Friday 20 April 2018

Vincent Hogan: Triumphant Tipp borrow Cody's winning template

Vincent Hogan

Vincent Hogan

Out of the autumn gauze came new champions then, history's press too much even for Kilkenny. The world has turned on its head since Tipperary last stood top of hurling's pile.

Their last All-Ireland win arrived two days before terrorists reduced New York skyscrapers to a pile of rancid dust. We didn't know that we were living on a powder-keg planet.

Back then, too, Brian Cody answered to the name of an ordinary man. His team got cuffed around the ears in one of that year's semi-finals and there would have been those in Kilkenny who thought, maybe, he was a manager who should be sent to ruthless school.

It was, then, another lifetime. We needed educating on so many things.

The ashes of the five-in-a-row bid now shouldn't obscure the journey Kilkenny and Cody have travelled together. They have certainly ordained the path that Tipp themselves have taken by perfecting a style that is faster, yet less random than anything previously seen in the old game.

Hurling today is all about the compression of space and an absolute acceptance of tolerating hardship. And, if imitation is the ultimate line in flattery, Tipp's victory here should be recorded as an endorsement of the Cody template.

It was another epochal final between the two, referenced by courage and selflessness and a physicality that fizzed into the odd dangerous place without ever fully over-heating. Through it all, Cody stood in the gloom, a charcoal drawing oddly distant from the throng.

He is not an innate gambler, but this was a day when he got drawn to the wheel and called red when black was coming. Henry Shefflin's final lasted just 13 minutes before that knee gave way again. Tipp led 1-3 to 0-1 at the time and, already, had a dander in their stride.

Yet Henry is Henry as his manager is inclined to put it. Were Cork the same without Ring?

With the drizzle slanting down off the saddle of a cold wind, the game was played out in an endless grey. Last year's final had been defined by Kilkenny's efficiency at the business end. Having spent much of the day just about hanging on, they made roughly twice as many plays in the closing quarter as Tipperary.

The victory was a tribute to equanimity under pressure. Kilkenny brought down Tipp in a way that implied they were immune to the kind of nerves and insecurities that, routinely, blew fuses in opponents' heads.

The really great teams rarely encounter affection. They gain respect and the distant warmth of people who aspire to be in their clothes. Nobody blows them wolf-whistles because routine draws that edge out of the relationship. We have come to know this Kilkenny team as probably the greatest that hurling has seen. And we've waited for a team to reach them.

generation

As Eoin Kelly so graciously put it afterwards, Cody's men go down as "Definitely one of the best teams, not only hurling, but in any sport that we have seen in a generation."

But this was Tipp's moment. Next Saturday night, they will attempt to add the U-21 All-Ireland to the Liam McCarthy Cup and there is no doubting the sense of a new empire taking coherent shape. With Kilkenny's minors winning yesterday's curtain-raiser, these two counties aren't just stockpiling for the present, but investing in the future.

If Tipp have bought into Kilkenny's appetite for sacrifice, there is a distinctiveness to their forward movement that challenges opponents like a cryptic crossword.

Half a century after Wexford awoke minds to the concept of catching a sliotar rather than thrashing at it as if with a scythe, Tipp run patterns that defy orthodox control. They spin their forwards like the dials on a fruit-machine. It confuses teams and opens little avenues in the most unexpected places.

Lar Corbett usually arrives at the apex of their best moves, all wrist and jet-heels and hunger for goals.

He got three yesterday, the first plucked from over the head of Noel Hickey, something last recorded when shots were fired in the GPO. Hickey, ordinarily, offers a personalised manicure to forwards with their hands up, but, in this instance, he was falling over as Lar saw the whites in PJ Ryan's eyes.

Already, you got the scent of a flame being held to history here.

The stadium announcement confirming Shefflin as a starter had drawn a response reminiscent of a sighting of the Pope's helicopter in the Phoenix Park. Henry has done everything else in his hurling life so why not take physiology to a new place?

The sight of himself and John Tennyson trotting into the inky blackness, not a knee support between them, seemed to invest the day with a giddy fervour. But, sadly, some miracles take longer than others.

impatience

His departure, if anything, loaded the weight of the occasion on stripey shoulders. Twice they would drift six points off Tipp in that first-half, a tactic of endlessly working the ball into goal-scoring territory beginning to bear the look of reckless impatience.

Yet, as the half began to ebb, Tipp's defenders kept getting snared in possession and little alarm bells began ringing. Two minutes from the break, Eoin Larkin's run opened a great prairie and his hand-pass gave Richie Power a simple goal. Soon, they were cantering down the tunnel just a point adrift and, frankly, the recipients of knowing nods from the cognoscenti.

Sheedy would have known that the coming 35 minutes would either lead him to a coronation or a hanging.

He has been on the end of some unrelenting vitriol from a few old soldiers in the county this summer and repeat failure here would, undoubtedly, have uncorked some unpleasantness in Tipperary. Sheedy talked himself afterwards of encountering "a few doubters" along the journey, but chose not to take it further. To be fair, he was wise. For the eloquence of his captain's speech would answer the vitriol perfectly.

"It's been a long journey that started, not this year, but in 2008," explained Eoin Kelly. "I'd like to think that we created our own identity along the way and that our character and personality came through. Not just today, but in the last three years.

"Liam Sheedy came in when the ship was sinking and by God is this ship sailing today. He is our Messiah, our leader."

Great teams rise above all discouragements and that would be Tipp's gift to their people here.

They announced an implacable side to themselves. Just as the great old champions looked like they might have packed a little extra gunpowder, Tipp grew before our eyes.

Six minutes after the resumption, they sniped a goal of beautiful simplicity. Gearoid Ryan sent a radar-guided pass to Noel McGrath and the Loughmore kid spotted Lar easing down the runway. McGrath timed his offload to murderous perfection and there was Lar, flames shooting out his heels.

The nearest Kilkenny got to him was Tennyson's tossed hurley, a gesture of resignation that would draw yellow from Mr Wadding.

Moments later, Brendan Cummins dropped a monster free down on the Kilkenny 'square' and Noel McGrath reacted quickest to the break.

Two goals in three minutes for Tipperary and, suddenly, the Cats looked a team reduced to playing from memory.

Yet, two Richie Power frees and a TJ Reid point tossed a little salt on Tipp's nerves. If ever there were men to pull a rescue, Cody now had their attention.

history

He had whipped off 'Cha' Fitzpatrick, Eddie Brennan and Aidan Fogarty without offering a second glance and now stood in that familiar pose, arms folded, as if challenging his team to smelt their place in history.

They poured everything they had into the effort, but, as often seems to happen, fell eventually under an avalanche of late scores.

Maybe there was karma in the breeze. Maybe the gods had just taken to the business of balance and redemption. Benny Dunne, who would happily have left Croke Park in a luggage hold last year, came striding in to hit a splendid score. Seamus Hennessy, another sub, quickly followed suit.

Then Lar nailed his third, sweeping home first time and Cody, hands now in pockets, turned away to stare into a private place somewhere above the Hill. Sheedy followed, as if ready to commiserate, then thought better of it and retreated.

Michael Rice scored a point that meant nothing to him and then, almost mercifully, the long whistle.

Ned Quinn stepped over to commiserate and Cody turned to the mouth of the tunnel where Shefflin, now on crutches, slipped by to a fatherly pat on the shoulder. Then, typically, the big James Stephens man took himself out into the maelstrom, seeking out Sheedy and -- thereafter -- every Tipp player within reach.

"You were humble on the field and humble off the field," Kelly would tell them later.

Kilkenny's run had come to an end, but their greatness was undimmed.

Irish Independent

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