Tipperary won this All-Ireland final in a manner that manager Michael Ryan will have been really pleased with.
It was the perfect balance of relentless work ethic, skill and an ability to execute when it needed to be done.
This is how Michael wanted his team to play and they married these facets of their game in an absolutely brilliant fashion.
It was very fitting that they played like that on the biggest day of all – and the result duly followed.
I felt before the game that Tipp would need to bring their best performance of the year to win the game and as the final progressed, their performance got better and better.
That’s very important in an All-Ireland final as the game was still very tight up until the last 10 minutes.
Tipp were trying to smash a hoodoo and break through the barrier of a team they’ve found it very difficult to beat in recent times but they displayed really admirable qualities in terms of staying focused and calm.
There were some mistakes but Tipp still looked in control of their emotions and their game throughout.
Tipp were just two points ahead at half-time but there were many little victories for them during the first half.
Kilkenny were keeping in touch through placed balls and from early on, it became apparent that the Tipp forwards were having far more joy than their Kilkenny counterparts from open play.
All of the Tipp forwards were very much in the game and contributing very well, the damage in main being done by Seamus Callanan and John O’Dwyer on the scoreboard.
On the other side of the coin, Kilkenny didn’t have their usual sharpness, from some of their really influential players, and there were a few signs of that.
In the 8th minute, Paul Murphy was under no real pressure as he went to lift a ball under the Hogan Stand:
Dan McCormack moves across to apply some pressure but it’s still an unforced error from Murphy as he loses control of the ball:
‘Bubbles’ put the ball over the bar from the resultant sideline cut and what was really encouraging too in the first half was Tipp’s ability to force turnovers from Kilkenny defenders and punish the opposition on the scoreboard.
One I really liked was the Seamus Kennedy point, his first for Tipp this season, in the 11th minute of the game.
What was so good about this from a Tipp viewpoint was the fact that their previous score from Noel McGrath was a direct result of Richie Hogan being turned over deep inside his own half.
In the next passage of play, Paul Murphy gathers possession for Kilkenny but attempts a risky cross-field ball:
Cillian Buckley (yellow circle), is in a tricky position, with two Tipperary players moving in to challenge:
Buckley emerges with the ball but in the next picture, the next recipient, TJ Reid, is coming under pressure too:
Reid attempted to find Buckley, who had moved forward, with a return pass, but it’s short and that man, Patrick ‘Bonner’ Maher, is on hand to collect and send a hand-pass to the eventual scorer, Seamus Kennedy:
Kennedy (circled), is in plenty of space and, showing huge composure for a guy making his All-Ireland senior final debut, he prepares to send the ball over the bar:
When Murphy made the initial pass, there were 9 minutes and 54 seconds on the watch. Kennedy had the ball in his hand at 10 minutes and 8 seconds. So, what you had in this passage of play was 14 seconds of non-stop work from Tipperary players to force a couple of errors, resulting eventually in another turnover point.
Hogan, incidentally, was turned over with 9 minutes and 16 seconds on the clock so within the space of a minute, Tipp had two points scored from turnovers. Massive for them.
Kilkenny still managed to stay in touch even though they weren’t playing well at all. Liam Blanchfield had very little success, Colin Fennelly wasn’t influential in the game and Walter Walsh, after a bright start, didn’t have a huge input in the second part of the first half.
Kevin Kelly had a good point from play early on but as the half wore on, Michael Cahill became more prominent and had a huge game from a Tipp point of view.
Seamus Callanan’s 33rd minute point was exquisite but what followed was a passage of play that I want to highlight.
At 33 minutes and 30 seconds, we see Richie Hogan (yellow circle) in possession of the ball but Brendan Maher (blue circle) is prepared to make up the ground and provide an extra body:
Maher is now in the contact area and along with ‘Bonner’, he forces Hogan to the ground:
Kilkenny still managed to get the ball to Kieran Joyce and in the next picture, I’ve frozen play as the ball is hanging in the air. Crucially, Michael Cahill (white circle) is tracking back to provide cover:
Cahill picks up the breaking ball:
Next, Cahill transfers the ball to Paudie Maher, who drives it up the field. It’s collected now by Kilkenny’s Paul Murphy, who delivers it back into Tipperary territory:
A breathless passage of play, some 35 seconds, finally ends when Seamus Kennedy (5) is fouled by Eoin Larkin:
Bubbles, from inside his own half, will convert the free to hand Tipp a 0-14 to 0-12 half-time lead but the passage of play that preceded it was everything you’d associate with Tipp and Kilkenny, the two teams going at it toe-to-toe.
Normally in these situations it’s Kilkenny gaining those little victories but Tipp had enough resilience to fight it out and it went in our favour when Larkin pulled Kennedy back.
What those 35 seconds encapsulated for me were Tipp’s body language and determination – a team hurting from finishing second best to Kilkenny far too often.
Even though Tipp were playing a lot better than Kilkenny, there was still nothing really in the game in that first half.
That passage of play before half-time gave Tipp huge belief but there were other clues that suggested it would be their day.
