in the League final gave them a little kick in the behind at just the right time.
Things broke for them, too. John Dalton picked up a suspension after the League final but Paul Murphy was superb when he came in.
They waited 12 months for this one. Tipp had a change of management along the way and, probably, they just weren’t as hungry as they were this time last year when stopping the Cats’ five-in-a-row.
I got the vibe all year that Kilkenny felt it got away from them last September. They changed things around and decided that this one was absolutely crucial to get back.