Sunday 23 October 2016

Premier League of their own ...

Callanan leads rout as Tipp end six years in the All-Ireland wilderness ... but taming of the Cats was a victory for substance as much as style

Kilkenny and Tipp battle for possession in yesterday's All-Ireland SHC final Photo: Sportsfile
Kilkenny and Tipp battle for possession in yesterday's All-Ireland SHC final Photo: Sportsfile

It has been a long time coming. Six painful, soul-searching years. But when it finally happened - in a glorious outburst of second half scores - Tipperary revealed themselves as the most magnificent of All-Ireland champions.

When they accelerated away from Kilkenny to win the 2010 title, and followed up with an U21 coronation six days later, many presumed we were witnessing the dawn of a new era of blue-and-gold domination.

And then they stalled. And started to lose win-or-bust championship matches in every conceivable way, quite frequently to Kilkenny, just to multiply their angst.

And people questioned their mentality, their hunger, even their moral fibre ...


Not any more. Not after yesterday's near-perfect amalgam of style and substance, of swash and buckle, of hard-nosed defensive resolve and deadly forward play.

Séamus Callanan was the metronomic leader, scoring 13 points (nine from play) in a display that draws favourable comparison with any All-Ireland final performance in any era. But he was merely conductor-in-chief, not supreme soloist.

For a team to amass 2-23 from play underlines the stellar level of their finishing, not to mention the extent of Kilkenny's defensive disarray. For a full-forward line to share 2-15 from play, and 2-21 in total, offers a clear insight into where the damage was wreaked.

And yet every bit as telling as Tipp's marksmanship was their work ethic, all over the field, and starting with a forward division that scored five first half points stemming directly from forced turnovers in the Kilkenny half of the pitch.

Michael Ryan had spoken, in advance, about Tipp's need to match the "masters of intensity" that are Kilkenny. What we witnessed, instead, was a total eclipse in the intensity stakes. They effectively 'out-Kilkennyed' Kilkenny.

And yet Kilkenny, being Kilkenny, hung in there for as long as they possibly could ... but eventually the dam burst and they never got closer than six points during Tipp's fourth-quarter victory parade.

Thus, the chastened three-in-a-row chasers exited with no excuses as Tipp fans in a virtually full-house 82,016 celebrated their 27th All-Ireland success and a first minor/senior double since 1949.

In truth, Kilkenny have rarely been so patently second-best in Croke Park during the Brian Cody era.

The fact that they only trailed by two points at the interval - 0-14 to 0-12 - was through accident as much as design. Tipperary's initial squanderlust (reflected in eight first half wides and a supposedly tap-over Callanan free that was blocked by Cillian Buckley's extended hurley) had fuelled the possibility that Kilkenny could repeat their 2016 penchant for being outhurled in the first half and still come good with their renowned third-quarter surge.

And for a while, that familiar script looked set to be revisited. Tipp edged three ahead but then Kilkenny hit them for an unanswered 1-2, Kevin Kelly's tap-in goal (after approach work by Walter Walsh and Liam Blanchfield) establishing an improbable two-point lead in the 42nd minute.

But where previous Tipp incarnations might have shrivelled with doubt, Ryan's men took this as an invitation to redouble their efforts.

Callanan ignited the comeback with a 65-yard free. Jason Forde, barely on the field, scored with his first touch to restore 45th minute parity. Then Callanan struck again.There followed the game's watershed moment, in the 48th minute, when Cathal Barrett came storming out of defence and, as Brian Gavin played an advantage, the Tipp No 2 sent a probing clearance towards the left corner.

There, lurking, was John O'Dwyer who had already turned Paul Murphy before the corner-back briefly lost his hurl. Bubbles had one thing on his mind, and his finish to the far right corner was unstoppable.

Tipp were now four up and soaring. Kilkenny's full-back division, in bother from the first whistle, were now teetering on the edge of oblivion.

O'Dwyer again evaded Murphy near the end-line but went for an acutely-angled repeat of his semi-final goal against Galway, with the unmarked Callanan demanding a pass ... so what could have been a tap-in goal became an Eoin Murphy save.

Then another double goal chance came and went, Forde and John McGrath denied in a matter of seconds; but at least Pádraic Maher eventually pointed in the same play.

Even though TJ Reid briefly pared the deficit to four points, with one of his 11 placed-ball strikes, Tipp replied with a rapid-fire three-point salvo and there could be no way back for the holders.

Their defence had been harassed to the point of distraction from the off, so perhaps it was no surprise to see Shane Prendergast's attempted short pass - on 61 minutes - intercepted by Noel McGrath. He teed up the younger brother and John roofed it.


Nine became six, straight away, when Richie Hogan buried a first-time ground shot ... but any pretence of a storming comeback was soon erased as Tipp landed four of the last five points.

True, Kilkenny spurned a few other goal chances, some more presentable than others; but so too did Tipp.

The overall stats are damning: exclude those goals from Kelly and Hogan and you are left with an obliterated Kilkenny forward-line, one that failed to register a single point from play in the second half.

Now it's Cody's turn to face a winter of soul-searching. Only this time, there are far fewer underage riches to sustain the regeneration that is clearly needed.

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