Brian Barry reports from Nowlan Park as Kilkenny were crowned Allianz Hurling League Division 1 champions with a 2-23 to 2-17 win over Tipperary.
Kilkenny vs Tipperary. Packed house. Silverware on the line. It doesn’t get much bigger for April hurling. This was not a March Saturday night game as was originally determined by the much-maligned master fixture list, but that did nothing to lower excitement levels as the two great rivals met in Nowlan Park this afternoon for the latest installment of arguably the most fascinating rivalry in Irish sport.
Could Tipp underline a dominance over the Cats, established in September 2016 but not since backed up, by getting one over Brian Cody’s side in their own back yard? Or could Kilkenny make a huge statement ahead of the summer?
In a sun-draped Nowlan Park, the game opened in a cagey fashion, with the free-taking of TJ Reid and Jason Forde keeping the scoreboard ticking over. Indeed it was the Ballyhale Shamrocks man who led the line in the first half, making Ronan Maher’s Sunday afternoon a hectic experience.
Reid was awesome throughout, setting the tone early on with a side-line point, and backing it up with three sweet points from play.
After Reid inspired the biggest cheer of the day so far by catching it over his Thurles Sarsfields marker and sending it over the City End posts, it was Tipp who delivered the first clean punch of the contest. Alan Flynn fielded over his man in the backs, sent it forward to John McGrath who achieved a similar feat.
With space in which to work, McGrath was expected by the 17,608 in attendance to slot it over the bar. However, he displayed supreme vision to spot Jason Forde who had subtly dropped in behind the Kilkenny rearguard. The in-form Forde made no mistake, blasting it past Eoin Murphy.
It gave the Premier the impetus to push on towards half-time, as they went in 1-10 to 0-11 ahead at the break.
Whatever Brian Cody said in the dressing room, it certainly worked. The Cats got off to the perfect start in the second half. The Kilkenny forwards sucked out their markers at the throw-in, to leave Walter Walsh isolated one-on-one inside. He fielded the ball, turned for goal and finished past Daragh Mooney.
Kilkenny began to ride their momentum as the second half opened up, and Nowlan Park came to life. Reid, who was now being marked by Michael Cahill in an attempt to curb his influence, was deadly from placed balls as he stretched the lead.
When substitute John ‘Bubbles’ O’Dwyer saw his shot well saved from Eoin Murphy, it only fed the Cats’ growing belief.
The Cats pushed on, and Tipp had no answer. Indeed, a telling stat is that it took Tipp 31 minutes to hit a wide in the second half. That was not down to their pinpoint accuracy. It was down to the raw stubbornness and tenacity of the Kilkenny defence.
A Conor Fogarty goal in the 63rd minute put the Cats in a nine-point lead, which was insurmountable. While Forde bagged a goal from a 21-yard free, the margin was still too great as the Cats were crowned Allianz Hurling League champions for 2018, on a scoreline of 2-23 to 2-17.
Kilkenny: TJ Reid 0-15 (0-11 frees, 0-01 side-line), Walter Walsh 1-02, Conor Fogarty 1-00, John Donnelly 0-02, Liam Blanchfield 0-01, Martin Keoghan 0-01, Eoin Murphy 0-01 (0-01 free), Richie Leahy 0-01.
Tipperary: Jason Forde 2-12 (1-09 frees, 0-01 side-line), John McGrath 0-02, Seán Curran 0-01, Willie Connors 0-01, Séamus Kennedy 0-01.
1. Eoin Murphy
2. Joey Holden
3. Pádraig Walsh
4. Paddy Deegan
5. Conor Delaney
6. Cillian Buckley (captain)
7. Enda Morrissey
8. Richie Leahy
9. James Maher
10. Martin Keoghan
11. TJ Reid
12. John Donnelly
13. Bill Sheehan
14. Walter Walsh
15. Alan Murphy
Liam Blanchfield for Alan Murphy (41st minute)
Luke Scanlon for Bill Sheehan (44th minute)
Conor Fogarty for Richie Leahy (48th minute)
Conor Martin for John Donnelly (63rd minute)
1. Daragh Mooney
2. Alan Flynn
3. James Barry
4. Michael Cahill
5. Barry Heffernan
7. Ronan Maher
6. Pádraic Maher
8. Brendan Maher
9. Séamus Kennedy
10. Seán Curran
14. Jason Forde
12. John McGrath
13. Michael Breen
11. Billy McCarthy
15. Willie Connors
John O’Dwyer for Michael Breen (half-time)
Cathal Barrett for Séamus Kennedy (45th minute)
Mark Russell for Seán Curran (60th minute)
Donagh Maher for James Barry (61st minute)
Cian Darcy for Billy McCarthy (66th minute)