THEY say revenge is best served cold, but Kilkenny produced a red-hot variety of their own to burn champions Tipperary from first whistle to last before 81,314 spectators at Croke Park today.
This final was the third in a row between the neighbouring counties and with both having won one each previously, today’s game was the decider in this modern day trilogy.
It was Brian Cody’s bravehearts who had the greater hunger and a never-say-die attitude which the champions were unable to live with.
Indeed it is a tribute to the Tipp side that they managed to make a fight of the encounter because for long periods the team, and in particular their forwards, appeared dysfunctional. If anyone was to tell you before the game that last year’s Hurler of the Year, Lar Corbett, wouldn’t score or indeed have more than a passing influence on the game, who would have believed such talk?
Last year the Cats defenders left the field despondent, having been taken apart by a Corbett hat-trick. Guess who had their revenge for that humiliation today?
This return to victory had the Cody blueprint written all over it. Denied the historic five-in-a-row by the fire in Tipp’s belly last year, the Leinster champions went about their task of rebuilding quietly all year before unleashing a torrent of desire at Croke Park today.
This Clash of the Titans certainly wasn’t for the feint-hearted; the tackles thundered in, the hits were administered by both sides without flinching and the standards of the hurling suffered somewhat because of the intensity.
If a good start is half the battle, then the new champions were on their way from the throw-in. They had a point within a minute through their talisman Henry Shefflin after Colin Fennelly was fouled. Eoin Larkin was through on goal two minutes later but last-gasp defending by Michael Cahill averted the chance. But Larkin gained some amends by getting a point in the next attack.
After Richie Hogan had made it 0-3 to 0-0 Kikenny came close to a goal for the second time when Larkin beat goalkeeper Brendan Cummins to the jump but full-back Paul Curran cleared off his line.
Richie Power and Shefflin raised white flags to make it five points before Tipp got off the mark through a really class point by Noel McGrath from under the stand.
In truth Kilkenny should have been out of sight by this stage as it was a case of one-way traffic towards the defending champions’ goal.
The only Tipp forward to make any inroads was Patrick ‘Bonner’ Maher who was fouled to give skipper Eoin Kelly the chance to keep the scorboard ticking over from placed balls.
Play had to be held up for four minutes midway through the first half when referee Brian Gavin - in attempting to break up a scuffle among several players near the Kilkenny goal - was accidentially hit on the nose by Tommy Walsh’s hurl. The official was attended to for a cut nose by Tadhg Crowley, the Kilkenny doctor, before play resumed.
Once again Kilkenny were up for the battle and Eddie Brennan and Shefflin tacked on points before the cats drew first blood with a goal fit to grace any final.
Shefflin, who else, was again the architect, passing to Richie Hogan who in turn fed Michael Fennelly, arriving 30 yards out like an express train to drill the ball expertly past Cummins to give Kilkenny a six point advantage.
Tipp outscored their opponents for the last few minutes by two points to one through Gearoid Ryan and a Kelly free with Michael Rice getting his side’s last point to leave the half-time score at 1-8 to 0-6.
Manager Declan Ryan and his selectors acknowledged that they were taking water on the Premier vessel by replacing two stalwarts – Shane McGrath and Seamus Callanan - on the resumption and one of the subs Benny Dunne got the first score on the restart. When Shefflin replied with a point from play, it heralded a case of tit-for-tat scoring over the next quarter.
Then a goal of sheer class by Kilkenny put enough daylight between the sides on 49 minutes to ensure they would not be reeled in before the end. Eddie Brennan, celebrating the birth of his son Harry last week with arguably his best ever performance for the team, ran through the Tipp defence and unselfishlessly put the ball on Hogan’s hurl. There was still work to be done but Hogan’s instant control and skill saw him blast the ball to the net.
Tipp weren’t great champions for no reason and they tried everything to get back into the game. Pa Bourne even got a great goal from a pass by Corbett – his only telling contribution – and briefly ignited Premier hopes of a fightback.
But with Tommy Walsh driving his side on from the half-back line, a tiring black and amber outfit continued to score impressively and answered every Tipp point with a score of their own.
So whether a dish is served hot or cold, one thing became very clear today – hunger is the greatest sauce a manager can have when he sends his team out to fight for the Liam mcCarthy Cup.
Scorers: Kilkenny - H Shefflin (0-7, 0-5f), R Hogan (1-1),M Fennelly (1-0), E Larkin, R Power, C Fennelly (0-2 each) M Rice, E Brennan, TJ Reid (0-1 each)
Tipperary: E Kelly (0-8, 0-7 f, 0-1 65), N McGrath (0-3, 0-1 S/L), P Bourke (1-0), G Ryan (0-2), B Dunne, J O’Brien, C O’Mahony (0-1 each)
KILKENNY: D Herity; P Murphy, N Hickey, J Tyrrell; T Walsh, B Hogan (Capt), JJ Delaney; M Fennelly, M Rice; E Brennan, R Power, H Shefflin; C Fennelly, E Larkin, R Hogan. Subs. TJ Reid for E Brennan (60 mins); J Mulhall for R Hogan (65)
Blood sub – TJ Reid for C Fennelly.
TIPPERARY: B Cummins; P Stapleton, P Curran, M Cahill; J O’Keeffe, C O’Mahony, P Maher; G Ryan, S McGrath; S Callanan, N McGrath, P Maher; E Kelly (Capt), J O’Brien, L Corbett. Subs. B Maher for O’Keeffe (29 min); B Dunne for S McGrath, P Bourke for S Callanan (both half-time), D Young for C O’Mahony (57), J O’Neill for J O’Brien (66)
REF – B Gavin (Offaly)