Brian McDonnell at Semple Stadium, Thurles
SIGHS of relief all around - Tipperary held off a storming Kilkenny comeback to win Saturday’s All-Ireland intermediate hurling final at Semple Stadium, Thurles.
The opening half, which saw Tipperary race into a 3-9 to 0-6, failed to prepare the 3,022-strong attendance for what was to follow.
Indeed, no one could have foreseen Kilkenny hitting their hosts with 1-7 without reply immediately after the break before cutting the Tipperary lead to just a single point by the 51st minute (1-16 to 3-11). But if Kilkenny’s surge was impressive Tipperary’s late stand was even more so.
With time running out and having been out-scored 1-10 to 0-2 in the second half the Premier had no momentum and were shipping water in all the wrong areas. And, worse was to come when the full-back line coughed up a penalty in the 53rd minute.
The Tipp men, however, drew inspiration from James Logue’s terrific save following Rory Hickey’s stinging shot.
Richie Ruth then won a crucial free and Kieran Morris converted before Cathal Dillon set up Paudie O’Dwyer and the Éire Óg Annacarty man helped his side into a vital three-point lead (3-13 to 1-16). Kilkenny, however, refused to lie down and it took yet another James Logue intervention in the 61st minute to deny the Leinster men the grandstand finalé that they so desperately desired.
Supporters Seeking Encouragement
If Tipperary supporters were seeking a little encouragement following the senior side’s recent eighteen-point defeat at the hands of the Cats they found it in a team which refused to surrender.
To win a first All-Ireland intermediate title since 2000 Tipperary required heroes. Ballingarry’s James Logue made a whole series of improbable saves, Kevin O’Gorman was neat and tidy at full-back while the half-back line of James Barry, Eddie Connolly and Ronan Sherlock were exceptional in the opening half.
Michael Gleeson was at his creative best in the opening half while the ball-carrying ability of Seán Carey and Joe Gallagher caught the eye.
Kieran Morris won possession at absolutely vital times while Nenagh Éire Óg’s Michael Heffernan was the outstanding candidate for the man of the match award. Heffernan scored 1-4 from play and also had a vital hand to play in Kieran Morris goal.
Irrespective of the valiant efforts of several members of the Tipperary team Michael Ryan’s men would not have won without Hefferan, a man who has now won minor, under-21, senior and intermediate All-Ireland medals by the tender age of 22.
A Nervous-Looking Tipperary
Despite playing against a stiff breeze Kilkenny seized the initiative when Rory Hickey (free) gave his side the lead. Seán Carey responded for a nervous-looking Tipperary in the fifth minute, but Kilkenny were hurling much the better with a brace from Rory Hickey (one free, one ’65) forcing the Leinster champions into 0-3 to 0-1 lead. That lead could have been significantly greater, but Kevin O’Gorman made a great block in the seventh minute to deny John Joe Farrell.
Joe Gallagher set up Michael Gleeson for a smashing point in the eighth minute, but when wing-back Brian Kennedy charged forward before landing a magnificent point off his right hand a minute later Kilkenny looked more than capable of upsetting their hosts.
Tipperary desperately required a tonic and found it in the ninth minute when Joe Gallagher pounced on a Bill Beckett mistake. Gallagher then cut through the heart of the Kilkenny defence before passing to Michael Heffernan. Gallagher’s pass was a little long, but Heffernan still managed to make a telling one-handed connection and lashed the ball into the roof of Richie O’Neill’s net - 1-2 to 0-4.
James Barry then set up Kieran Morris for a lovely point before Michael Heffernan’s terrific turn and left-hand shot left three between them (1-4 to 0-4) by the 12th minute.
In the 16th minute David Butler gladly accepted a hand pass from Kilkenny corner-back Jason Corcoran to open his account and doubled his account seconds later to hand Tipperary a 1-6 to 0-4 lead.
When Paudie White added another point from play Tipperary were six clear and had seen six different players score from play. The excellence of a dominant half-back line had a huge part to play in Tipp’s dominance, a dominance franked by a second goal in the 18th minute.
Some terrific combination play in the middle of the field sprung Michael Gleeson on the Kilkenny goal and although Gleeson’s tame effort was saved the Thurles Sarsfields man gathered possession once more and passed to David Butler who belted in a terrific goal - 2-7 to 0-4.
A classy Michael Heffernan point off his right hand brought Tipperary’s without-reply tally to 2-6 before Kilkenny managed their first score since the ninth minute when Rory Hickey belted over a fine point in the 22nd.
There was little respite for Kilkenny however since in the 24th minute Tipperary plundered their third goal. This time Seán Carey hounded and then hooked a Kilkenny defender, Michael Heffernan gathered possession and drew a Kilkenny defender before passing to Kieran Morris who helped himself to a handy three-pointer.
Kilkenny’s Rory Hickey (free) and Kieran Morris then traded points before James Logue made two absolutely vital saves in first half injury time - first from Ger Aylward and then from Rory Hickey’s stinging 21-yard free.
