One of hurling’s most intriguing rivalries has repeatedly raised its head in the last decade through six All-Ireland final meetings, including one replay.
Kilkenny and Tipperary began the decade as they finished it, by going to battle in Croke Park on the biggest day in the hurling calendar.
The personnel has changed significantly in that period but yet the intense rivalry between the two sides has been passed from generation to generation.
As former Kilkenny servant Jackie Tyrrell described in his 2017 autobiography ‘The Warriors Code‘, his hardened feelings towards Tipperary stemmed from his father and from his first experience of an All-Ireland final in 1991.
“My father brought me to the Kilkenny-Tipperary. We were on Hill 16, right behind where Michael Cleary got the decisive goal in the second half. I cried afterwards when Kilkenny were beaten.
“I could see the devastation on my father’s face. I could see how much it hurt all Kilkenny people. I knew that Kilkenny people didn’t like Tipperary.
“I struggled to understand that all at the time but as I got older, I was reared through a culture of hating Tipperary”.
Given the number of clashes between the neighbouring counties over the years, it’s no surprise that Tipperary features prominently in Tyrrell’s book.
He didn’t hold back when questioning their resolve following the infamous 2012 All-Ireland semi-final, stating “It was the same old Tipp again — shaping and hiding behind their bullshit. They hadn’t the balls to come out and take us on man for man.”
He didn’t shy away from their own defeats in 2010 and 2016 but described their All-Ireland glory in 2014 as “the sweetest” having overcome the Premier men once more after the drawn final.
However it isn’t until late in the book, in a chapter aptly entitled ‘The Oldest Enemy’, that Tyrrell revealed the extent of his hatred for Tipperary, which was inherited from his family, and the extents they would go to prove their loyalty to the Kilkenny colours.
“I got it from my Dad. He never said it but I just knew by him that Tipperary were the enemy. I used to spend time at Eardly’s because Micky was one of my best friends. Mickey’s father, Johnny, couldn’t abide Tipp. He detested them.
“Johnny worked with cars and machinery. If he was fixing a car or tractor, the first thing he’d do was look at the registration. If it had a TN or TS reg, Johnny wouldn’t entertain it. The car might be owned and driven by someone from Kilkenny but Johnny wanted nothing to do with anything associated with Tipperary.
“Johnny sent myself and Micky into town one day to get sandwiches, soft drinks, and water. We never looked at the labels but we picked up a couple of bottles of ‘Tipperary Spring Water’. Johnny went nuts when he handed the bottles to him. ‘What did ye bring that shite here for? Pour it down the drain’.
While Tyrrell described such people as “extremists”, it was a mentality he understood and adopted when it came to hurling.
“When our fathers and forefathers carried that hurt in their hearts, you had to hate Tipperary. If you hurled for Kilkenny and you didn’t hate Tipperary, there was nearly something wrong with you.”
Naturally, those feelings drove the James Stephens man on the field. Though Tipperary’s victories over the Cats were few and far between in Tyrrell’s time, they were lorded over their Kilkenny neighbours, he described.
For this reason, they couldn’t beat them enough.
“Playing Tipperary always brought pressure but we loved playing them. We loved beating them even more. We couldn’t beat them enough. We’d be so juiced up on adrenaline and emotion afterwards that we’d want to play them again the following day, and give them another hiding.”
“So would the supporters. Even when we were completely on top of Tipp, the Kilkenny people were always singing the same tune. ‘You couldn’t beat that crowd enough. The more we beat them, the sweeter it gets.
“That was encrypted into my DNA”.
Tyrrell outlined the disgust Kilkenny felt at being referred to in the “past tense” after Tipperary stopped the five-in-a-row in 2010. They were the new team on the block, brimming with youth and talent, Kilkenny’s dominance was a thing of the past.
He couldn’t bring himself to applaud the reigning All-Ireland champions in their 2011 league meeting and with their “heritage and legacy” on the line, they put an end to the Tipperary chatter that September by regaining the Liam MacCarthy.
Three days after that win, his focus turned to 2012, for regardless of the opposition, winning the All-Ireland championship “consumed” Tyrrell.
“It’s hard to describe the feeling of winning an All-Ireland. It’s an inner happiness and contentment that lasts for months but the main hit for me was in those couple of minutes immediately after the final whistle. It was euphoric, like the ultimate high from a narcotic. That feeling just sucks you back in where you want it again. And again. And again.
“Motivation or hunger were never an issue for any of us. For most guys, those feelings were 95% of the reason why they kept coming back for more. For me, it was always 100%. It consumed me. That feeling was addictive. And I was completely addicted to it.”
Unfortunately for Tyrrell, his last All-Ireland final experience as a player saw him lose once again to their oldest of rivals in 2016, that elusive 10th All-Ireland medal evading him.
“It would have been nice to have won that tenth All-Ireland medal but it would have been even more satisfying to have experienced that feeling immediately afterwards just one more time.
“In the end, the memories will last when the colour of the medal will fade. A hurling life is framed anyway from a million little pixels that create the grand picture.”