Terrific Tipp ascend to 27th Heaven
Tipperary 2-29 Kilkenny 2-20 All-Ireland SHC Final
The Croke Park exits hosted the rarest of sights yesterday as many Kilkenny supporters streamed away before the end, unwilling to endure a spectacle which other counties have suffered so often against the black-and-amber.
The closing minutes were the epitome of sporting heaven for the Tipperary team and their ecstatic fans as they saw out a game, which had slipped irretrievably beyond Kilkenny's reach.
Hurling's great survivors did all they could to keep the All-Ireland three-in-a-row dream alive but this time there would be no game-saving heroics and no grand finale.
Instead, Kilkenny were left to chase a lost cause in circumstances where they must have felt as if all the oxygen in the giant stadium was for Tipperary use only as they gasped for air in an intensely claustrophobic atmosphere.
By the end, Kilkenny's control on hurling's No.1 slot had been prised away in a manner nobody could possibly have envisaged. The nine-point differential was Kilkenny's biggest defeat in an All-Ireland final since losing to Tipperary by 14 points in 1964.
That it happened from a position where they appeared to have gotten their trademark third-quarter press working effectively made it all the more surprising - but then it was a day where Tipperary hurled with a power and a momentum not seen from them for a long time.
Their big test came when, after leading by three points early in the second half, they were hit for 1-2 in a five-minute spell.
Kilkenny's goal was scored by Kevin Kelly in the 42nd minute, driving them two points clear (1-14 to 0-15) and surely raising doubts among Tipperary supporters if they were about to see their team go the way of so many others.
The response was quite remarkable. Tipperary out-scored Kilkenny 2-14 to 1-6 from there to the finish, enjoying a dominance that nobody would have thought possible against Kilkenny.
Indeed, if it weren't for a few excellent saves from Eoin Murphy, Tipperary's winning margin would have been considerably higher on a day when Kilkenny sprung leaks all over the place.
Most damaging of all was the collapse of their defence or, perhaps more accurately, the excellence of Tipperary attack.
The listed full-forward trio, John 'Bubbles' O'Dwyer, Seamus Callanan and John McGrath scored 2-21 (2-15 from open play) between them making the Kilkenny resistance look every bit as flaky as when Clare danced through them in the Allianz League semi-final in Thurles last April.
Callanan, who scored 0-9 from open play and four more from placed balls, was the tormentor-in-chief in a performances which came as close to perfection as you will see in an All-Ireland final.
Apart from shooting a first half wide and failing to lift a close-in free high enough to clear Cillian Buckley's hurley reach, he did most things with a poise and precision that was a joy to watch, except of course for Kilkenny supporters.
Trying to curb Callanan was a nightmare assignment for Joey Holden and with Paul Murphy and Shane Prendergast stretched beyond breaking point too, there was little back-up for the stricken full-back.
Tipperary's rotation system in attack worked exceptionally well, forcing Kilkenny into making uncharacteristic errors. That included losing possession quite regularly, a most unusual sight at any time, let alone in an All-Ireland final.
Padraig Walsh was the only Kilkenny defender to reach anything like the required standard - indeed he was one of the few anywhere on the team to rise to the challenge in the final quarter as the sheer scale of the task grew increasingly intimidating.
The minutes after Kelly's goal were especially enlightening. Based on events over many years, this was very much Kilkenny time, a period when they build on what they have while asking the toughest of questions of the opposition.
Instead, they went 10 minutes without adding a score, during which Tipperary hit them for 1-4, the goal coming from 'Bubbles' O'Dwyer in the 48th minute.
It was a match-turning phase as Tipperary realised that they really were onto something.
They had been the better for most of the first half but didn't fully exploit it in a period where the sides were level ten times before two late points gave Tipp a 0-14 to 0-12 lead at the break.
And when Kilkenny moved two points clear seven minutes into the second half, it looked as if it might be business as usual for champions, only for Tipperary to raise their game to a level which took them well clear.
John McGrath's 62nd minute goal put Tipperary 2-25 to 1-19 ahead before Richie Hogan retaliated almost immediately with Kilkenny's second goal.
It was to be Kilkenny's final fling as they managed just one more point while Tipperary added four to extend the margin to nine points.
And so after six frustrating years, the All-Ireland senior title returns to Tipperary for a 27th time. The minors also triumphed yesterday, making it a very special day for a county that always regarded itself as most likely to end Kilkenny's reign.
Just as they did in 2010, they achieved it with a whole lot more ease than anyone could have possibly anticipated.
Their performance was immeasurably better than in the semi-final where they edged out Galway by a point and looking very much like a side who would have to find a whole lot more if they were to unseat Kilkenny.
They actually managed it across every line. James Barry and Ronan Maher secured the locks at the heart of the defence; Brendan Maher was ultra-reliable around midfield while the attack were in near-perfect harmony under Callanan's baton.
Ultimately, it all proved too much for Kilkenny on a day when Michael Fennelly's absence was undoubtedly a factor.
It's unlikely his presence would have bridged the divide but it would certainly have made Tipperary's task much more difficult, certainly in terms of building momentum in the middle third.
Kilkenny struggled in that sector all through and while Richie Hogan did his best to impose his will on proceedings, many of his colleagues just weren't in sync with him.
Nonetheless, Brian Cody made no changes until the hour mark when he replaced centre-back, Kieran Joyce and wing-forward, Eoin Larkin.
In truth, several others could have made way too but no further subs were introduced, suggesting that Kilkenny's support troops aren't pushing the front liners as forcefully as they might.
This defeat will, no doubt, lead to suggestions that this is the end of an era, but then exactly the same argument was put forward in 2010, only for Kilkenny to bounce back and win four of the next five All-Ireland titles.
Those who now feel tempted to write them off now would do well to remember that.
For while they were well beaten yesterday, it remains a fact that many if them played poorly by their own high standards and will be fiercely driven to make amends next year.
For now though it's all about Tipperary and the manner in which they came the long way through Munster before pressing onto the All-Ireland summit.
Wins over Waterford, Galway and Kilkenny in successive outings underlines their rate of improvement in what is a great tribute to manager, Michael Ryan.
He knew that doubts persisted going into yesterday's game, but the response was such that not even the hardest unit in the game could withstand the sheer ferocity that Tipperary brought to the exchanges.
Scorers - Tipperary: S Callanan 0-13 (3f, 1'65'), J O'Dwyer 1-5 (0-1f, 0-1 s/l), J McGrath 1-3, J Forde, Patrick Maher 0-2 each, N McGrath, S Kennedy, D McCormack, Padraic Maher 0-1 each.
Kilkenny:TJ Reid 0-11 (10f, 1'65), K Kelly 1-2 (0-1 s/l), R Hogan 1-1, P Walsh, E Larkin 0-2 each, W Walsh, C Buckley 0-1 each.
Tipperary - D Gleeson; C Barrett; J Barry, M Cahill; S Kennedy, R Maher,Padraic Maher; B Maher,M Breen; D McCormack, Patrick Maher, N McGrath; J O'Dwyer, S Callanan, J McGrath.
Subs: J Forde for Breen (45), N O'Meara for McCormack (62), D Maher for Cahill (65), K Bergin for N McGrath (70), T Hamill for Kennedy (72)
Kilkenny - E Murphy; P Murphy, J Holden, S Prendergast; P Walsh, K Joyce,C Buckley; TJ Reid, C Fogarty; W Walsh, R Hogan, E Larkin; K Kelly, C Fennelly, L Blanchfield.
Subs: R Lennon for Joyce (60), L Ryan for Larkin (60).
Ref - B Gavin (Offaly)