Second Half Onslaught
At the break Tipperary led by twelve points (3-9 to 0-6) and even though Kilkenny had made three alterations to personnel in the opening half nothing prepared us for the onslaught that the Cats were about to unleash.
Two efforts from Kevin Kelly and another from John Joe Farrell cut the deficit to nine points (0-9 to 3-9) by the 37th minute before Rory Hickey reduced the margin to eight. Niall Walsh struck for yet another Kilkenny point before Tipperary ‘keeper James Logue was asked to save John Joe Farrell’s tame effort in the 40th minute.
Substitute Pat Hartley was making a telling difference for the Kilkenny men at centre-back and his surge culminated in a pass to Niall Walsh who fired over the Cats’ six consecutive point in the 42nd minute - 0-12 to 3-9.
Disaster then struck in the 42nd minute when a defensive mix-up saw James Logue and Kevin O’Gorman compete for the one ball and only managed to allow Jeff Brennan’s long-range delivery to float into an unguarded Tipperary net.
A minute later the Tipperary full-back line coughed up a ’65 which Rory Hickey converted to leave just two between the sides (1-13 to 3-9).
Having isolated Michael Heffernan in the full-forward line for the majority of the second half Tipperary opted to move the Éire Óg man to half-forward. That alteration earned an immediate dividend when Heffernan gathered a Seán Carey cross-field ball and fired over Tipp’s first point of the second half in the 45th minute. Seconds later Joe Gallagher broke the ball. Heffernan was onto it like a flash and belted over another cracker to hand his side a 3-11 to 1-13 lead.
To their eternal credit Kilkenny responded once more and following points from Kevin Kelly, wing-back Luke Harney and Joe Lyng there was just a single point between the sides (1-16 to 3-11) by the 51st minute.
Matters then took a grave turn for the worse when Ger Aylward was fouled for a penalty and Gerry Walsh received a yellow card for his trouble in the 53rd minute. Thankfully goalkeeper James Logue saved Rory Hickey’s effort and within seconds Richie Ruth won a free which Kieran Morris converted (in all Tipperary scored 3-12 to their 3-13 tally from play).
With his first touch of the ball an alert Cathal Dillon then won possession and set up Paudie O’Dwyer who belted over a smashing left-handed point which presented his side with a vital 3-13 to 1-16 lead.
Only a goal would save Kilkenny now and a three-pointer was on Rory Hickey’s mind in the 61st minute when he stood over a centrally-located 21-yard free. Once more however James Logue was equal to a goal-bound effort which he deflected over the bar.
Tipperary: James Logue (Ballingarry), Christy Coughlan (Templederry Kenyons), Kevin O’Gorman (Thurles Sarsfields), Gerry Walsh (Carrick Swans), James Barry (Upperchurch-Drombane), Eddie Connolly (Loughmore-Castleiney, captain), Ronan Sherlock (Silvermines), Michael Gleeson (Thurles Sarsfields, 0-1), Paudie White (Clonoulty-Rossmore, 0-1), Seán Carey (Moyle Rovers, 0-1), Damien O’Brien (Burgess), Joe Gallagher (Kildangan), Kieran Morris (Moycarkey-Borris, 1-3, 0-1 free), Michael Heffernan (Nenagh Éire Óg, 1-4), David Butler (Drom & Inch, 1-2). Subs: (38th) Richie Ruth (Thurles Sarsfields) for David Butler, (47th) Evan Sweeney (Loughmore-Castleiney) for Joe Gallagher, (55th) Cathal Dillon (Aherlow) for Damien O’Brien, (55th) Paudie O’Dwyer (Éire Óg Annacarty-Donohill, 0-1) for Paudie White. Remaining panel members: Thomas Lowry (Holycross-Ballycahill), Micheál Butler (Drom & Inch), Martin Minehan (Kildangan), Niall Teehan (Gortnahoe-Glengoole), Stephen Maher (Thurles Sarsfields), Adrian Cleere (Ballingarry), Liam Dwan (Holycross-Ballycahill), Orrie Quirke (Silvermines), John Sheedy (Portroe).
Kilkenny: Richie O’Neill, Mark Phelan, Alan Walsh, Jason Corcoran, Brian Kennedy (0-1), Bill Beckett, Luke Harney (0-1), Joe Lyng (0-1), Paul Murphy, Niall Walsh (0-2), Rory Hickey (0-8, 0-4 frees, 0-2 ‘65s), Kevin Kelly (0-3), Robbie Walsh, John Joe Farrell (0-1), Ger Aylward. Subs: (19th) Pat Hartley for Paul Murphy, (28th) Michael Malone for Robbie Walsh, (31st) Jeff Brennan (1-0) for Alan Walsh, (60th) Cathal Kenny for John Joe Farrell.
Referee: James Owens (Wexford).