In the 26th minute, Paudie Maher has plenty of time to look up and deliver a ball inside:
What’s most alarming from a Kilkenny perspective is the space that the recipient, Seamus Callanan (yellow circle) has to operate in when the ball is delivered:
End result? Point for Tipp. Earlier in the half, in the 21st minute, Ronan Maher delivers a brilliant diagonal ball:
It’s aimed for Callanan (circled), who’s one-on-one this time with Shane Prendergast:
It’s a point for Tipp and an example of the rotation policy in the inside line which works so well when Tipp are playing well. Callanan did the vast majority of his damage on Joey Holden but in the example above, he took Prendergast for a score.
This constant movement asks serious questions of a back line and it wasn’t just rotation for the sake of it, there was real method involved.
Tipp were comfortable doing it and with their confidence levels so high, it worked a treat.
Taking the screen-grab I’ve used above, and looking at it from a different perspective, the yellow arrows indicate the amount of space between the Kilkenny half-backs and their full-back line. That didn’t do them any favours at all and normally, they operate much closer together:
There was some main themes from the second half, the most obvious being the ability of the Tipperary forwards to do serious damage when the ball went forward.
This happened for one fairly consistent reason – the quality of supply going in was exceptional.
Another important factor was the introduction of Jason Forde. It strengthened Tipp in a big way as Dan McCormack went to midfield, with Jason slotting into the wing-forward position after he replaced Mikey Breen.
Mikey didn’t have his best game but he’s enjoyed a tremendous season and he should be very proud of that.
In the reshuffle, what happened was that Dan took up a fairly defensive role, a covering role, and he was back inside his own 20m line on more than one occasion, getting tackles and blocks in.
Here he is, in the 50th minute, winning a free off Liam Blanchfield inside the 20m line:
Captain Brendan Maher was also fairly defensive in the second half, working to ensure that Kilkenny’s half forwards weren’t allowed to drift out to midfield or in behind the Tipp half-back line.
McCormack and Maher operated as huge support to the six defenders in the second half while, at the other end of the pitch, the Tipp forwards continued to do damage with the ball they were receiving.
The turnover effect continued, too, as evidenced by Seamus Callanan’s point early in the 48th minute.
John McGrath was brilliant in this, first executing a hook on Pádraig Walsh as the Kilkenny defender attempts to clear:
A ruck ensues and here, we can see McGrath waiting patiently on the edges for the ball to squirt free:
He remains patient, moving to a different position:
And that patience is rewarded as McGrath picks up possession, shortens the grip and plays this lovely ‘dink’ pass:
The recipient was Brendan Maher, who offloaded to Callanan and the result was a point.
The ‘Bubbles’ goal comes from the next puck-out, and we can see Cathal Barrett, who had his best game of the year driving out with the ball:
Barrett looks up and prepares to deliver a brilliant ball towards Bubbles:
Barrett knows precisely where this ball is going and it’s directed towards Bubbles and Paul Murphy, in a one-on-one situation:
The clincher for Tipp is that Murphy drops his hurl as Bubbles gets inside him:
Now, Murphy can’t tackle legally, Bubbles smells blood and goes for the jugular. The ball from Barrett, however, and his ability to win that puck-out makes the goal.
From there, Tipp’s forwards were seriously in the groove, finding each other with ease.
There were so many examples I could pick out but Forde played an absolutely brilliant ball for a Callanan point in the 55th minute.
The move originated with Seamus Kennedy winning the ball in the Tipp half-back line and directing it towards Forde:
Forde looks up and prepares to arrow the ball towards Callanan:
It’s just a brilliant ball and Callanan, again, is out in front of Joey Holden to collect the delivery:
Forde’s first point, a little earlier, came about as a direct result of Seamus Callanan, initially, turning over Joey Holden but another excellent feature of Tipp’s play, which I could write about all day, was their aerial dominance.
I’ve picked out just one to illustrate this point and it was a crucial score for Tipp, Paudie Maher’s in the 51st minute when he arrowed over that terrific score from the left touchline.
But Tipp were at it right from the start and Ronan Maher, in particular, was very strong under dropping ball at centre back.
Obviously, the Tipp forwards have grabbed the vast majority of the headlines (Callanan scoring 9 points from play a terrific contribution) but Barrett, James Barry and Michael Cahill were excellent in the full-back line.
In the last 30 minutes of the game, Tipp scored 2-14 and they had 12 wides also finishing up.
From a Kilkenny point of view, it was strange that Kilkenny left Joey Holden on Callanan for so long, particularly in the second half, but there were so many areas of the field where they were under pressure.
It’s difficult to comprehend why they left it as late as the 60th minute to make two changes, and only two subs were brought in.
It was just one of those days for Kilkenny as Blanchfield and Colin Fennelly failed to influence the game while Walter Walsh’s effect weakened as it went on.
Eoin Larkin was substituted and TJ Reid, operating deep and starting at midfield, didn’t get on the scoresheet from play.
Tipp put a lot of work defensively into the final and were sound in this facet.
They didn’t allow Kilkenny any huge pockets of space in which to operate and even though Mikey Breen didn’t play to his usual high standard, Brendan Maher had a fairly solid game and Dan McCormack played well at wing-forward and when he dropped to midfield.
Conor Fogarty tried hard for Kilkenny but they weren’t creating a lot from the middle third.
Centre back Kieran Joyce was substituted and the Kilkenny forwards could only dream about the supply of ball that was going into the Tipp attackers.
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