And so it ends, a championship which soared in the last four weeks concludes with an impressive Tipperary victory over a Kilkenny side who appeared to go to the well one too many times. Hawkeye Sidekick reflects on the best day in the hurling calendar and wonders if this is a watershed moment for Tipperary and even more so Kilkenny?
It would be remiss of me not to mention the superb spectacle that was the All Ireland Senior Hurling Final. The contest was a marvelous advertisement for the game of hurling and the scoreline of 2-29 to 2-20 oozed excitement throughout. Such is Kilkenny’s reputation, this contest was not settled until the last five minutes of the contest.
Tipperary’s management deployed the perfect tactical setup; closed space for Kilkenny to operate in the midfield / half-forward line which sucked Kilkenny’s half back further out the field allowing Tipperary’s full forward line to have the proverbial field day. It was harsh on Kilkenny’s full back line but this line has at times looked particularly shaky this season and it was ruthlessly exposed.
Holden as a full back is no longer a viable option for Kilkenny going forward. Holden has admirably tried to fill the position in recent years but Sunday was a watershed moment for Kilkenny in a position where they boosted the likes of Noel Hickey and JJ Delaney in their era of dominance.
The fact that Brian Cody did not make changes in the full back line spoke volumes on his thoughts on the squad depth defensively at his disposal. Kilkenny need to look for a full back and it is a gaping hole defensively. Prendergast also struggled in the corner and while Murphy tried gallantly, the stellar corner back had to give second best to a marauding John McGrath and John O’Dwyer in that second half whose movement were sensational.
If it was only that easy for Kilkenny to pinpoint their final ailings, the typically consistent Kieran Joyce at half-back was under pressure from the first whistle as Bonnar Maher settled to the task in his trademark manner; work-rate, tenacity and appetite to win ball led from the front. What a leader.
Joyce was also forced to move out the pitch and this exposed massive gaps in the half-back line. Joyce is so dominant under the dropping ball but it was not the case on Sunday as Tipperary half-forward line outworked their opposition line. McCormick, Maher and Noel McGrath winning their fair share of possession from puck-outs and even when lost put so much pressure on that Kilkenny, distribution was rushed and misdirected.
The biggest tactical nous was in midfield. As Tipperary made the hard calls to replace Michael Breen in the second half for Jason Forde, Kilkenny floundered in the line and the delay in deploying Lester Ryan in midfield with ten minutes to go spoke of a Kilkenny management in total disarray.
Ryan’s defensively tendencies would have helped Joyce and Holden no end but they were wholly exposed throughout, something that Brendan Maher did no end for Tipperary; protecting his back line with lung bursting runs to win possession and clear ball.
Tipperary management were spot on in their tactical switch at a vital time in proceedings; gave the line the lift required and Forde immediately repaid the faith by slotting over a key point to level the tie. Tipperary never looked back.
TJ Reid at midfield never worked; a potent forward was an isolated figure as the game passed the Ballyhale star by. His free taking was unerring but his open play contribution was limited and left Richie Hogan vulnerable in the half-forward line with Walter Walsh and Eoin Larkin second best in their duels against Kennedy and Padraig Maher who was outstanding. Ronan Maher rose to the occasion as well, winning eight puck-outs and his energy and work rate was too much for Kikenny. Hogan did score a goal but the game was over as a contest when scored.
Tipperary full back line were efficient in their work rate and defensive duties. James Barry at full back gave the performance that Holden could only dream of; assured in open play and with his corner back colleagues in superb, Kilkenny were living off scraps. Cathal Barrett and Michael Cahill are sensational at corner back, sticky and generally uncomfortable to play against. Their pace and game management were immense.
Kevin Kelly made have got a goal in the second half but he was anonymous for long periods. Liam Blanchfield even more so. The young bucks for Kilkenny did not hit the level required on final day and with the mercurial Michael Fennelly out of the side, Kilkenny simply could not have several players under-perform, that is what exactly happened.
An interesting off-season beckons for both finalists. Can Tipperary learn the lessons of 2010 and move to another level and retain Liam McCarthy? The talent and youthful nature of the panel would suggest it can be done but it will be work and hunger in preseason to achieve.
The fact that the Tipperary minors won on the same day suggests that the conveyor belt is as strong as ever in the Premier County. When you consider the likes of Kieran Bergin, Stephen O’Brien could not make the first fifteen, competition for even panel places looks intriguing, a nice problem for Michael Ryan and management who took the good work of Eamon O’Shea and got over the line.
Kilkenny will not be going away anytime soon but serious questions have emerged in recent weeks on the squad depth. The two substitution cameo from Kilkenny management when several lines were misfiring badly was galling to any Kilkenny player who was on the subs bench.
A final loss which will hurt over the winter, Kilkenny have issues defensively and it could be the end for several stars who have served the county with such distinction. Eoin Murphy and Padraic Walsh aside, no other Kilkenny players performed in the final.
Will Michael Fennelly, Jackie Tyrell, Kieran Joyce, Eoin Larkin and even Joey Holden be around next season? Has Cody the fight to carry on and attempt to build the panel? It is intriguing as Cody’s relationship with his management team looked at times fraught this season. Waterford first semi-final saw Cody strike a remote figure on the sideline.
The chasing pack can smell blood with Kilkenny after last Sunday. The air of invisibility is surely smashed after the performances of Callanan, Bubbles and co. As Clare did earlier in the year, a team who have pace, work rate, physicality and quality inside forwards can reap havoc on Kilkenny.
No sweeper system will beat Kilkenny. Traditional hurling values win out. Congratulations Tipperary and Kilkenny; fantastic contest – up to the rest of the pack to get to the level required but there is genuine optimism that hurling is once more competitive.