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Monday 16 September 2019

Premier soar to the summit as Cats see red

Hogan sending-off was pivotal but there can be no doubting Tipperary's triumph

HEROES: Tipperary manager Liam Sheedy and Ronan Maher embrace. Pic: Sportsfile
HEROES: Tipperary manager Liam Sheedy and Ronan Maher embrace. Pic: Sportsfile

IT won't be recalled in the annals of classic All-Ireland hurling finals, or even Tipperary/Kilkenny epics, of which there have been many.

Guess what? Tipp won't care.

As a litany of subs took turns to join in the scoring parade during the closing quarter of yesterday's Croke Park decider, Kilkenny must have waited in forlorn hope for James Owens to put them out of their collective misery.

The destination of Liam MacCarthy had long since been decided, and an All-Ireland that many had presumed would go down to the wire - and maybe even a replay - had morphed into a game of 'by how much?'

The final audit would reveal a record defeat for Brian Cody - all the more incredible when you consider that his 21-season reign stretches back over 252 matches, league and championship.

SEEING RED: Kilkenny’s Richie Hogan, who was red-carded, after yesterday’s All-Ireland
SHC final defeat to Tipperary. Pic: Sportsfile
SEEING RED: Kilkenny’s Richie Hogan, who was red-carded, after yesterday’s All-Ireland SHC final defeat to Tipperary. Pic: Sportsfile

Even more remarkable than the 14-point margin was the fact that you'd never seen it coming during a rain-besmirched first half that was played, for the most part, on Kilkenny's terms.

Flawless

After 21 minutes, when TJ Reid's by-now-routine exhibition of flawless freetaking delivered his sixth deadball point of the afternoon, from inside his own half, Kilkenny led by 0-8 to 0-3.

There had been only three points from play converted up to that juncture - two for Kilkenny via Richie Hogan and John Donnelly (Hawk-Eye ruling that Brian Hogan had failed to claw back his effort from above the crossbar) and just a solitary Michael Breen effort for Tipp.

The latter's marquee attack was failing to make any headway. In truth, their rivals could have been further ahead: Colin Fennelly had been hooked by the back-pedalling John McGrath for an early goal chance, while Walter Walsh also had goal on his mind when he was fouled for an another Reid tap-over free.

Thus, trailing by five points and gasping for a foothold, Tipperary looked in danger of suffering the same fate that befell Cork and Limerick: victims of a Black-and-Amber vice-grip.

But then this strange, error-strewn final took off in a very different direction.

To say it was all because of Richie Hogan's red card would not be entirely accurate, for the following reason: Tipp had recovered to lead by a point when the Kilkenny forward's upper arm caught Cathal Barrett in the head.

Yet there was no doubting the pivotal impact of that watershed 33rd minute flashpoint: from that juncture, Tipp outscored their flailing foes by 2-17 to 0-10. A 13-point differential.

Perhaps just as crucial (to the outcome, if not the margin) was the earlier steadying effect of a 1-3 Tipperary salvo in the space of just over three minutes.

Jason Forde was central to it all, landing two '65s' and a free either side of releasing Niall O'Meara for Tipp's opening goal on 25 minutes.

The move was initiated by Pádraic Maher's puckout catch; the half-back had just switched wings to try and nullify Walter Walsh's aerial threat. Séamus Kennedy delivered long to O'Meara, who knocked the ball back to Forde and then raced onto his return pass.

What followed - O'Meara's mesmerising run and arrowed finish - seemed to flick a switch for Tipp. They were now level; soon they would be ahead. And even though Donnelly (a rare font of Kilkenny forward productivity) would briefly restore the lead, Tipp were back ahead when Hogan walked. Referee Owens took his time to weigh up his options and seek advice from his linesman, but TV replays would confirm it was the correct call.

In defence of Hogan, Barrett's quick change of direction had the effect of morphing his 'tackle' into a dangerous sending-off lunge ... but under the GAA's fatwa on head-high contact, there was little scope for argument.

Threadbare

Noel McGrath's injury-time free gave Tipperary a threadbare 1-9 to 0-11 interval lead; the real impact of that extra man would emerge after another Reid free had briefly restored parity.

Five minutes of devastation from the 27th minute, bookended by goals from Séamus Callanan and John O'Dwyer, transformed this from a close contest into a Tipperary cakewalk to their 28th All-Ireland. They outscored Kilkenny 2-3 to 0-1 in this period to lead by eight.Callanan's bravery, in stretching for a loose ball to score his eighth goal in consecutive championship games, was every bit as telling as his goal-poaching instincts.

Yet his fizzing crossfield assist for O'Dwyer's goal revealed another quality now soaring to the surface of Tipperary's game: the vision to pick the most damaging pass.

Noel McGrath revealed the same trait, time and again during that second half. His younger brother John, as well as Callanan, O'Dwyer and Forde all made hay, while Liam Sheedy's bench chipped in with 0-5 from play.

At the other end, Kilkenny played into Tipp hands - literally - with a rudimentary route-one approach that craved goals but rarely threatened. Ronan Maher and Barry Heffernan were both colossal in this period, but they weren't alone as Tipperary ruthlessly turned the screw on their greatest foe.

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