Incredible, unbelievable, sensational, epic; the list of adjectives used to describe what Kilkenny and Tipperary served up in the drawn All-Ireland final is endless. Now that the dust has settled, let’s reflect on just how good a game it was.
3-22 to 1-28; twenty five scores to twenty nine making it a total of fifty-four scores. Of these fifty-four scores, forty-four came from play with some of them of the highest quality. There were two missed penalties, big individual scoring tallies, excellent fielding, very good defending, very good attacking and the game went down to the last puck, when hawk-eye denied John O’Dwyer from a ninety-seven metre free to put Tipperary ahead. The game simply had everything.
We had failed to witness a draw in an All-Ireland for the bones of half a century and now not one, not two, but three draws in a row have occurred in All-Ireland Senior Hurling finals. Everybody would have to admit that a draw has been the fair result in the context of all games. It does lead to an anti-climax and some further fixture chaos for county boards and clubs but there is a time and a place when one must hold their hands up and allow the teams to come back and do it all over again.
Galway dominated Kilkenny in 2012 and did not deserve to lose. That draw seems to have started a trend. Clare were the better side for most of the 2013 final when Cork almost snatched a late victory. Very few begrudged the result when Domhnall O’Donovan popped up with a last ditch equaliser. The way the 2013 replay managed to eclipse the drawn game led to a fantastic occasion under lights in Croke Park and now the scene has been reset for 2014.
All roads now lead to Jones Road where another epic encounter is ready to take place on the 27th of September. Anybody who says that either team deserved to lose the 2014 final does not know what they are talking about. The way in which both teams approached and played the game was just a joy to watch. The quality of skill and the quality of finishing was out of this world. The teams simply could not be separated.
Almost every battled was shared on the field. There were times when a player one minute looked like he was a ‘man of the match’ contender and then the next minute his direct opponent was doing likewise. The way in which the game continuously ebbed and flowed had any viewer excited. The game was lacking in no area, and anybody who tried to pick any flaw should have their opinion dismissed straight away.
Some people have resorted to criticising the referee. Barry Kelly did not get everything 100% correct but he was a huge contributor to what made the game so good. He allowed the game to flow and while one or two decisions may have been debatable, he certainly did not have a bearing on the result and if anything he had a positive influence on the game.
This was the best game of hurling of all time, and possibly one of the greatest sporting occasions of all time.
If ever one wanted to showcase hurling to the world, this was it. Everything in the game was exhibited to the highest of quality. 2013 was described as ‘a soft All-Ireland’ as games were so open and physicality took a backward seat. Physicality still sat back in this year’s All-Ireland final but players took the execution of hurling skills to a whole new level. The quality of finishing was sensational. Tipperary hit three wides in the whole game, compared to Kilkenny’s six, and this came from a game that included fifty-four scores; incredible.
The man-on-man battles were intriguing to say the least. There were endless examples to what was previously mentioned about players enjoying various periods of the game where they were winning and losing their battles with their opponents. The best example of this was probably the battle between Patrick Maher and Paul Murphy. Maher was outstanding in the first half and his goal was the score that completely opened the game up.
Following this Paul Murphy was moved to do a man-marking job on Maher and the first ten-fifteen minutes of this battle saw Murphy thunder in the game and Maher see less and less of the ball. But then Maher tore back into the game and led Tipperary’s revival that saw them come from behind to draw level. This simply was a case of two players playing to the best of their ability, much like their respective sides.
The battle at midfield was another great example of players simply playing to their best and having periods of dominance at different stages. Richie Hogan received the ‘Man of the Match’ award after finishing with a personal tally of six points from play. Hogan had been the front runner for Hurler of the Year before throw-in, but went onto struggle at times at midfield where both Shane McGrath and James Woodlock both hurled a lot of ball.
Hogan kept ticking away and eventually moved to centre-forward where he scored five of his six points. Some would say that Tipperary were the more prominent team around the middle but Hogan still received Man of the Match, yet another example of two teams almost completely cancelling each other out.
Seamus Callanan finished the game with five points from play, but there was a 20-minute period in the second-half where JJ Delaney got on top and people were questioning if Callanan was going to go missing again on the big stage, but he came back into the game and himself and Delaney had a great battle. James Barry did very well on many occasions at full-back, an area that Kilkenny targeted, but TJ Reid also showed that he is the new leader of the Kilkenny attack.
Lar Corbett rolled back the years and gave what could easily have been a match winning performance had his effort been an inch further to the right or had Gearóid Ryan shown more composure in front of goal. Paddy Stapleton and Cathal Barrett both had outstanding games yet they conceded scores from play to Richie Power and Eoin Larkin. There could be more examples but these few just show just how balanced the game was.
It was a very tense and appealing contest for the first fifteen minutes or so until Bonner Maher’s goal sparked the game into life. After this, the game totally opened up as the both teams threw the shackles off and gave everything they had in an attempt to get their hands on the Liam McCarthy Cup. It is hard to put into words what unfolded from here.
The spectacle was a joy to behold. The potential was always there for it to be a great game, but rarely do we expect to see such a classic scenario unfold. And we most definitely witnessed a classic.
So both teams have to do it all again. People are mentioning how they feel the game should be finished on the day and that the GAA are the real winners by getting another big pay day for Croke Park. A click on the archive of this writer will show a number of articles criticising the GAA’s push towards money and greed and how their structures do not fall favourably for the club players all over the country.
But the way the 2014 All-Ireland final panned out meant that a draw was the correct result and both teams had to be given a second chance, Extra-time should be introduced for earlier games in the championship but a final like this should see teams given an extra chance.
The three week lay-off is probably too long and the fixture list should be reassessed in order to have the season finished much quicker. This would benefit both club and intercounty players. The players of Tipperary and Kilkenny in this case have a long wait before going to battle again. And the club players in these counties will find their seasons drawn out even longer.
But after that game, nobody honestly complain about having the chance to see Tipperary and Kilkenny go to battle again. No matter what disruption it causes, the most cynical person just has to look at the game and appreciate how good it was and be privileged to have a second chance to see both teams go to battle again.
So how good was the 2014 All-Ireland Hurling Final? Actions speak louder than words and it is very hard to put into words but in short, this was the best hurling game of all time.
Sean Cremin, Pundit Arena