Friday 20 April 2018

Hogan goes extra yard of plucky Tipperary

Kilkenny 2-26 Tipperary 4-17

Tommy Walsh tries to get away from
Michael Webster at Semple Stadium.
Tommy Walsh tries to get away from Michael Webster at Semple Stadium.

TIPPERARY gave it their best shot and then some more, but still came up short against one of the most efficient forces in hurling history.

It took 90 minutes to separate the sides in yesterday's hurling league decider in Thurles, with Kilkenny surging to victory off a points blitz in the second period of extra-time.

They started it a point ahead, but were two down inside a minute as Noel McGrath crowned an excellent performance with a crisp goal.

It might have been enough to provide the launchpad for success against any other team, but not Kilkenny. Their response to that set-back was to call on weary limbs to propel them forward and they calmly and methodically clipped over five unanswered points which left Tipperary needing a goal for survival.

They had a chance too when they won a 25-metre free in front of the Kilkenny goal but after making the long journey upfield, goalkeeper Brendan Cummins sent the ball whizzing over the bar.

Eddie Brennan closed out the scoring seconds later to send Kilkenny home with their fifth National League title of the decade and their 14th overall.

After trouncing Tipperary in March, Kilkenny were ridiculously hot favourites to cruise to another easy win but, in truth, there was never going to a repeat of the Nowlan Park humiliation.

As Tipperary manager, Liam Sheedy, pointed out, his players were stung by some of the sharp criticism they received and were determined to make a bold statement this time.

They achieved that and for long stages they looked as if they would retain the National League crown before Kilkenny raised their game to a level which gradually wore Tipperary down. Kilkenny actually took the lead from a Richie Hogan free in stoppage-time of normal-time, but Tipperary got a late chance to level it which they duly did off a Seamus Callanan free to leave it 2-17 to 3-14 at the end.

Despite several outbreaks of cramp, neither side flinched in extra-time which was a credit to their fitness. They had been through an energy-sapping 70 minutes where Tipperary had led from the fourth to the 68th minutes after making the initial break through a James Woodlock goal.

John O'Brien fired home a second goal in the eighth minute to help Tipperary -- who had the wind behind them in the first half -- to a 2-7 to 0-8 interval lead. They increased the advantage to eight points when Callanan scored their third goal two minutes into the second half, at which stage their supporters in the 17,087 crowd must have thought than a win was a real possibility.

However, Kilkenny haven't been through so many wars without learning how to cope with adversity and they launched their recovery programme straight away when Hogan hit a crucial goal within a minute of Callanan's strike.


Aidan Fogarty scored Kilkenny's second goal in the 50th minute, but Tipperary managed to stay in front until the 68th minute when a Fogarty point levelled it up for the first time. Having fought back from an eight-point deficit to send the game into extra-time, the psychological edge rested with Kilkenny and they duly made it count when it mattered most in the second period.

It really was a very satisfying win for Kilkenny who finished with Martin Comerford, Henry Shefflin and Michael Kavanagh in the dug-out after being sent off on yellow card offences. Comerford had a most unusual experience as he didn't even survive a minute after coming on a sub in the 10th minute. He clashed with Declan Fanning as he ran to take his position and the pair were sent off by referee John Sexton.

Shefflin followed in the 42nd minute and Kavanagh joined them on the bench in extra-time.

However, losing forwards of the calibre of Shefflin and Comerford would have seriously discommoded any other team but Kilkenny have so much firepower that they coped relatively easily with Hogan (who impressed with a 1-10 personal tally), Fogarty and TJ Reid shooting at their opportunist best.

They scored 2-19 between them and while Eddie Brennan had a quiet day by his standards, he finished well. Kilkenny lost Brian Hogan with what looked like a collarbone injury in the 10th minute and his departure had an unsettling impact on the defence which was uncharacteristically loose at times.

But Tommy Walsh was at his tenacious best and he needed to be as his colleagues came under severe pressure from a Tipperary attack where 18-year-old Noel McGrath was especially impressive. The others did quite well to at various stages of a game which tended to overheat on a few occasions.

Indeed, Walsh was lucky to escape with a black card sanction after tossing his hurley in John O'Brien's direction as the Tipp wing-forward drove a second-half point.

There were some other flashpoints too which proved just how determined both sides to land a title which lesser teams rather bizarrely claim is not important.

Kilkenny and Tipperary clearly deem it a prize worth fighting for -- hence the ferocity of the exchanges from start to finish. It was, in many ways, the perfect win for Kilkenny. An easy victory would have told them very little but might have led to an outbreak of over-confidence as they head into the championship.

Instead, they know that there are real threats out there which should concentrate the minds as they get down to championship training. Tipperary, meanwhile, can take many positives from the day too, not least that the attack, which will be further strengthened by the return of Eoin Kelly, appears to be finally taking shape as a cohesive, creative unit.

Scorers -- Kilkenny: R Hogan 1-10 (0-7f), A Fogarty 1-5, H Shefflin 0-4 (0-1f, 0-1'65), TJ Reid 0-4 (1 l/b), E Brennan 0-2, E Larkin 0-1. Tipperary: S Callanan 1-7 (0-6f, 0-1 '65'), N McGrath 1-5 (0-1f), J O'Brien, J Woodlock 1-1 each, S McGrath 0-2, B Cummins 0-1 (0-1 f).

Kilkenny -- PJ Ryan; M Kavanagh, JJ Delaney, J Tyrrell; T Walsh, B Hogan, J Ryall; J Tennyson, M Rice; R Hogan, H Shefflin, E Larkin; E Brennan, TJ Reid, A Fogarty. Subs: M Comerford for Hogan (10), M Grace for Comerford (11) yellow card, J Fitzpatrick for Shefflin (42, y/c), S Cummins for Kavanagh (77, y/c).

Tipperary -- B Cummins; P Stapleton, P Curran, C O'Brien; D Fanning, Padraic Maher, S Maher; T Stapleton, S McGrath; J Woodlock, S Callanan, J O'Brien; N McGrath, M Webster, L Corbett. Subs: B Maher for Fanning (11, y/c); H Maloney for S Maher (14), B Dunne for Maloney (57), S Hennessy for Woodlock (62), D Fitzgerald for T Stapleton (start of extra-time), Patrick Maher for Webster (80), E Buckley for Padraic Maher (89).

Ref -- J Sexton (Cork).

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