Cody in unfamiliar territory as Premier find form
THE hurling world won't exactly spin on its axis but it will certainly look on curiously to see how Kilkenny react to a most unusual situation, as they find themselves with the entire weight of Division 1A bearing down on them.
A second successive defeat, inflicted on them by a Tipperary team that showed a vast improvement on the insipid effort against Cork a fortnight earlier, leaves Kilkenny as the only team in the group without a point.
With three rounds remaining and three counties (plus Division 1B winners) to qualify for the league semi-finals, qualification is still well within Kilkenny's range but only if they beat Waterford next Monday.
As for Tipperary, they marked their first home game of the league with a gritty performance where endeavour was rewarded with a win, which had its origin in a highly productive spell just before half-time.
Tipperary led by a point on the half-hour mark (their goal in the 27th minute had come in most unusual circumstances when the ball cannoned into the net off John O'Dwyer's helmet) but by half-time they had pulled six points clear after out-scoring Kilkenny by 1-3 to 0-1 in the final five minutes.
Lar Corbett scored the second goal, flicking the ball to the Kilkenny net after timing his run to perfection.
Eoin Kelly closed the scoring with a deftly-struck point, after which there was an incident which may have had a profound bearing on the game.
A bust-up involving several players ended with Tommy Walsh being yellow-carded and when he incurred a second yellow in the 61st minute, he was forced out at a time when his influence on Kilkenny's revival was increasing.
Tipperary lost Noel McGrath to a second yellow two minutes later, but Walsh's absence from the Kilkenny team when they were desperately chasing the game may well have been more significant.
In fairness to both Walsh and McGrath, they were unlucky to end the day on the sideline, but there appears to be less tolerance being shown by referees this year. Of course the big question is whether the crackdown will last or, as has happened so often in the past, fizzle out gradually as the season progresses.
Kilkenny were two points behind when Walsh was sent off and, while they cut the deficit to one on the run-in, they couldn't come up with the levelling point.
There were visible signs of relief on Tipperary faces at the end, not just because they had banished the bad memories from the Cork game but because they had broken a Kilkenny dominance which ran throughout 2011 and 2012, during which the Cats beaten them in two championship and two league games.
"There was a good work rate out there today. This is one step on the way to becoming a good team. You know there'll be many more steps before we really can count ourselves as being where we want to be. But I thought the team showed fine character and mettle today," said Tipp manager Eamon O'Shea.
It was obvious from the start that Tipperary were playing at a much higher pitch than they reached at any time against Cork in the first round.
They scored three points in the opening three minutes and while Kilkenny battled back and took the lead through a Richie Hogan goal in the 15th minute, Tipperary were hurling with a fluency which was bound to produce scores.
Backed by the icy wind, they out-scored Kilkenny by 2-7 to 0-4 in the final 20 minutes of the first half to lead by 2-11 to 1-8, setting the visitors a real, if not insurmountable, challenge.
Kilkenny rose to it with as much energy and endeavour as they could muster but rarely threatened Darren Gleeson in the Tipperary goal.
That meant the recovery route was based on points and, while Kilkenny managed 11 in the second half, it fell tantalisingly short of rescuing the situation.
Kilkenny looked to be poised for a fifth successive win over their great rivals when they cut the deficit to a point (2-14 to 1-16) on the hour mark, but Tipperary dug in for a battling finish and points by subs Seamus Callanan and Shane Bourke, plus Kelly's ninth of the afternoon, cancelled out Kilkenny's late trio from Power (2) and Paddy Hogan.
"Any time you get two points in a league game on a cold afternoon like today and you put in a performance like that, you're happy," said O'Shea.
The panic buzzers won't be sounding in Kilkenny but defeats by Galway and Tipperary – who are likely to be their main rivals for the top prizes this season – weren't in the script, even if they have had to start the campaign without several big names.
"You can talk about performance all you like but you have to get the result and we have lost both matches. That's not something we are interested in doing," said manager Brian Cody.
He will have been disappointed that Kilkenny didn't take at least one point from the game, especially after putting themselves in such a strong position around the hour mark.
Walsh's departure changed the dynamic somewhat and with Tipperary grafting diligently all over the field, Kilkenny were just edged out.
Cody refused to be drawn on Walsh's dismissal, pointing out that he doesn't comment on referees.
"If I disagree with it, I am blaming the referee, so I am not saying anything about the referee because I can't. But the referee doesn't make the rules," he said.
O'Shea was equally diplomatic about the dismissals. "It's not for me to comment. The referee does his job. I thought the game was really competitive, real value for money," he said.
From a Tipperary perspective, it came with the added bonus of providing their season with a powerful take-off while dispatching Kilkenny to the bottom of the table.
Quite a double for the Premier boys.
Man of the match: P Maher (Tipperary)
Scorers – Tipperary: E Kelly 0-9 (7f, 1 '65'), L Corbett 1-1, J O'Dwyer 1-0, P Bourke 0-2 (1f), B Maher, N McGrath, S Callanan, S Bourke, P Maher 0-1 each. Kilkenny: R Power 0-9 (8f, 1 '65'), R Hogan 1-2, E Larkin 0-3 (1 s-l), P Hogan 0-2 (1f), A Fogarty, M Ruth, C Fennelly 0-1 each.
Tipperary – D Gleeson 7; P Stapleton 7, P Curran 7, M Cahill 8; P Maher 9, C O'Mahony 7; C O'Brien 7; A Ryan 5, B Maher 7; N McGrath 7, L Corbett 8, J O'Brien 6; J O'Dwyer 6, E Kelly 7, P Bourke 6. Subs: S Bourke 7 for Ryan (51), S Callanan 7 for O'Dwyer (57), T Hamill 6 for O'Mahony (58), J Forde for O'Brien (66).
Kilkenny – D Herity 6; P Murphy 7, JJ Delaney 7, C Fogarty 7; T Walsh 7 B Hogan 6, P Hogan 7; L Ryan 6, R Power 7; M Kelly 5, C Fennelly 6, E Larkin 7; M Ruth 5, A Fogarty 6, R Hogan 8.
Subs: K Joyce 6 for B Hogan (47), T Breen 5 for Ruth (52), G Aylward for Kelly (65).
Ref – M Wadding (Waterford)