Tipp boss stands by decision to leave key players on bench during defeat to Kilkenny
Kilkenny 2-22 Tipperary 2-21
Some 20 minutes after the conclusion of the latest instalment of this great rivalry, the presence of Pádraic Maher and Noel McGrath among a group of Tipperary players surplus to the day's action being put through their paces in a post-match blow-out presented more than a little perspective.
At any stage during a helter-skelter closing quarter, Tipperary manager Michael Ryan could have sent for one or both in the knowledge that they may well have tilted the balance their way sufficiently to secure a first win over Kilkenny at the venue since the 2008 league semi-final.
Ryan didn't resist the temptation though because there wasn't a temptation there in the first place.
Having made a decision to warehouse them for the day, he stuck by it rigidly even with a cherished victory over the 'old enemy' in their back yard on the line. Take from that what you want.
Maybe it will cost them a place in league quarter-finals, most probably it won't though. It was, however, a fair reflection of the needs of the respective teams.
With Jason Forde and John McGrath on third-level duty over the weekend, Ryan still wasn't budging. "We were very determined that we were going to use the panel and obviously we made a couple of decisions about some of the more experienced players that they had played plenty and we didn't need to see them again today," he said afterwards.
Asked the impossible question afterwards as to whether it would have swung the match, it was one, naturally, he couldn't publicly answer.
"We've got to learn, we've got to let our guys experience what it's like to play top opponents like Kilkenny on their home patch and experience it. That's what hurling is all about.
"I've yet to meet my County Board, maybe they'll have a very different opinion on my team selection and choices during the game!" he laughed, recognising the financial benefits of league progress. Maybe the decision not to police TJ Reid much tighter will figure in any opinion offered too. Whether it would have swung it or not, it certainly didn't take from it. The cast may change but the level of drama rarely depletes.
A slow-burn first half, during which Reid made his mark with nine points from a variety of frees, '65s and three from play ended with the home side enjoying a marginal 0-13 to 0-12 advantage after the sides had been level five times.
Kilkenny themselves were missing the college-tied Pádraig Walsh and Conor Delaney while Eoin Murphy (injury), Conor Fogarty (illness) and Richie Hogan were also marked absent.
But they exploded after half-time with two goals and some of the ruthlessness of old, that the home contingent among the 10,587 crowd basking in glorious sunshine, really enjoyed.
First Walter Walsh, availing of Tomás Hamill's position further outfield, got behind the Tipp defence to latch on to Cillian Buckley's clearance and take it close enough to Daragh Mooney to give him no chance within two minutes of the restart.
Walsh had the scent of blood at this point, having been well contained by Hamill in the opening half, and rounded him in the next play to set up Liam Blanchfield who hooked wide.
Hamill then beat Walsh to the next ball but couldn't lift quickly enough and that allowed a flying Luke Scanlon to pounce and race in for a second goal and a 2-13 to 0-12 lead.
Tipp's response was admirable and was fuelled largely by Michael Breen's presence in the full-forward line and the introduction of Mark Russell, a half-time replacement, and Cian Darcy who came in for the injured Niall O'Meara.
Russell, son of former All-Ireland football final referee Paddy, really made his presence felt to unhinge Joey Holden, scoring a point and winning three frees for Breen to convert, while Breen embraced leadership in an experienced attack impressively, even taking over free-taking responsibility.
He got the first Tipp goal on 44 minutes with a delicate touch when Darcy's delivery fell right for him and followed up with a second goal four minutes later when he got a thundering shot away from an angle despite being pursued by five opponents.
Four successive Tipp points after Richie Leahy had steadied Kilkenny nerves pushed the visitors two points clear, 2-17 to 2-15, but the home side dug deep and captain Cillian Buckley and Paddy Deegan led the recovery from the back impressively, Deegan's fielding under pressure exciting the locals especially.
Leahy's move to midfield injected more pace while Reid just oozed class and after clawing back momentum it was his catch and lay-off to Leahy that effectively saw Kilkenny home with the last point. His only flaw was a penalty that skied over the bar on 47 minutes.
Tipp won't be too perturbed by the defeat, given the choices they made. Brendan Maher fired over four points from midfield to supplement Breen's efforts inside.
Ryan was happy with the response to a seven-point deficit but will be privately even happier that they stayed the pace for so long.
"It was a good response and some good passages of hurling coming from both sides. I know it was route one but that is what Mark Russell's forte is. He stands on the edge of the square and he asks some really hard questions and it caused those opportunities to come up. We will take them. Overall, we are disappointed, you never want to lose a match."
Brian Cody will also feel satisfied that his young players showed such an appetite to claw back lost ground in that second half. The manner of their resistance at the very end was very telling.
"The maturity that young lads showed really to kind of hang in there and realise that we were after losing a lead and to keep hurling," reflected Cody on the day's best offering.
"We've been competitive in the league. We were definitely being targeted for relegation by most people, I suppose, after the first two games - and that still can happen. We've put ourselves in a position where we can do something about it ourselves."