Saturday 16 December 2017

Mullane: Spirited Tipp will take heart after running Cats so close

4 May 2014; Cillian Buckley, Kilkenny, in action against John O'Dwyer, Tipperary. Allianz Hurling League Division 1 Final, Tipperary v Kilkenny, Semple Stadium, Thurles, Co. Tipperary. Picture credit: Ray McManus / SPORTSFILE
4 May 2014; Cillian Buckley, Kilkenny, in action against John O'Dwyer, Tipperary. Allianz Hurling League Division 1 Final, Tipperary v Kilkenny, Semple Stadium, Thurles, Co. Tipperary. Picture credit: Ray McManus / SPORTSFILE

John Mullane

TJ REID and Richie Hogan will grab the headlines for their scoring exploits yesterday, but JJ Delaney was the man who caught my eye.

The Kilkenny full-back was outstanding and it's easy to understand why Brian Cody rates him as the best defender he has ever had at his disposal.

Seamus Callanan came into the game in a rich vein of form, but JJ won the battle hands down.

For the entire 90 minutes, JJ was top class, but Callanan had a goal chance in the second period of extra- time that was brilliantly saved by Eoin Murphy. A goal then and Tipp would have gone on to win the game.

I had to rely on my Sky box for TV coverage and Henry Shefflin's performance resonated with me.

My club De La Salle had a two-point win against Abbeyside yesterday, but it was one of those days when my marker got the better of me.

And for Henry, it was a rare off-day as Tipperary youngster Cathal Barrett enjoyed an outstanding 73 minutes of hurling.

What I found strange from both managers is why there was a reluctance to move Callanan and Shefflin when they were losing those individual battles. Callanan would have been better off in the half-forward line and switching Henry to a more central position could have worked too.

The penalties awarded in the game were other big talking points. The first one was a penalty, in my book, but I thought Cathal Barrett was unlucky with the second award.

Overall, I felt James Owens awarded some soft frees. There was one when Patrick 'Bonner' Maher went in on Paul Murphy – typical 'Bonner' in hunting as he always does but he was harshly pulled. Soon after, Owens looked to balance the books by penalising Jackie Tyrrell when the Kilkenny man should have been awarded a free.

TJ Reid scored two goals from penalties and his style is obviously very similar to Cork goalkeeper Anthony Nash's. This is one skill in the game that must be left untouched.

The first penalty could have been saved and Brendan Maher was very unlucky, but the second one was unstoppable.

For 55 minutes of the game, Tipp were well on top and it was Reid keeping Kilkenny in it from placed balls. And what about that for improvisation and ingenuity for the winning score?

CUTENESS

That's the typical cuteness of Kilkenny as TJ found a top-class forward in Richie Hogan before making space for himself.

Tipp will be kicking themselves though – it was a game they could and should have won.

With that late free, Darren Gleeson should have lumped the ball down on top of the Kilkenny backs. His decision to play a short ball, which drifted out of play and ultimately led to Kilkenny's winning point, smacked of inexperience.

It was a crazy move at a time when Tipp had the chance to put Kilkenny under huge pressure.

It's been a long time since Tipp beat Kilkenny in a league decider – 1968 in fact.

And in the recent big games between the two counties, Tipp have just the 2010 All-Ireland final to show for their efforts.

Still, if I was a Tipp supporter coming out of Thurles yesterday, I would have been very pleased.

The team fought like dogs and Pádraic Maher was very good at full-back, with Brendan Maher exceptional at centre-back.

The defence in general was very solid as a unit and James Barry is a real find.

Tipp worked themselves back into contention after a sluggish start, before taking over. Kilkenny looked in real trouble when the Tipp half-forward line started to run at them and that could be a worry for Cody as the summer goes on.

It was unlike Brian, incidentally, to react to the Tipperary bench like he did in the first half. He's usually such a calm figure, but this one obviously meant a lot to him.

No sign of Tommy Walsh, either. I find that very strange. Eoin Larkin came on, but I suspect that Brian might be holding Tommy for the summer. And I wouldn't write off Tommy at all. How can you write off a nine-time All Star?

Finally, it would be remiss of me not to make reference to the point that was and the point that wasn't. Colin Fennelly's score in the 11th minute looked well wide on my TV screen but the point was given.

And in extra-time, Tipp's Noel McGrath scored a point that was inside the post and yet it was waved wide. There's a simple solution to this – and it doesn't necessarily mean installing Hawk-Eye at Semple Stadium. All that needs to be done is for the referee to stop the game for 15 or 20 seconds and refer to an independent eye in the stand, based in the TV gantry.

Those two decisions were clear on the replays and it wouldn't take too long to ascertain whether these are scores or not, simply by going upstairs.

With the stakes so high and lines so fine, we shouldn't be getting these big calls wrong.

The players invest too much time and effort to be let down like that and in Tipp's case yesterday, it was effectively a two-point swing in Kilkenny's favour.

But the spoils, once again, to Kilkenny and a first three-in-a-row in this competition since Tipp achieved that feat back in 1961.

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