Friday 20 April 2018

Confidence of latest breed of Cats a worry for all comers

Kilkenny 2-23 Tipperary2-17

Kilkenny’s Joey Holden is shouldered over the sideline by Tipperary’s Jason Forde during the Allianz NFL Division 1 final. Photo: Sportsfile
Kilkenny’s Joey Holden is shouldered over the sideline by Tipperary’s Jason Forde during the Allianz NFL Division 1 final. Photo: Sportsfile
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

If that's how Kilkenny perform while in transition, what will they be like when the work-in-progress reaches the next level?

It's an intriguing question that will occupy the hurling world after a spring campaign where Kilkenny's sluggish start was followed by a steady improvement before a real quickening of the pace took them past Wexford in the League semi-final.

Walter Walsh keeps out of reach of Tipperary’s Padraic Maher to score Kilkenny’s first goal in their Allianz NFL Division 1 final victory at Nowlan Park yesterday. Photo: Sportsfile
Walter Walsh keeps out of reach of Tipperary’s Padraic Maher to score Kilkenny’s first goal in their Allianz NFL Division 1 final victory at Nowlan Park yesterday. Photo: Sportsfile

A further power surge coursed through Nowlan Park yesterday where, in addition to winning the title for the 18th time, they flashed out a clear warning about their summer intentions.

Many of the 19 who played yesterday have little championship experience, something which will change quickly over the coming months.

They have earned that right after a League where six successive wins have been reeled off, leaving the early defeats by Cork and Clare as no more than specks on what has become a very clear picture.

Any comparison between the Kilkenny of yesterday and the opening 20 minutes against Clare in Nowlan Park two months ago was to be found only in colour of the jersey.

Seán Curran of Tipperary in action against Enda Morrissey of Kilkenny. Photo: Sportsfile
Seán Curran of Tipperary in action against Enda Morrissey of Kilkenny. Photo: Sportsfile

Yet, many of the team that trailed Clare by 11 points after a chaotic start were on duty against Tipperary.

So what happened in the interim to transform Kilkenny from relegation contenders to a side that left Tipperary gasping for air in the second half?

The answer lies in hard work, backed by a residual confidence that accompanies new talent into the dressing-room. They know what being a Kilkenny hurler is all about and, equally importantly, so do the opposition.

Confidence

Past achievements by great Kilkenny teams won't win matches for the current group but the sense of history does feed into their confidence tanks, generating a self-belief that no other county can match.

With experienced operators dotted all over the the pitch, there's an impressive balance to the set-up.

Three battle-hardeneded campaigners - TJ Reid, Walter Walsh and Conor Fogarty - were crucial to the latest success, scoring 2-17 between them.

Reid was outstanding from start to finish, Walsh's quiet first half was followed by an explosive impact after the interval while Fogarty's contribution as a second-half sub peaked with a 63rd-minute goal, which put Kilkenny nine points ahead.

It was beginning to look as if Tipperary might be heading for a repeat of last year's League final wipe-out by Galway, but they launched a more stern resistance this time and cut the deficit to six points when Jason Forde squeezed a close-in free to the Kilkenny net in the 65th minute.

It took his total to 2-12, a haul that would normally be associated with a winning side, but with only John McGrath providing real support for Forde, Tipperary's prospects of winning their first League title for 10 years disappeared in what was a dismal second-half performance.

McGrath's early point was their only score from play in that period and while credit must go to a resolute Kilkenny defence, Tipperary's feebleness will be a source of worry for manager Michael Ryan as he turns his attention to the Munster championship opener with Limerick on May 20.

The sloppy second half was all very different to a first 35 minutes where Tipperary looked sharp before taking a 1-10 to 0-11 lead into the break. Forde whipped in the goal in the 24th minute after McGrath played him in with a superb pass.

Tipperary appeared to be playing well within themselves, leaving their supporters feeling quite confident that a rare win in Nowlan Park was about to be delivered.

However, the entire dynamic changed within seconds of the re-start when Water Walsh collected a delivery from Conor Delaney and fired to the net.

