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Saturday 18 August 2018

Cats reign as Cody goes back to basics

Defensive masterclass puts the replay squeeze on Tipp

27 September 2014; Kilkenny players celebrate with the Liam MacCarthy cup. GAA Hurling All Ireland Senior Championship Final Replay, Kilkenny v Tipperary. Croke Park, Dublin. Picture credit: Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE
27 September 2014; Kilkenny players celebrate with the Liam MacCarthy cup. GAA Hurling All Ireland Senior Championship Final Replay, Kilkenny v Tipperary. Croke Park, Dublin. Picture credit: Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE
John Power, Kilkenny, scores his side's second goal. GAA Hurling All Ireland Senior Championship Final Replay, Kilkenny v Tipperary. Croke Park, Dublin. Picture credit: Ray McManus / SPORTSFILE

TYPICAL Kilkenny. Typical Brian Cody. And a terrific reminder of what sets this group of players, and this manager, apart from the rest.

You couldn't say that Kilkenny, this summer, were a significant step ahead of the chasing posse. The old "invincible" tag no longer applies to a team that was pushed to the brink by Limerick in the semi-final and Tipperary on day one.

Yet when it mattered most, when awkward questions were posed between All-Ireland finals and even at half-time on Saturday evening, they came up with all the winning answers.

Here's the crunch. In the second half of an absorbing replay - lacking the free-flowing precision of that epic draw but enthralling for many other reasons - they were significantly better than their greatest rivals. If such a thing were possible, this was a three-point hammering.

LIFELINE

The strangest part of the replay is that Tipp were only two points adrift when three minutes of stoppage time were signalled, and even missed a presentable point chance soon after via Jason Forde. They had been handed a scarcely deserved lifeline when a lucky deflection off Patrick 'Bonner' Maher's pot-shot presented Séamus Callanan with a simple chance to finish his second goal.

Suddenly, the unlikely spectre of extra-time - or even a smash-and-grab escape to victory - reared its head. But after Colin Fennelly risked the wrath of Cody by going for goal instead of taking a handy point, the same player belatedly clipped over his third score. Try as they might, Tipperary couldn't conjure up an equalising goal. They had been trumped by the master.

Much has been made of Cody's so-called reticence when making substitutions. Whether you agree or not with that criticism, there is no mistaking his genius for making the correct changes - in personnel, on-field alignment and attitude - between drawn match and replay.

Last year's Leinster semi-final against Dublin is the only time he has lost a championship replay during his 16-year reign. True, there haven't been too many sequels - primarily because Kilkenny were so dominant - but in recent times, as the peloton closed, their manager has been compelled to make big replay calls.

On Saturday, every single one hit the bullseye.

Kieran Joyce, discarded for much of this summer, didn't see a minute of action on September 7. He was duly recalled with a very specific mandate - subjugate 'Bonner' Maher, wherever he roams - and carried out that brief so successfully that Tipperary's usually irrepressible centre-forward, relocated to the inside line, was shunted to the periphery while his Rower Inistioge shadow was named Man of the Match.

Pádraig Walsh had lost his place for the final. He won it back for the replay and was Joyce's closest contender for the crystal, lording his half-back domain - and then crowning his day with Kilkenny's penultimate point.

And Cody's third replay switch? John Power who, like all good poachers, was in the right place when Darren Gleeson batted up Michael Fennelly's deflected shot ... cue the 63rd minute goal that would bring 'Liam' back to Noreside.

The younger Power sibling was part of a forward collective that upped its game in the second half, having struggled to make headway in a first period that ended with Tipperary ahead by 1-7 to 0-8 and seemingly poised.

On the resumption, five unanswered points in eight minutes transformed the replay script. Colin Fennelly came alive after switching inside, landing a brace, winning a converted free and forcing a point-blank save from Gleeson. Richie Power grew ever more influential as the half progressed, and his high fetch and smart finish delivered the 59th minute goal that left four-point daylight between the sides.

Barely four minutes later, his brother completed the Power play double-whammy.

DEFIANT

Yet it was at the other end that Kilkenny truly excelled. Right at the outset, two blocks in the same sequence made it clear there would be no 1-28 repeat. For the most part, they brilliantly constricted the space in which Tipp's buzzing forwards had thrived, three weeks earlier. A post-match audit confirmed the success of Kilkenny's defiant resistance: Noel McGrath, replaced; John O'Dwyer, replaced; Lar Corbett, scoreless and replaced.

At times, especially in the first half, they had threatened to breach the Black-and-Amber dam. But when Callanan escaped JJ Delaney's clutches in the 18th minute, it merely provided JJ with the chance to execute 'hook of the decade'.

Ten minutes later, Callanan did land his eighth goal of the championship after one of Corbett's few incisive bursts. But in the second half, we had only fleeting glimpses of Tipp's defence-splitting potential - notably when 'Bonner' went to earth under a Joyce challenge.

Cue a 57th minute penalty - Tipp's third of this series. Kilkenny led by two at the time but, no doubt mindful of their double failure the previous day, Callanan opted for a tap-over point.

Soon after, the Powers took centre-stage and the glory duly followed, with Henry Shefflin on the pitch to win his tenth All-Ireland medal. Same old incorrigible Cats.

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