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John Gardiner: How Kilkenny's defensive tweak trumped Tipp - and why the GAA needs pro refs

TheScore.ie’s resident hurling columnist gives his view on another All-Ireland triumph for the black and amber.

Image: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

I WAS CONFIDENT going in to Saturday’s All-Ireland final replay that Tipperary would win if they could continue the movement their forwards showed in the drawn game. That was always going to be the key.

But if the first day was a day for the forwards and a shootout, this was definitely the battle of the backs, and Kilkenny tightened up a lot more than Tipp did. It was their defending that really got them over the line this time.

The main change was bringing Kieran Joyce in at centre-back to man-mark Bonner Maher. Brian Hogan wasn’t the man for that job but Kieran showed that he was with a man of the match performance.

Not only did he keep a very dangerous forward scoreless but he controlled the position. It was another great tactical move by Brian Cody.

That was the foundation for Kilkenny’s defensive dominance and they just stopped the supply of the ball into the Tipp forwards, especially in the second half.

Tipp were still trying to use their movement to create the spaces but Kilkenny’s backs held firm. All the ball that was being pucked down into the half-back line, Kilkenny were cleaning them out.

Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

My old team-mate Donal Óg Cusack had a few sharp words for Brian Gavin the referee and his performance on Saturday but overall, I don’t think he influenced the result. Kilkenny were the better team. Brian Gavin let the game flow and you’ve to give him credit for that.

Donal Óg said he’s not fit enough to referee. These referees go through some tests and he’s obviously passed them. He gave Tipperary a penalty which didn’t look like a penalty to me to be honest, and he looked like he was a bit far away from it when he called it.

Still he’s one of the GAA’s favoured officials — he was in charge of the drawn final between Cork and Clare last year as well so that’s two All-Irelands in a row.

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Overall though, I think it’s time to start paying professional referees. If they’re professional, we’ll expect a certain standard from them. We can’t be really critical of guys if we haven’t got the structures in place to have the best referees there.

I don’t want to be comparing our game to the Premier League but we need a squad of refs that are training the whole time and up to speed with the pace of the game. That’s the way the game is going now.

Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

As for Brian Cody’s comments on Barry Kelly and his “criminal” decision to give Tipp a late free in the drawn game, I’m not surprised.

Put it this way: he wasn’t going to have a cut off a ref before the game was played. He waited until the McCarthy Cup was on its way back to Kilkenny before he said anything.

At the end of it, it’s another win for Kilkenny and Tipp’s losing streak against their biggest rivals continues but I think this defeat will toughen them up. 

There were times that we were looking at Tipp and saying that they won’t be competitive at all but they turned it around midway through the year. I think they have the players to trouble any side and they’re not far off. They’ll take a lot of experience from losing the game.

The only things left to be decided now are the All-Stars and Hurler of the Year. When it comes to the main prize, the guys who get the scores are always going to be up there but the two Tipperary corner-backs, Cathal Barrett and Paddy Stapleton, have been outstanding for me. Paddy was brilliant the last day but of the two of them, Cathal has probably been more consistent over the summer.

It looks like it’s going to come down to either Richie Hogan or Seamus Callanan in the end. The RTÉ panel went for Hogan. He’s been superb all summer but he was taken off with 15 minutes left on Saturday to bring Henry on. Did he deserve that? I don’t know.

Callanan got 2-5 at the weekend even though Tipp fell just short and finished as the championship’s top scorer. If it was down to me, he’s probably just shaded it.

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John Gardiner

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