Reid pointed a free shortly afterwards and while Tipperary countered with two points to draw level in the 39th minute, that was as good as it got for them.

They were out-scored by 0-9 to 0-2 between the 40th and 54th minutes, a period which won't make for easy viewing Ryan decides to unspool it for his squad in the coming weeks.

Out-muscled and out-thought, Tipperary looked very ordinary and with Kilkenny sensing that they were on to something, they pressed home every advantage.

Tipperary will feel it might have been different if 'Bubbles' O'Dwyer had beaten Eoin Murphy with a clear goal chance in the 41st minute but, in reality, it probably wouldn't.

Kilkenny were winning many of the individual battles at that stage and, as the half progressed, their dominance became more pronounced.

Nobody typified Kilkenny's efficiency in the second half more than corner-back, Paddy Deegan, who turned in a performance reminiscent of Jackie Tyrrell at his best.

Deegan was a real contender for the man-of-the-match award but that gong goes to Reid, who scored 0-15, of which 0-3 came from open play in the first half.

Those three points were crucial, with the second providing a reminder of why Reid can lay genuine claims to be regarded as the best forward in the game.

A high catch, a neat turn and a sweet finish were all executed in a split second, much to the delight of Kilkenny supporters in the 17,608 crowd.

They were even more thrilled when Walsh drove home the early second half goal, a score that began a difficult time for Tipperary full-back, James Barry, who was replaced by Donagh Maher just past the hour mark.

Both managers used their bench extensively in the second half, with Brian Cody gaining more from his replacements, especially Fogarty and Liam Blanchfield.

But then it was that type of half for Kilkenny, when a relentless determination to land the first big prize of the season left Tipperary in their wake.

Disappointing

It really was a disappointing day for the Premier County. Not only were they beaten in the League final for the fifth time in 15 years (four by Kilkenny), the manner of the defeat leaves them with a range of concerns ahead of the Championship.

It's the second successive year they leave the League with a defeat in the final and while they were not overpowered to the same degree as last year, there wasn't much to encourage them in an awful second half.

Granted, they will have a stronger squad for the Championship, but with the standard in Munster very even, there's no guarantee for any of the five competing counties that they will make the top three required to stay in the All-Ireland race.

Kilkenny have no such worries. For a start, Leinster is less competitive and, even if were a as tough as Munster, Kilkenny's recent form suggests that they are right up among the favourites for Liam MacCarthy.

And, with Paul Murphy and Colin Fennelly due to return from overseas army duty next month and Richie Hogan still hopeful of seeing action later on, the mood in Kilkenny could scarcely be more upbeat.

Scorers - Kilkenny: TJ Reid 0-15 (11f ,1s/l), W Walsh 1-2, C Fogarty 1-0, J Donnelly 0-2, E Murphy (f), R Leahy, L Blanchfield, M Keoghan 0-1 each. Tipperary: J Forde 2-12 (1-9f, 1s/l, 1'65), J McGrath 0-2, W Connors, S Curran, S Kennedy each.

Kilkenny: E Murphy 7; J Holden 8, P Walsh 7, P Deegan 9; C Delaney 7, C Buckley 7, E Morrissey 7; R Leahy 7, J Maher 8; M Keoghan 7, TJ Reid 9, J Donnelly 7; B Sheehan 5, W Walsh 8, A Murphy 5. Subs: L Blanchfield 7 for A Murphy (41), L Scanlon 6 for Sheehan (44), C Fogarty 7 for Leahy (48), C Martin for Donnelly (62).

Tipperary: D Mooney 6; A Flynn 7, J Barry 6, M Cahill 7; B Heffernan 6, R Maher 6, P Maher 7; B Maher 6, S Kennedy 5; S Curran 5, B McCarthy 6, J McGrath 7; M Breen 5, J Forde 8, W Connors 5. Subs: J O'Dwyer 5 for Breen (ht), C Barrett 6 for Kennedy (45), M Russell 6 for Curran (60), D Maher for Barry (61), C Darcy for McCarthy (65).

Ref - A Kelly (Galway)

Irish Independent

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