Lack of goals a worry but Tipp are still my pick for the summer
THEY say Kilkenny don't do tactics but I saw them up close and personal yesterday. Brian Hogan was content to sit back in the 'hole' in front of the full-back and he offered excellent protection.
Hogan decided that he wasn't going to follow Lar Corbett and Kieran Joyce picked him up.
Both teams were anxious not to concede space and when Noel McGrath drifted out to play as a third midfielder for Tipperary, Aidan Fogarty followed him from the other end of the field.
Not once did Hogan ever contemplate going out to mark Corbett or McGrath at any stage – and this had a major bearing on the game.
A humdinger at Nowlan Park has certainly whetted the appetite for the summer. It wasn't a really open game but the tactical battle was hugely intriguing.
That was the most enjoyable aspect of the game for me, watching how both teams went about their business.
Both Kilkenny and Tipp approached the game in a particular manner and didn't deviate from their game plans in the whole game. The difference was Michael Fennelly and his two goals.
The most worrying aspect for Tipperary was the fact that four of their forwards were taken off – and Lar was sent off. They never looked like scoring a goal yesterday and for Kilkenny this was a comfortable day at the office from a defensive viewpoint. It was fitting that the final was played at Nowlan Park. Better to have a ground almost full with over 20,000 fans than having them lost in Croke Park. It made for a terrific atmosphere.
Despite the result, I'm standing by my assertion that Tipperary will win the All-Ireland.
They're still in a good place and going in the right direction under Eamon O'Shea. And for the majority of this game, they matched Kilkenny in the physicality and intensity stakes.
A bigger pitch, such as Croke Park, will also suit Tipp more than the tighter surroundings of Nowlan Park.
But Kilkenny are in one hell of a good position too. They were without Henry Shefflin, TJ Reid and Richie Power yesterday and still won.
What a frightening prospect it is for the rest of the chasing pack that those three have to come back in. Lester Ryan has been the find of the league season and he was immense again yesterday. That's typical Kilkenny – pulling players like that out of nowhere.
Ryan was probably the difference between the two teams in the second half. He scored two first-half points and added another after half-time, along with a series of powerful plays.
Michael Fennelly's positioning at centre-forward was another major factor in the result. He was 33/1 with Paddy Power to score the first goal of the game. I'm disappointed that I didn't have a fiver on him. He also got the first one in the 2011 All-Ireland final between the teams.
Playing Fennelly on Paudie Maher was a shrewd move by Kilkenny. Brian Cody might not have been present yesterday but I'm sure that he's still calling the shots. Tipp playing a third man at midfield, Noel McGrath on this occasion, also interested me.
Playing three in the centre is a tactic that worked well for Galway against Kilkenny last year and Eamon O'Shea decided to have a look at it.
McGrath was out around the middle third for large parts of the game but, overall, Kilkenny won the tactical exchanges.
Still, Tipperary will have left Nowlan Park quite encouraged. Brendan Maher was super at midfield and they still have Paddy Stapleton and Brendan Cummins to come back in, although I thought Darren Gleeson had a reasonably good game between the sticks. He couldn't do much for either of Michael Fennelly's goals.
The biggest thing for me with Kilkenny is that, while Cody realises that his players are getting on a bit, he's also sure that they will remain competitive as long as their levels of physicality stay high.
That's what's winning games for them and while he'll acknowledge that there are some good young teams coming to challenge Kilkenny, with plenty of hurling, they'll still struggle to compete when the chips are down.
It was a hard-hitting game and while I didn't see the red cards from my position in the press box, from what I can gather from people watching at home, JJ and Lar could have few complaints.
Barry Kelly came in for a bit of stick from the home supporters but I thought the referee did well. Under the circumstances, and with a partisan crowed putting him under severe pressure at times, I thought he had an excellent game.