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Kilkenny's John Power breaks his hurley as Tipperary full back Conor O'Mahony clears up field

Kilkenny's John Power breaks his hurley as Tipperary full back Conor O'Mahony clears up field

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Seamus Callanan, the Tipperary captain, is tackled by Paul Murphy, Kilkenny, in the move that led to the third goal of the game

Seamus Callanan, the Tipperary captain, is tackled by Paul Murphy, Kilkenny, in the move that led to the third goal of the game

SPORTSFILE

Niall O'Meara celebrates with Seamus Callan, left, after scoring the second Tipperary goal in the 54th minute

Niall O'Meara celebrates with Seamus Callan, left, after scoring the second Tipperary goal in the 54th minute

SPORTSFILE

Kieran Bergin, Tipperary, in action against Walter Walsh, Kilkenny

Kieran Bergin, Tipperary, in action against Walter Walsh, Kilkenny

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Kilkenny’s Jonjo Farrell struggles to hold off Tipperary’s Paul Curran during their NFL clash in Thurles

Kilkenny’s Jonjo Farrell struggles to hold off Tipperary’s Paul Curran during their NFL clash in Thurles

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Kilkenny's John Power breaks his hurley as Tipperary full back Conor O'Mahony clears up field

Tipperary's torment under Kilkenny's reign of tyranny is over - for now at least.

It was a day of double delight for Eamon O'Shea's crew in Semple Stadium yesterday when, as well as clinching a place in the league quarter-finals, they despatched Kilkenny into most unusual territory where they will face a play-off to stay in 1A.

Even if Kilkenny beat Clare in the final series of games next Sunday, it won't be enough to take them out of the relegation zone (the bottom two teams play off to decide who drops to 1B) after suffering three successive losses for the first time under Brian Cody.

Defeats by Dublin and Galway left Kilkenny needing a positive response yesterday but their performance level came nowhere close to being high enough to match a slick Tipperary outfit.

And so the All-Ireland champions slumped to a third successive defeat, trailing in 12 points behind a Tipperary team that scored more in the opening 35 minutes than Kilkenny did in the entire game.

"There was no doubt about the result. The better team won. That's all there's to it," said Cody.

Kilkenny are way short of full firepower at present but he was not offering it as any excuse for a performance which carried some worrying trends.

Chief among those was the attacking power failure.

Apart from Richie Hogan, who scored 0-10 (0-4 from open play) and Jonjo Farrell, who scored 1-1, the Kilkenny forwards struggled to make any impression on an ultra-vigilant Tipperary defence.

STRETCHED

At the other end, the Kilkenny defence was frequently stretched beyond breaking point by Tipperary's high-octane forwards.

It all combined to leave Kilkenny supporters in the crowd of 10,421 reflecting ruefully on the absence of several star acts who will return later.

Clearly, they are badly needed. And the fact that Cody deployed only two subs suggests that the back-up forces aren't as formidable as some would have you believe.

Cody was in no humour to dwell on the difficult circumstances.

"There are no excuses as regards missing players. There's no point talking about that - it's not an issue, We had players out there - they are all part of the panel," he said.

On this occasion, they just weren't good enough to match Tipperary, who had no fewer than nine different scorers.

Kilkenny started well, dashing into a lead after 20 seconds when Farrell whipped the ball to the Tipperary net after a shot by Walter Walsh cannoned back off an upright.

Tipperary retaliated quickly, with Seamus Callanan scoring their first goal in the fourth minute with a smashing finish before they went on to open up a six-point lead after 13 minutes. Hogan did his best to revive Kilkenny's effort, hoisting four points from play while adding three more from frees. They were only a point adrift after 25 minutes but that was as good as it got for them.

Tipperary won the final 45 minutes by 1-12 to 0-4, imposing a degree of control that left Kilkenny trapped in a frustrating curve from which there was no escape.

They trailed by 1-16 to 1-9 at the interval and had fallen eight points behind after 40 minutes when they were awarded a penalty when Farrell was chopped down. Hogan's drive for goal was saved by Brendan Maher, a crucial intervention which added to Kilkenny's sense of deflation while providing further nourishment for Tipperary.

Callanan set up Niall O'Meara for their second goal in the 54th minute, by which stage it was obvious that Tipperary were headed for a comfortable win.

The strike rate dropped from there on but that was of little concern to Tipperary, who kept a contented look in their rear-view mirror as the black-and-amber receded further into the distance. It's a very unusual sight in hurling and while Tipperary enjoyed it, O'Shea steered well clear of over-valuing their current prominence.

"I think we're through (to the quarter-finals). That'll do for now, I need a rest. We got a win today, which is very good, but as I keep saying, the same mantra, win or lose - it's a game in March. Take it for what it is," he said.

Still, wins over Galway, Clare and Kilkenny has made it a productive few weeks, in contrast to last year when Tipperary headed into the final 1A game under threat of relegation. O'Shea continued with the line that results in February-March have little bearing on what happens later in the year but, at the same time, there has to be a strong sense of satisfaction over how well the Tipperary project appears to be coming together.

Apart from a spell in the first half when Hogan prospered in the Kilkenny half-forward line, Padraic Maher was an imperious presence at the heart of a Tipperary defence where Kieran Bergin, Cathal Barrett and sub Conor O'Brien also did well.

There was much to admire too in the Tipperary attack, whose ability to slip clear of their markers often left them with largely unimpeded strikes on goal.

"We were decent in the first half but would be disappointed how we played in the second half. We'll just keep it going. We have an important game against Clare next Sunday," said Cody.

Its importance rests in terms of performance and confidence because even if they win, they will still face a relegation play-off.

Meanwhile, Tipperary head for Pairc Ui Rinn next Sunday to face a Cork team that has also qualified for the quarter-finals. A chance perhaps to launch into experimental mode?

"It's a unique situation for me to be in so I'll have to study it to see what approach to take. Last year it was more difficult, so we'll just have to see how we do it," said O'Shea.

It's a nice dilemma for a contented camp.

Man of the Match: Padraic Maher

Scorers - Tipperary: S Callanan 1-7 (3f, 1 '65'), N O'Meara 1-2, J O'Dwyer 0-4, N McGrath 0-3, M Breen 0-2, P Maher, J Forde, S Bourke, J Woodlock 0-1 each. Kilkenny: R Hogan 0-10 (6f), J Farrell 1-1, M Kelly, J Power 0-1 each ('65).

Tipperary - D Gleeson 7; C Barrett 8, C O'Mahony 7, P Curran 6; M Breen 7, P Maher 9, R Maher 7; K Bergin 7, J Woodlock 7; J O'Dwyer 8, B Maher 7, J Forde 6; N McGrath 7, S Callanan 8, N O'Meara 8. Subs: C O'Brien 8 for Curran (30), S McGrath 6 for Forde (51), J McGrath 6 for O'Meara (58), S Bourke for N McGrath (62), D Egan for Gleeson (65).

Kilkenny - E Murphy 7; S Prendergast 6, P Murphy 6, J Tyrrell 7; B Kennedy 6, K Joyce 7, C Buckley 7; M Kelly 6, L Ryan 5; W Walsh 5, R Hogan 8, M Ruth 5; J Farrell 7, J Power 6, G Aylward 5. Subs: K Kelly 6 for Aylward (h-t), J Lyng 5 for Ryan (48).

Ref - J McGrath (Westmeath)

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