Wednesday 17 January 2018

Premier blown away by Cody's master plan

WIN or lose, yesterday was going to be a very significant day for Kilkenny hurling. If they were beaten in a second successive All-Ireland final, the Cats' four-in-a-row team might have lost more of their highly decorated stars.

But yesterday's final whistle was celebrated more vigorously than any of the previous successes under Brian Cody and marked this one out as one of his sweetest All-Ireland wins yet -- and that's saying something.

There were a number of changes from last year's decider, but most tellingly the presence of a fully fit Henry Shefflin and the return of Brian Hogan to centre-back gave Kilkenny a renewed sense of purpose. From the off, they imposed their game on Tipp.

They were clearly eager to make up for missing out on the five-in-a-row last year and were full value for their 0-5 to 0-0 lead early on.

And while Tipperary battled back to within two points with half-time looming, it would have been an injustice had that been the Cats' interval advantage.

They had already squandered a couple of goal chances and with the clock ticking towards half-time, it looked like Tipperary had rode out the storm.

So when Michael Fennelly struck for the game's opening goal to ensure his side enjoyed a five-point advantage at the interval, it was no more than they deserved.

At the other end, Tipperary were struggling to a surprising degree.

It took them 16 minutes to register their first score as they struggled to get their game going and Cody deserves great credit for coming up with a plan to shut down a Premier forward unit -- Eoin Kelly and Lar Corbett in particular -- that had been rampant all summer.

Had you told someone before the game that Corbett would finish the day scoreless, they'd have laughed at you.

But that's what happened, with Jackie Tyrrell putting in an excellent shift on the Thurles Sarsfields man. Noel Hickey was paired with Eoin Kelly and he also did a fine job.

Cody's practice of putting the Dunnamaggin man out from his natural habitat of full-back to corner-back in a couple of championship games this year finally made sense to the rest of us. Cody had a plan all along and it worked out beautifully for Kilkenny.

And in the midst of it all, All-Ireland final rookie Paul Murphy took to the occasion like a duck to water. In front of them, Tommy Walsh enjoyed another excellent day. He took all before him and he was my man of the match.

He also has to be a strong contender for Hurler of the Year and it's worth repeating that, in my opinion, he's the best hurler in the country.

Up front, Henry Shefflin showed glimpses of his brilliance while Eddie Brennan proved that his manager's decision to hand him his first start of the campaign was a good one.

To Tipperary's credit, they never gave up and they were quick to make the required changes. Pa Bourke's goal, which closed the gap to four points, came at just the right time for them to mount a comeback.

And while they eventually narrowed the gap to three points with nine minutes remaining, you never really felt like Kilkenny were going to let Tipp back into the game.

And, despite being outsiders with the bookmakers, can anyone say they are surprised that the Cats saved their best for All-Ireland final day?

In the minor game, Galway were deserving winners over Dublin. It was known in Galway that they had a strong side and they proved that yesterday.

Dublin's danger men were well marshalled all day. Galway, on the other hand, had all their big players going well. Padraig Brehony was superb at midfield, Jonathan Glynn was good at centre-forward while Jason Flynn also had his moments.

Shane Maloney kept the scoreboard ticking over from play and from placed balls, while Paul Killeen was the pick of the backs in an excellent defensive display.

Galway have an U-21 final to contest, also against the Dubs, and they'll fancy themselves for a second underage All-Ireland title.

Irish Independent

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