Sunday’s drawn All-Ireland hurling final was an epic clash, perhaps even topping the exhilarating encounter that took place in 2009 between these two teams. Below Donal O’Doherty discusses.
The general consensus prior to Sunday’s All Ireland hurling final was that it would be an excellent game, razor close and filled with excellent scores. What it wouldn’t be however was an emulation of what materialised in 09 and 10. Though the current Kilkenny and Tipperary teams are composed of brilliant players they simply aren’t as good as times gone by. Or so we thought.
What took place on the green field of Croker on Sunday may have transcended the sport to a new level. The skill displayed from both sets of players in attack and defence was sublime. It started instantly; the ball was just thrown in before Colin Fennelly snatched it, belting the sliotar between the posts to put Kilkenny in front.
However John “Bubbles “O’ Dwyer immediately responded up at the other end splitting the sticks with his own fine score. O’ Dwyer then followed that up; getting the next point of the game from what was an excellent long range free. This passage of play really epitomised what took place in Croke Park as the game would ultimately turn into a shootout from start to finish, both sides striking with delicacy.
The first significant blow came mid-way through the first half. Darren Gleeson shot a puck out on top of Bonner Maher. The centre forward nabbed the ball and turned Jj Delaney. In his typical unique style the Bonner pierced the Kilkenny defence before slapping the ball past Eoin Murphy. The Bonner Maher is a key player for Tipperary, that can’t be emphasised enough. Again today he was constantly in the game; winning frees, penalties and creating opportunities for players around him. He is perhaps the most industrious forward in the country, and surely the best player to carry a ball.
It wasn’t long however after Tipp detonated their first body blow that Kilkenny followed up with one of their own. Richie Power’s goal was a stroke of genius, flicking the ball subtly over Darren Gleeson before coolly tapping it into the Tipp net. Power showed all his experience, finishing with 2-1, he was vital to Kilkenny performing so well, finding the back of Tipp’s net again in the second with an unstoppable shot into the top corner.
The change of keeper was a vital move from the Kilkenny management. When Seamus Callanan menacingly approached the placed sliotar for the first penalty, all of Croker could already envision the net rattling. However the shot was deflected by Eoin Murphy, as was John O’Dwyer’s penalty attempt later on. Those two saves were crucial to Kilkenny finishing with a draw.
Going in for the second half Tipp were two points up. One had a sense that they would push on to win it. That assumption changed quickly once the game restarted. Tj Reid, who was spectacular today, gathered the ball around the twenty yard line, after a quick turn he dispatched a scintillating shot that shook Darren Gleeson’s net once again.
This surely must be the goal of the year. The paramount level of skill required to even strike the ball here amid a viscous assortment of Tipp defenders was astounding but to strike it with such power was almost unbelievable. Definitely one of the finest goals you will ever see in Croke Park.
In typical Kilkenny fashion Reid’s goal was soon followed up with another, as Richie Power flicked the ball ahead of him, gathered it and buried it in the top corner of Gleeson’s net. I know I’m repeating myself, but starting Power was vital for Kilkenny success, he possesses an uncanny relaxation on the ball and his ability to capitalise on opportunities was imperative for Kilkenny.
Kilkenny’s goal scoring was countered brilliantly by Tipp’s marvellous point scoring ability all throughout the second half. John O Dwyer and Seamus Callanan had superb games for the premier, knocking over some incredible scores to keep their team in the game.
Lar Corbett was another Tipp man who showed his class today. He showed shades of the Lar from 09 and 10 cutting up the Tipp defence twice in the second, exhibiting his lightning pace. He was very unlucky in particular with the first shot hitting the post. If that had gone in the game may have ended somewhat differently.
The climax of the game came in the sixty seventh minute. Who would it be but O’Dwyer. Bubbles gathered the ball close to goal, and as he had been doing all day pointed again to draw the game and finish with was a fitting result for such a splendid and hearty display from both teams.
Richie Hogan must be mentioned. His move to centre forward in the second half was a very clever one as Kilkenny once again reaped the benefits of this fantastic hurler. He finished with six points and is still the front runner for hurler of the year.
Both sets of backs were excellent throughout, tenaciously defending as if it were life and death. Paddy Stapleton stood out at corner back catching an abundance of ball and delivering some excellent passes into the forwards. Paul Murphy for Kilkenny was also superb.
Overall Tipp were probably the more fluid hurlers, pointing from almost every viable opportunity. But it was Kilkenny’s ever destructive ability to get goals that kept them on levels terms with Tipp.
Ultimately, what took place in Croke Park on Sunday was one of the greatest games of hurling ever seen. Though 2009 has been considered the pinnacle of the sport with the last five years, the most recent meeting between these two sides surely tops it.
Donal O’Doherty, Pundit Arena.