For Tipperary’s Niall O’Meara, the feeling of having the Liam MacCarthy cup back in his grasp will never get old.
The 26-year-old was a part of the All-Ireland winning panel in 2016, but didn’t start the game, coming on a substitute in the 61st minute for Dan McCormack, as the Premier County got the better of the three-peat chasing Cats.
This year however, the Kilruane McDonagh’s man was front and centre of the action, his brilliant solo goal in the 25th minute of the game giving Liam Sheedy’s side a boost after Kilkenny’s blistering start.
Speaking to Pundit Arena on Monday morning, O’Meara outlined that with Kilkenny coming quickly out of the blocks, the aim was to stay in the game until it opened up, but the forward admitted that his goal was the ‘shot in the arm” the team required.
“Kilkenny are a serious outfit and they’re really competitive,” said O’Meara.
“I suppose they were winning the 50/50 balls that were coming and we were struggling. Jason (Forde) got a couple of good frees to keep us in the game when it was lashing rain.
“I think we were just saying to ourselves ‘just stay in the game’ like the Wexford game it could take 55 or 60 minutes to open up. I suppose the goal gave us the shot in the arm that we needed.
“Going in at half-time we wouldn’t have been happy with the way we hurled. Richie Hogan getting sent off probably changed the game in our favour and we started to open up a bit.”
The play did indeed open up for the Premier County in the second half and they began to make the extra man count as they added two more goals from the talismanic Seamus Callanan and John ‘Bubbles’ O’Dwyer, and crucially kept the Kilkenny forward line relatively quiet.
O’Meara felt that although the final score was heavily in Tipp’s favour, a lot of that was due to the quality of their defence with the Cats, in his view, still well in the game.
“Kilkenny raided a load of ball in the second half and I thought Barry Heffernan and Ronan Maher were outstanding. On another day Kilkenny could have scored a lot more. Paudie (Maher) blocked Walter Walsh which was crucial. Kilkenny were still well in that game.
“Our defence was unbelievable yesterday to not concede a goal. I don’t think they get the credit they deserve but they were brilliant yesterday in fairness.”
One man who is rightly getting the credit he deserves after a truly remarkable season is the aforementioned Callanan, who once again came up with the goods grabbing 1-2 in the victory.
Callanan’s goal was his eighth in eight games in the Championship with many calling for the Premier captain to be crowned this year’s Hurler of the Year.
O’Meara explained that Callanan is vital for Tipp on the ball, but also highlighted his qualities off the ball, which he outlined gives the whole team a massive lift.
“On the ball we all know how good he is, but off the ball, you watch it back in the video analysis.
“There was a game against Waterford where he hooked Stephen O’Keefe out of nowhere, in one of the round robin games he turned over two balls he had no right to turn over.
“I think that’s a side to his game that he has really added to and I suppose it’s a massive lift to see your full-forward hooking and turning over lads so I think he’s just been a superb leader for us.”
For O’Meara, the whole Tipp panel and of course Liam Sheedy and his coaching staff, the victory will be celebrated and basked in over the next few weeks.
That much they deserve.
O’Meara though, knows that their position this year is a far cry from just over 12 months ago when they were unceremoniously dumped out of the Munster Championship in the early stages.
“The thing about it is, last year we did a lot of soul searching after the Munster Championship,” he explained.
“Not to get through was devastating so we had a long time to think about getting back so I suppose to actually get here now is crazy.
“We were knocking on the door in 2014, 2015 and then to win it in 2016. You nearly think it’s going to happen again but we had to wait a while to get the next one so yeah it is sweet now.”