KILKENNY 5-14 TIPPERARY 5-13 Hurling League Div 1 Final THE great mass of hurling supporters from Kilkenny, Tipperary and beyond must live extraordinarily exciting lives if they found a better way to spend the May Bank holiday Monday.
A crowd of 17,153, down around 8,000 on the average for an Allianz hurling League final, witnessed something really special in Croke Park yesterday as the two best teams in the land climbed to a peak of heroism which must have left them dizzy as they stared down at their rivals congregating far below in the foothills.
It was entirely appropriate that this epic confrontation in the early summer sunshine should find a niche in the history books, which it duly did by delivering the highest aggregate score ever recorded in a League final.
It did so off a powerful generator of effort, skill and cunning which hummed busily for 55 minutes before whirring into demented overdrive mode, yielding 6-6 in the final 15 minutes.
Crucially, 4-4 went to Kilkenny who clawed back an eight-point deficit to edge home by one. There were so many twists in that amazing finale that it was virtually impossible to categorise them. Instead, the only option was to climb aboard the thrilling rapids and enjoy the great adventure.
When Tipperary nursed a 3-11 to 1-10 lead past the three-quarters stage, it looked certain that they would present themselves with the perfect pre-championship boost. Kilkenny were battling away with trademark defiance but it wasn't until Martin Comerford knocked in their second goal in the 50th minute that their supporters began to believe that a recovery was a genuine option.
But just as quickly as the survival flame was lit, it appeared to have been extinguished when Lar Corbett drove home his ninth goal of the League campaign, followed by a Liam Cahill point to give Tipperary an eight point lead, 4-13 to 2-11 by the 59th minute.
We hadn't seen anything yet. Sub, Charlie Carter slipped the Tipp defence and fired for goal; DJ Carey swung and the ball flew past Brendan Cummins, who despite conceding five goals, had a good game.
Charlie's or DJ's goal? Hard to call but, from TV replays, it looked like Charlie's but DJ claimed he got a touch.
That's a piffling irrelevancy, however, in this amazing tale of rhapsody and invention. Almost straight away, Carter swept in Kilkenny's fourth goal and, in the 66th minute, Eddie Brennan, who enjoyed possibly his best ever day in the black-and-amber rifled home the fifth goal and followed with a point to give Kilkenny a 5-12 to 4-13 lead.
Tipperary's dazzled eyes blinked but didn't close and 90 seconds later John Carroll restored their lead with his second goal.
And still it wasn't over. Henry Shefflin levelled with a free in the 69th minute and, two minutes into injury-time kicked over the winning point.
In between, Tipperary looked certain to score a sixth goal when Carroll pulled the trigger from close range, only to see goalkeeper, PJ Ryan make a flying stop to knock the ball out for a '65' which Thomas Dunne drove wide.
"If we had got that point, we would probably have won. It was that type of amazing game. We're very disappointed to have let such a big lead slip but that's hurling for you. Goals can come very quickly," said Tipperary manager, Michael Doyle whose main concern afterwards was the condition of his full-back, Philip Maher, who went off with a knee injury after 23 minutes.
Tipperary had already lost midfielder, Noel Morris with a rib problem.
Maher will have all the relevant scans, with the whole of Tipperary anxiously waiting a fitness bulletin ahead of the championship opener against Clare on Sunday week.
Unquestionably, Maher's absence smoothed Kilkenny's route to goal, although it took them a long time to exploit it, due mainly to the excellent defensive drill operated by Benny Dunne, Paul Kelly and David Kennedy plus the midfield edge applied by the consistently elegant Thomas Dunne and impressive sub, Eoin Brislane.
Eoin Kelly, who had a brilliant first half, Corbett, Conor Gleeson and Carroll in the second half all showed championship form in the Tipperary attack but things didn't work out for full-forward Ger O'Grady who scored 1-6 against Kilkenny three weeks previously.
This time, Noel Hickey re-established his authority in imposing fashion, prompting Tipp to withdraw O'Grady four minutes into the second half. Michael Kavanagh got in some good work too while Richie Mullally was hugely influential. His efficiency levels remained consistently solid even when Kilkenny were stuck in a valley period in the second and third quarters while he rose even higher in the recovery raid over the final 15 minutes.
Shefflin and Brennan were Kilkenny's most consistent performers in a Kilkenny attack where Comerford and Carey became far more effective when they moved outfield in the second half. Carter can be mighty pleased too with his contribution.
The sides were level five time in the first 25 minutes after Shefflin (11 mins) and Corbett (16 mins) had traded goals but Eoin Kelly's goal from a free in the 35th minute helped Tipp to a comfortable interval lead, 2-9 to 1-7.
It was an advantage they held for long periods of the second half before Kilkenny detonated their goal bombs, much to the delight of manager, Brian Cody.
"These lads have a ferocious will to win. They would go through walls rather than around or over them," said Cody.
A worrying thought for all their summer rivals.
MAN OF MATCH - R Mullally (Kilkenny).
SCORERS - Kilkenny: E Shefflin 1-6 (0-4f), DJ Carey (0-3f), E Brennan 1-3 each, M Comerford 1-2, C Carter 1-0. Tipperary: E Kelly 1-7 (1-3f), L Corbett, J Carroll 2-0 each, C Gleeson 0-2, T Dunne (f), E Brislane, P Kelly, L Cahill 0-1 each.
KILKENNY - PJ Ryan; M Kavanagh, N Hickey, P Larkin; R Mullally, P Barry, JJ Delaney; D Lyng, P Tennyson; J Hoyne, H Shefflin, T Walsh; DJ Carey, M Comerford, E Brennan. Subs: J Coogan for Tennyson (43), A Cummins for Larkin (50), C Carter for Hoyne (55).
TIPPERARY - B Cummins; M Maher, P Maher, B Dunne; B Horgan, D Kennedy, P Kelly; T Dunne, N Morris; J Carroll, C Gleeson, L Cahill; E Kelly, G O'Grady, L Corbett. Subs: E Brislane for Morris (19), J Devane for P Maher (23), E O'Neill for O'Grady (39).
REF - P O'Connor (Limerick).