Kilkenny 2-17 : Tipperary 2-14, Croke Park
With glorious sunshine beaming above the capital, the white smoke of fireworks announced the outcome of a scintillating contest. Kilkenny’s exhibition of delirium had shattered the audacious efforts of Tipperary. They roared and leaped like it was their first title success and behind it all, were so many priceless moments where the Cats come out victorious. But out of all of the spellbinding imagery in the aftermath of this final, which was choreographed by hair-raising anthems, one scene captured the essence of this battle.
After the full-time whistle, Richie Power and Kieran Bergin fell to their knees, gasping for air. While his team rejoiced, Power commiserated with Bergin. Through the tenacity, intensity and physicality of 140 minutes of hurling, there wasn’t a dirty stroke in the game. Kilkenny’s players, including Power, were almost reverent in how they described the challenge that Tipperary had posed. Eamonn O’Shea’s men had thrown the kitchen sink at the Noresiders but the 35-time All-Ireland champions flung it back at them.
What was striking from this replay was that Tipperary missed their shot at the spoils in the first game. Since that clash, it was back to school for Kilkenny boss Brian Cody in more ways than one. The primary school principal got back to work and the fruits of his labour were dazzling during the opening exchanges of the game. Michael Fennelly’s move to left half-back impelled Kilkenny’s defence into action. With ten minutes gone, it was clear that even the frenetic pace of the game couldn’t knock Kilkenny’s half back-line.But for all their endeavours, it was Tipperary who registered the first two points. The stage was set for a tumultuous replay.
Richie Hogan may have been substituted with twenty minutes to go but the Player-Of-The-Year elect had ignited the Kilkenny fight back with a pair of points. Points weren’t as abundant as in the prelude to this clash, which had been recorded in the history books as the most score-laden seventy-minute final. However, the wait was worthwhile when such crisp strikes were performed. Few things could rival what came around the 20-minute mark.
Seamus Callanan had bounded through the Kilkenny defence, a goal looked inevitable. But then came 35-year old JJ Delaney, who leaped to his county’s rescue and dived forward to hook the Drom and Inch clubman in a move that only a Russian gymnast could rival. He couldn’t halt him ten minutes later though when Lar Corbett selflessly provided Callanan with possession before the number 14 stuck the ball in Eoin Murphy’s net. That put the Premier County ahead by the same margin as the lead they had sustained on their first outing – two points. But the fulcrum of the game, which is commonly regarded as the third quarter, announced the ultimate demise of Tipperary’s hopes for victory. Kilkenny’s performance on the field and on the side-line during this spell spelled out their timeless grandeur.
Throughout championship, on the resumption of play Tipperary’s response has been sluggish and their reaction in this final was no different. Colin Fennelly’s move onto the square disturbed Tipperary’s rear-guard, who then had to resort to fouling. During these 15 minutes, Kilkenny outscored Tipperary by six points to three. Noel McGrath and Callanan brought an end to a Tipperary string of three wides. As Kilkenny continued to weave their way, James Barry felt the brunt of the tour-de-force when he used his head to deny a goal-bound shot from John Power.
The 54th minute was an intriguing one. With Kilkenny fans frothing at the mouth at the sight of Henry Shefflin’s warm-up, Eoin Larkin’s point would keep them waiting with bated breath. Cody decided to leave him be and took Richie Hogan off instead. If Carlsberg made managers, they’d have to produce this 60 year-old father of two. Shefflin’s introduction was earlier this time and it had a polar opposite effect to what had happened the first day, when Kilkenny had become distracted. Instead he was seconds on the field when Michael Fennelly’s side-line cut was grasped from the air by Richie Power who stretched his side’s lead to four. Brendan Maher’s inspiration as captain was made redundant when Power’s brother, John, struck gold again for the Cats – a goal which he parried over the line after Michael Fennelly’s initial shot had been denied.
That lead of six was almost halved within twenty seconds of the puck-out when championship top-scorer Callanan failed to bag a second goal because of Paul Murphy’s heroics. He did reap the rewards at stake for two of his shots though as the man with 9-50 to his name this year struck home with a neat strike a minute shy of injury-time. But Kilkenny weren’t willing to succumb to Tipperary’s late come-back. How fitting it was that it was golden great Henry Shefflin who set up Colin Fennelly for a point that made amends for his cruel miss seconds earlier and sent the whole of Kilkenny into ecstasy. The Cats reigned supreme. Cody and Shefflin will go down in the annals of Gaelic games as icons and how lucky are we to witness such a feat as their tenth All-Ireland title.
Liam O’Neill’s three-year term as president, which ends next February, has coincided with an era of annual All-Ireland replays, which had been dormant since 1959. But apart from the little things, the crux of the hurling championship is still the same. This time last year speculation was entering manic stages about the future of hurling. Clare’s youthful style had garnered so much respect last year that some considered their win as the start of a reign of Banner dominance. Kilkenny have proven them wrong this year. But that’s part of the intrigue of sport – the ifs and buts can’t define the future. What we can definitively say is that we’re lucky to observe the pulsating action and excitement that our players provide. The last of the summer wine has been opened but 2015 is sure to have another refined cask waiting for us.