Tuesday 20 February 2018

Ryan: We were blown out of it

THE second half was 10 minutes old when Conor O'Mahony pressed forward with a powerful surge, found a rare pocket of space in front of Hell's Kitchen and planted Tipperary's ninth point of the day.

It should have been a crowd lifter, it should have drawn a rousing response to those of blue and gold orientation in the 81,214 crowd.

After all, it was their first score for five minutes and had stemmed a tide that had already swept Kilkenny seven clear with three unanswered points since Eoin Kelly's 40th minute conversion of a '65.'

But, instead it was greeted by no more than a ripple of generous applause, an acknowledgment of its quality and precision, but in the overall scheme of things not something with the impact that was required at that particular time.

By then, too many had sensed that the game was already up, that too many avenues had been locked down with a security presence that just wasn't going to be penetrated.

Tipperary people have hurling savvy. They weren't going to delude themselves that a stirring comeback was in its infancy on the back of a point in isolation from their centre-back.

They knew the margins, they knew the trends, they saw the writing on the wall.

They knew that in 80pc of the individual duels across the pitch they were in trouble. They knew that in the remaining 20pc they could make a case for slight superiority in maybe two of the head-to-head battles. And that was a big maybe.

In time Tipperary will reflect on the 2011 All-Ireland final and admit that it could have turned nasty for them.

The wonder is that they could lose so many personal duels and still be only four points adrift at the end. It is perhaps the only thing they can take from this match.

Kilkenny's desire to put them ruthlessly to the sword, to humiliate them if they could, was actually their salvation.

When Michael Fennelly unwittingly took a shot for a goal from too far out which Brendan Cummins was able to safely gather, it led directly to Pa Bourke's goal at the other end.

A Fennelly point at that stage would have left eight points in it and endless possibilities as to the score might have opened up.

Instead, it was down to four and faint hope was offered. But they remained at arm's length.

Declan Ryan admitted his side had been outfought and outmuscled in every respect.

Slight consolation came from the fact that they trailed by five points at half-time and lost by only four. But it provided hollow comfort.

"It's disappointing when you don't turn up with your 'A' game on the day," he said.

"Hats off to Kilkenny, they were the hungrier team. That's the way it looked from the sideline.

"We were lucky to be only five points down at half-time," he acknowledged. "We rejigged it a small bit. I think the guys did themselves justice in the second half.

"Kilkenny seemed the hungrier team. Unfortunately we were second best to them, which is testament to the fact that they have set the standard since the late 1990s in the country."

The nature of Kilkenny's commitment was reflected in the crunching tackle by Michael Fennelly on Shane McGrath and the careless abandon with which Colin Fennelly put his head on the line to block Lar Corbett close to half-time.

That was the intensity that Tipperary brought to the 2010 final, but couldn't reignite it here.

"We were blown out of it in a couple of tackles and that's maybe down to attitude and hunger.

"Kilkenny have shown over the last five years that they have savage hunger and they showed it again today.

"We failed to cope with it early in the game we got to grips with it somewhat in the second half."

For Ryan the problems were everywhere, almost too numerous to mention.


"We didn't get too many open goal opportunities today. We seemed to be bunched up in our forward line.

"We didn't win enough breaking ball. We didn't win enough primary possession.

"It's down to the physicality Kilkenny bring to the game and you either decide to match that or you don't.

"We were second best in that regard today."

They are second best, too, in this fascinating duel between two great hurling dynasties that has dominated hurling for the last three years.

And that's how history will record this particular period of hurling.

This had the feel all season of a unification title fight, where the chips were on the table and the winner took all.

Even some of the fabric of Kilkenny's four-in-a-row could have been thrown in as collateral for this one. It meant that much.

That Tipperary came up so short will not sit easily with them.

They stopped the five-in-a-row, but they haven't stopped the black and amber hegemony.

They'll return, possibly even next year.

The central characters that will guide Tipperary over the next decade, players like Padraic and Brendan Maher and Noel McGrath, will store this memory away for a future date.

Bourke's impact could also steel him to deliver on his rich potential.

But they got a salutary lesson in physical combat here, victims of an ambush that clearly marks out a distance they have still to travel.

Irish Independent

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