The Irish Times - Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Critics silenced as Premier heroes prove their worth

PADDY DOWNEY

FROM THE ARCHIVES ALL-IRELAND HURLING FINAL SEPTEMBER 1991: SINCE 1989, when they beat Antrim, the Tipperary hurling team have had to live with questions and taunts about their worthiness as All-Ireland champions of that year. It niggled and annoyed them and steeled their will to prove that their critics were unfair.

They silenced those critics in the All-Ireland final at Croke Park yesterday when beating traditional rivals Kilkenny but by a much smaller margin – only four points – than followers of hurling had expected from a team rated as red-hot favourites.

Nevertheless, it was a merited victory for the Munster champions, who turned on the power in the last 20 minutes and wore down a Kilkenny team who dominated the greater part of the first half but, because of several badly-missed scoring chances, failed to show it on the scoreboard at the interval, when the teams were level at 0-9 each.

The game was played in lovely weather – the intense heat of the previous days had abated – but it was not a great final. Indeed, to say that it was a good one might stretch the truth a bit too far, but that did not worry the victors nor their enthusiastic supporters in the 64,500 attendance.

Still, it was a sporting contest, the closeness of the scoring sustained excitement until the finish and for those reasons the spectators got reasonably good value for their money.

It was a shame the immediate celebration of Tipperary’s victory was inhibited by the GAA’s recently imposed ban on spectators entering the field at the end of a game. As has happened at Croke Park over the past six weeks, scores of stewards moved into the ground and spread out along the sideline a few minutes before the end of the game, their function being to prevent an invasion of the pitch after the full-time whistle.

It is an ugly spectacle on a great sporting occasion and should not be continued. If loudspeaker appeals to spectators to remain in their places fail to confine the joy of winners’ supporters so be it. Yesterday, a couple of thousand Tipperary people eventually got onto the pitch to cheer the captain, Declan Carr, when he received the Liam MacCarthy Cup from the GAA president, Peter Quinn. Good luck to them.

We can only speculate now whether Tipperary would have lifted their game sufficiently to win the county’s 24th All-Ireland title but for a lucky goal scored at the Railway end by Michael Cleary from a lightly-angled free less than 30 yards out in the 10th minute of the second half.

In the first place, the award of the free against Bill Hennessy, who tried to cut off a burst through by Nicholas English, was questionable. Then Cleary, intending to take a point, mishit the ball, Kilkenny right half back Liam Walsh deflected it in flight, Hennessy also got a touch and goalkeeper Michael Walsh was deceived. The ball went in near the right post and Tipperary, hitherto struggling, were 1-11 to 0-10 in front.

That was the break the Munster champions needed. The tonic raised the tempo of their play.

Their defence tightened, midfield, where John Leahy was now partnering Carr, took over control and the forwards at last broke the grip which the Kilkenny backs had held throughout the first half and also in the early part of the second.

The measure of Tipperary’s second-half rally is contained in the fact that Kilkenny scored only one point from play in that period. Eamonn Morrissey was the striker in the 52nd minute.

The other five were scored from frees by DJ Carey, who finished with a total of nine – the same tally as Cleary, Tipperary’s top scorer with 1-6.

Cleary’s goal was the turning point of the game. But another very influential factor was the switch of Leahy to midfield – he swapped places with Aidan Ryan – in the 23rd minute of the first half.

The Mullinahone man was outstanding in that area in the last 20 minutes of the game.

The Kilkenny midfielders, Richard Power and Michael Phelan, mastered their opponents in the first half and the half backs, Walsh, Pat Dwyer and Eddie O’Connor, also subdued the Tipperary half-forward line.

Consequently, the Tipperary front line received only scant possession while the Kilkenny attack enjoyed a lavish supply of the ball. The centre forward, Christy Heffernan, repeatedly beat Bobby Ryan and the Tipperary centre half – who later played inspiring hurling – changed places with Conal Bonnar.

The Kilkenny attack was unable to turn their superiority into a commensurate number of scores, however. Morrissey, who had an off-day and played in three different positions, missed a chance of a goal early in the game and several good openings for points were thrown away. Even Carey was off target with a couple of frees; one point by Morrissey, struck from the Cusack Stand sideline, was a beauty, however, three minutes before the interval.

That put Kilkenny three in front but Tipperary then hit back to level the scores. Those points, by Pat Fox and Cleary (two), turned out to be an invaluable contribution before the finish.

Kilkenny put so much effort into their hurling in the first half that it was not too surprising when their thrust gradually waned after the change of ends. That and the lift which Tipperary received from Cleary’s goal changed the whole pattern of the game before the end of the third quarter.

Cormac Bonnar, who lined out at full forward for the Munster champions in spite of his leg injury, retired in the 48th minute and was replaced by Conor Stakelum. Bonnar, starved of possession, had made only one spurt late in the first half when he overcarried the ball, after a high catch, and laid on a good pass to Fox who took his point sweetly.

English, who was well marked by Hennessy and failed to score, also suffered a recurrence of his hamstring injury 10 minutes before the end and was replaced by Donie O’Connell.

Fortunately for Tipperary, they didn’t need quality performances from either Bonnar or English in the heel of the hunt.

Fox was a bright star of their attack with strong support from centre forward Declan Ryan – in the last quarter – and Cleary.

Carr was in and out of the game at midfield, where Leahy eventually played a major rote. Paul Delaney, who held the Tipperary defence together under heavy pressure in the first half, maintained his good form after the change of ends and Michael Ryan in the other corner of the last line and Bobby Ryan at left half back – his favourite position –- also made tremendous contributions to the team’s recovery.

Tipperary took a two-point lead within seven minutes of the restart and Cleary’s goal then put them further ahead than they deserved to be at that stage. Kilkenny pulled them back to three points but the Munster champions again went five up in the 57th minute and were at that time playing with the cut and thrust of champions.

But Kilkenny, courtesy of Carey, were still in the game with a chance when only three points again stood between the teams through the final seven minutes.

A low shot for a goal by Liam Fennelly was well-saved by the Tipperary goalkeeper, Ken Hogan, but the Kilkenny man did not get his shoulders behind it and a good chance was lost.

Later, the same player drove the ball wide from close range and a final effort by Morrissey to snatch an equalising goal was smothered by the Tipperary backs.

Appropriately, Tipperary’s best forward, Fox, took the last point of the game only a couple of seconds before the end.

TIPPERARY : K Hogan; P Delaney, N Sheehy, M Ryan; Colm Bonnar, B Ryan (0-1), Conal Bonnar; D Carr capt, A Ryan (0-2); M Cleary (1-6, 1-5 from frees), D Ryan (0-1), J Leahy (0-1); P Fox (0-5), Cormac Bonnar, N English. Subs: C Stakelum for Cormac Bonnar (48 mins); D O’Connell for English (60 mins).

KILKENNY : M Walsh; B Hennessy, J Henderson, L Simpson; L Walsh, P Dwyer, E O’Connor; R Power (0-1), M Phelan; J Power, C Heffernan capt, D J Carey (0-9, eight from frees); E Morrissey (0-3), L Fennelly (0-1), L McCarthy (0-1). Subs: A Ronan for McCarthy (half-time), L Ryan for J Power (63 mins).

Referee : W Horgan (Cork).

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