Shadow of Cody the inspiration for Cats
EVEN though he was at home, possibly chucking the Hob Nobs aside to gnaw on the sofa a few times in the second half, the imprint and influence of Brian Cody could not be erased from Kilkenny's imperious 16th league title.
Captain Colin Fennelly acknowledged his absence during his acceptance speech, remarking how good it was to win "with the boss man gone. I thought I felt his shadow behind me during the game and I'm sure he'll be back soon enough."
That may be even sooner than expected because while recent heart surgery forced Kilkenny's legendary manager to miss a second game in a row he had actually slipped quietly into Nowlan Park a day earlier to observe the county minors lose to Wexford.
"Obviously he didn't want to face ye fellas," chuckled Michael Dempsey who, with Martin Fogarty, has been acting in loco parentis since.
"He was able to come in yesterday at his ease and hopefully he'll be back shortly. It's lucky we won today or I'd say he would have been back quicker than even we'd want!"
As Tommy Walsh wandered past with a bloodied forehead and Jackie Tyrrell was summoned by the drug-testers, we wondered just how much input Kilkenny hurling's absent Zen Master had in this winning game plan?
"To be fair to Brian, he has the sort of reputation of being a delegator and just told us to get on with it," Dempsey explained.
"We did want to consult with him because the man has so much experience and we'd be afraid to make any dramatic changes without getting his approval. Obviously he was very supportive but even when we did put difficult things to him he said 'just get on with it!'
"It's a pity playing a National League final in Nowlan Park that he wasn't able to attend because that's where he would just love to be so it's great that we won today and that we'll have him back soon," he added.
Dempsey wasn't saying exactly who came up with the brilliant idea to throw Michael Fennelly up to centre-forward which yielded his astonishing 2-3 by half-time, 1-1 of it in the first six minutes alone. However, he was happy to reveal the logic.
"Michael Rice and Lester Ryan were fantastic the last day at midfield and with Richie Power out we felt we needed someone with stature there on the half-forward line. It was a difficult decision but Mick got two great goals in the first half."
And they had clearly set out to stop Tipperary's resurgent goal-machine.
"They've made no secret of the fact that their play is designed to create goal chances and take them so we're happy that our defence stood up well today and cut them out.
"We go out to win every match we play in but obviously there was a bit of added pressure with Brian not being around, and playing in Nowlan Park, and playing Tipperary and playing in the league final so it was great to win such a tight game," Dempsey said.
"You don't actually notice it on the day but you are aware the place is going to be jammed by supporters, where there is this huge rivalry, where it's kind of personal over the last few years because there have been great matches between Tipperary and Kilkenny.
"There was an absolutely fantastic atmosphere and everyone who came here got value for money."
But Tipp supporters felt a bit short-changed, especially by their attack where their entire full-forward line and Patrick 'Bonner' Maher were all withdrawn. Manager Eamon O'Shea is not a man given to drama and did not look panicked afterwards, acknowledging that the better team won.
"We're not at the level we want to be yet at all and we'll be trying very hard to get there," he said.
"For a lot of our players, even though they weren't playing well I still think they had the hunger to win the game, which is great for the team in terms of what we're trying to do here.
"It's quite difficult to play the measured game you want with the pressure you're under but we did try to play a little more controlled ball at some stage during the second half.
"I don't know what it looked like," he mused. "But to me it looked like a high-grade game between two teams, one playing slightly better than the other and the other one trying to stay in the game and that was us. If you ask me was I happy or unhappy ... I'm not sure."