Wednesday 22 November 2017

Cody's men defy injuries and 'end of era' talk

Kilkenny 0-20 Tipperary 1-14

Henry Shefflin encourages his team-mates
Henry Shefflin encourages his team-mates
Tipperary duo Padraic Maher, left, and Conor O'Mahony contest a high ball with Walter Walsh and TJ Reid of Kilke
Vincent Hogan

Vincent Hogan

So a hand reached up out of a casket and the energy of doom gave way to the cries of Mardi Gras.

Nowlan Park danced and giggled and wheezed at this accident of summer on Saturday night, Kilkenny shrugging aside their fatigue to make a compelling statement. They still looked bandaged up and faintly compromised, but their cussedness was re-announced as a raging fire.

In victory they finished off this Tipperary team. When Eamon O'Shea protested so animatedly in the dressing-room tunnel afterwards about the "fight" in his team, he was doing so in anticipation of a question that never actually fell.

The truth about Tipperary is that, in recent seasons, they have been the only side consistently able to run at Kilkenny's altitude.

But they are now one from seven in championship meetings with Brian Cody's teams and, on this occasion, Tipp got taken out by a champion with one arm tied behind his back.

Hence the giddiness of the locals as their night swerved from strung-out novenas to love-struck high fives. The team that owed them nothing was going to, at the very least, be granted a respectful passing.

If every molecule of their being recoiled from the notion of Tipp as executioners, particularly in Nowlan Park, there was this one last obligation to express a community's faith.

And how they hollered.

The atmosphere was riotous then, reaching a roof-lifting crescendo just five minutes from the end of an epic tie when Henry Shefflin went clacking down the steps of the New Stand to begin a warm-up that had an almost celebratory air.

"Understandably, questions were being asked about where we are or is this the end, or whatever it was supposed to be," smiled Cody later. "The old script is still there anyway, for a week at least."

They play Waterford now on Saturday and a victory in Semple Stadium will, at least, buy Cody time to further rehabilitate the likes of Shefflin and Michael Fennelly who, according to the manager, is "getting closer".

Tipp will justifiably lament the hamstring pull that forced Lar Corbett ashore just 29 minutes in, for Corbett was getting the better of his battle with Paul Murphy and had already drop-pucked the game's only goal.

Without him, their attacking threat was grievously diminished and, worse, their tactic of tossing high ball towards the full-forward line became increasingly futile.

James Woodlock's barrelling runs from midfield offered the only variation in Tipp's strategy and it was one of the Drom and Inch man's charges that unwrapped the 41st-minute goal chance that could have taken this game out of Kilkenny's reach.

Tipp were leading 1-8 to 0-10 at the time, but Eoin Kelly seemed to over-deliberate on the opportunity and a diving JJ Delaney got the critical touch to divert his shot away from Eoin Murphy's goal.

When the Mullinahone man was off-target from the resultant '65', the roars could have cracked streetlights down the town.


Seconds later, Brendan Maher pulled a little intemperately across Eoin Larkin and, from the free, Kilkenny were level.

If the battle never exactly dimmed thereafter, something in Tipp's spirit did. Shefflin and Fennelly and Michael Rice and Cillian Buckley were still sitting in the stand. TJ Reid had lasted an ineffectual 20 minutes and his replacement, Ger Aylward, was about to be hauled ashore too.

But Larkin was having a wonderful game in midfield and, in Walter Walsh and Richie Hogan, Kilkenny had the two most potent forwards on the field.

Tipp's high deliveries towards the Ted Carroll Stand now beggared belief as those noted terrorists of the sky, JJ Delaney, Brian Hogan and Kieran Joyce began plucking ball like apples from a tree. When the now-rampant Murphy made a wonderful block on Jason Forde 17 minutes from time and, seconds later, big Walter spooned over his third of the day, the din was all Kilkenny's.

And there was a faintly-melancholy air as O'Shea hauled off two great veterans of the team, Kelly and John O'Brien, throwing Brian 'Buggy' O'Meara into the edge of the Kilkenny square in a repudiation of the tactical refinement upon which his reputation has been built.

Kilkenny's simple self-sufficiency had, again, been too much for Tipp. The imperative Cody demands of all his players about winning individual battles had, again, trumped all argument about tactics.

When the long whistle blew, the scenes were redolent of September and a season's end. Players from both sides fell to their knees in exhaustion, people pouring down out of both stands, hungry for the opportunity to touch the tunics of great men.

Had Tipp, in a perverse way, been the perfect opponents for a team beaten just seven days earlier by Dublin? Cody did not deny it.

"Probably, probably," he reflected. "Because there is huge rivalry there with Tipperary, there have been huge battles over the past number of years. It was our pitch and we did not want to go. But I think it's the date as well, it's the first week of July.

"The consequences of looking at a championship going ahead and thinking in our own heads that we just didn't play to the way we can play yet. There is no point thinking that tomorrow if we are beaten."

Still breathing then. Still planning their tomorrows.

SCORERS – Kilkenny: E Larkin 0-11 (10fs), R Hogan, W Walsh 0-3 each, R Power 0-2, C Fennelly 0-1. Tipperary: E Kelly 0-5 (0-4fs, 0-1 '65'), J O'Dwyer 0-3, L Corbett 1-0, S Callanan 0-2, J Woodlock, N McGrath, J O'Brien, K Bergin 0-1 each.

KILKENNY – E Murphy 8, P Murphy 8, JJ Delaney 7, J Tyrrell 7, T Walsh 8, B Hogan 7, K Joyce 8, L Ryan 7, E Larkin 9, C Fennelly 6, R Power 7, M Ruth 6, TJ Reid 5, W Walsh 8, R Hogan 8. Subs: G Aylward 6 for Reid (20), A Fogarty 6 for Aylward (52), H Shefflin (not on long enough) for Ruth (65).

TIPPERARY – B Cummins 8, C O'Brien 7, P Stapleton 7, M Cahill 8, B Maher 8, C O'Mahony 7, Padraic Maher 8, J Woodlock 7, S McGrath 5, Patrick Maher 5, N McGrath 6, J O'Brien 6, J O'Dwyer 7, E Kelly 6, L Corbett 8. Subs: S Callanan 7 for Corbett (29), K Bergin 7 for S McGrath (h-t), J Forde 6 for Patrick Maher (51), G Ryan 6 for O'Brien (54), B O'Meara (not on long enough) for Kelly (64).

REF – B Gavin (Offaly).

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