Monday 18 December 2017

Cats snuff out Tipp threat

Kilkenny lay down an early marker for this year

THERE'S no humbling quite like a Kilkenny hurling humbling and, for Tipperary, that sinking feeling is becoming worryingly familiar all over again.

As Kilkenny breezed back into real competitive action with the look of a group who had barely lowered their hurleys over the winter with a resounding -- if not entirely polished -- 2-17 to 0-15 victory in Nowlan Park, Tipperary's position as the second best team in the land has never looked so definite!

There is context, of course, to Kilkenny's third successive victory over their dear neighbours since Tipp's 2010 All-Ireland final zenith, but that won't warm the spirits of the Premier faithful as they contemplate the full ramifications of life without Lar.

The season is still in an embryonic stage and whatever hurling these goliaths have done in the short time since the calendars were binned, they're still miles from peak performance or fitness.

But with both containing the majority of last year's September starters (Kilkenny had 12; Tipperary, eight), the familiar fluency with which the Cats knitted together was far superior and effective to that of the visitors.

It also helps when five of your six starting forwards score, as Kilkenny's did yesterday.

Richie Power might not have registered from play, but his 1-11 destroyed Tipp's chances of ever really mounting a comeback after a disastrous opening which saw them fall 1-5 to 0-1 behind after just 12 minutes.

That was the juncture at which Power rifled a penalty passed Brendan Cummins after the Carrickshock man had been fouled by Conor O'Mahony.

Tipp's normally solid rock of dependability, Paul Curran, wasn't having one of his more comfortable days at full-back; even more so when Eoin Larkin was switched to the edge of the square where he proceeded to bag 1-2.

And, on another day, TJ Reid would surely have walked away with a unanimous vote for man of the match after torturing Pádraic Maher in the early stages and generating plenty of menace from wing-forward, but errant shooting undid his claims.

To contrast that, only Noel McGrath registered from play of Tipp's six, and four were held scoreless altogether. It took the introduction of Shane Bourke -- who claimed three points in 15 minutes -- and, to a lesser extent Eoin Kelly to spark some life from the Tipp attack.

Again, though, there are mitigating Tipperary circumstances.

There was a time not too long ago (directly after last year's Munster final disemboweling of Waterford, to be precise) when the Tipperary forward line was held aloft as the epitome of the sport's attacking excellence.

The perpetual motion, Lar and Eoin Kelly's finishing, 'Bonnar' Maher's thunder, Seamus Callanan's pace and Noel McGrath's genius were, in all respects, the complete attacking package, but, through various reasons, only McGrath started yesterday.

"Kilkenny looked a lot sharper," conceded manager Declan Ryan. "Their ball-handling and everything in their general ball-work.

"It just looked as if Kilkenny are a couple of steps ahead of us at the minute. Two or three gears ahead overall. That's the disappointing thing."

Really only McGrath prevented Tipp from sinking completely in the first half, and the 1-10 to 0-8 halfway scoreline flattered them somewhat.

The game was truly put to bed when Larkin punched a hole in the Tipp resistance and finished at the second time of asking in the 42nd minute -- a concession which Ryan described as "an easy score".

"A good start to the league, obviously," was how Brian Cody saw it. "It was a good display and a good win.

"We got a good start and got a small bit of a lead. They came back at us as obviously they were going to.

"It was a decent battle all the way through but I suppose Eoin Larkin's goal gave us that bit of breathing space."

Notably, Cody kept experimentation to a minimum and it was only when JJ Delaney was forced off with a hamstring injury in the 57th minute that he began to contemplate his bench options.

Whether last year's League final collapse to Dublin has contributed to Cody's approach this year remains to be seen, but he decreed: "To get the maximum out of the league, I think we try to target winning matches and get to the knockout stages. We'd love to win it as well.

"At the same time, it is important to look at players and try to maybe one or two in every match.

"Come the end of the league, if we haven't got the opportunity to look at players it won't be something that will be of benefit to us."

Yesterday's early season put down of the team most likely to derail their trophy hoarding won't have done any harm either.

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