Friday 15 December 2017

Colm Keys: 10 small battles that tilted the Croker war in Tipp's direction

Premier glory based on most ferocious display of modern age

Tipperary's Ronan Maher in action against Kilkenny's TJ Reid. Photo: Daire Brennan/Sportsfile
Tipperary's Ronan Maher in action against Kilkenny's TJ Reid. Photo: Daire Brennan/Sportsfile
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

One of the pivotal moments of the 2014 All-Ireland final replay came in the 49th minute, just after Tipperary had closed the deficit back to a point, having conceded the first five points of the half.

Patrick 'Bonner' Maher picked up possession and in trademark style dropped his shoulder into a heavily congested path of black and amber shirts.

Kilkenny's Kevin Kelly after the match. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Kilkenny's Kevin Kelly after the match. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

The first pillar of resistance was Jackie Tyrrell. From Tyrrell's challenge the ball came loose and Noel McGrath gathered and fed Seamie Callanan. This time Callanan got off a shot but Tyrrell blocked.

When it came to McGrath again he launched another shot but this time Conor Fogarty had intervened to cut it down on take-off.

Next in was John O'Dwyer but possession was dislodged from his grasp by Fogarty, allowing Tyrrell to nip in and launch a monster clearance. Within seconds John Power had a point.

Classic Kilkenny. They never looked back from that.

Tipperary's Séamus Callanan scoring a point for his side. Photo: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile
Tipperary's Séamus Callanan scoring a point for his side. Photo: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

In the days and weeks afterwards, Tyrrell would reflect on that passage with warmth. Sure enough the drawn game had been wonderful but ultimately it had been loose. In the trenches they sought to make it tighter and did for the replay. It raised the question as to whether Tipperary could live at such an altitude when the intensity was raised to such a level.

Two years later and their All-Ireland final success has answered that question emphatically. Some of those same players repelled by Fogarty and Tyrrell reversed roles. The hunted then were now the hunters, 'Bonner' very much to the forefront in that regard.

For all the style of their nine-point win there was so much grit and grind that went into making that happen. Little battles that were won all over the field on such a consistent basis contributed to winning the war.

Hooks, blocks, tackles, rucks won, big hits delivered, everything that Kilkenny have stood for was brought by Tipperary in arguably their most ferocious and defiant performance of the modern age. It took that to bring great champions down.

We look at some of those moments that created the conditions for Tipperary to go on and win so impressively.

2nd minute: Ronan Maher climbed up to catch Eoin Murphy's first puck out of the day, reaching past Richie Hogan to claim it. Maher would go on to win another seven Kilkenny puck-outs and become a dominant figure in a Tipp half-back line that gave so much. This laid down an early marker and with the precision of his clearance he was able to find Callanan down the left flank to set up his first point. Two of the pivotal players were already in harmony.

9 mins: Hogan found himself set upon by mass blue and gold traffic every time he had the ball. Here he had drifted back to pick up off a Tipp puck-out but as he turned the pressure came on from 'Bonner' and Michael Breen. The offload was loose and Noel McGrath picked up to fire over a point to reduce the gap to 0-4 to 0-3. Snaring one of Kilkenny's chief architects, however, was worth more than that.

10 mins: It didn't take long for Tipp's big game hunters to track down the other trophy asset. This time TJ Reid was cornered, with Brendan Maher and 'Bonner' in pursuit. Under pressure he undercooked a pass and 'Bonner' nipped in to retrieve and hand back to Seamus Kennedy, who floated over his first championship point for 0-4 each. Again the value of the player who coughed up was greater than the score.

24 mins: Kilkenny captain Shane Prendergast had been under pressure in possession all afternoon but never was it more apparent than his catch from a Darren Gleeson restart after Eoin Larkin's second point. Instantly 'Bonner' was on him, forcing the turnover for O'Dwyer to gather and restore parity, 0-9 each.

29 mins: Under another puck-out and again Prendergast was feeling the heat. Hogan was first to gather but as the pack closed in his pass was too high to his captain who swivelled to clear but was blocked by Brendan Maher. 'Bonner' swooped quickly for a point and the lead, 0-11 to 0-10, leaving Kilkenny to wonder if there was any safe channel to get the ball out of their defence.

36 mins: No score accrued from this but it was a passage of play referenced by Cathal Barrett afterwards which really made Tipp believe they were on to something. Padraig Walsh twice found himself struggling to pluck the ball to safety and then get some freedom. When a ruck developed Conor Fogarty got hold of possession but had to lose it quickly. Colin Fennelly couldn't find space either and threw out to Eoin Larkin, who was hit by 'Bonner' in the midriff. Eventually, with two in pursuit, Kevin Kelly drove wide and a 0-14 to 0-12 scoreline in Tipp's favour was preserved. Big result.

38 mins: Early in the second half Fennelly stepped inside James Barry and offloaded to Kelly. He was blocked by Michael Cahill and then held up by Padraic Maher. Larkin sought to burrow but met a defiant Padraic Maher again. Eventually Kennedy ripped clear.

43 mins: Hogan's lasers are so sharp that it's not often he fails to get a shot away. But with Tipp a little shaken after Kelly's goal, Hogan picked up possession off a puck-out and found himself in a position he has thrived in so often, down a left wing off his left side. But Barrett got the block in, Cahill cleared and Dan McCormack won a free which Callanan converted, a two-point swing.

47 mins: Winning ruck ball is so much part of the lifeblood of this Kilkenny team. But too often they lost them here, none more important than when Walsh was caught by John McGrath. 'Bonner', Noel McGrath and Callanan piled in. Eventually McGrath scooped out to Brendan Maher, whose assist set up Callanan for the lead again, 0-18 to 1-14.

55 mins: Kieran Joyce and Paul Murphy came under pressure to clear out near the Cusack Stand sideline. Eventually a line ball was awarded to Tipp. Play developed from that between John McGrath and Cillian Buckley and another minor ruck developed. Hogan nipped in to claim but was caught by Callanan. The ball fell for McCormack who returned to Callanan and a seven-point lead was opened from which there was no return.

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