By Jimmy Rhatigan
THERE WERE many reasons why resurgent Kilkenny put manners on great rivals Tipperary as the Cats nailed the county’s 15th National Hurling League Final.
But while there were many marvellous moments in a sensational victory, the one that must have set hearts thumping with pride had to be the early second half goal by the superbly skillful juggernaut that is Walter Walsh.
The half time cuppa was barely relished when the Tullogher, Rosbercon wonder drove a dagger into the heart of Tipperary’s challenge, a wound from which Tipp never recovered.
The second half was seconds only old when Walter grabbed possession and set off on a one-man stampede that not even wild horses would have halted.
Like a tornado, he bore down on the Tipp goal, unleashed a pile-driver and the net bulged.
Following a first half of neat passing and impressive inter-play, Kilkenny had played their first real long ball and that was to be the beginning of the end of the Premier County’s bid to snare the Cats in their own back garden.
The Herculean feat of the colossus from South Kilkenny, we suggest, would have been top of the topics in many local hostelries as Cat fans savoured a few victory pints of plain or porter.
But, to be fair, there were so many reasons to like the fantastic 2-23 to 2-17 final win over Tipp and so many heroics to be replayed that some may have considered ringing their bosses with the excuse they had the ‘flu on Monday morning!
Equally as good as Walter’s whacker was the 63rd minute strike by Conor Fogarty, a bullet-like effort that must have made ribbons of any fightback that Tipp would have hoped to conjure.
And conjure is the apt word.
At that stage Tipperary would have needed a magic wand to resurrect their challenge and TJ Reid is not in the habit of loaning his hurley to anyone.
Kilkenny did to Tipp what Manchester United had done to Manchester City a few days earlier.
Jose Mourino’s braves played second fiddle to rampant City in the first half of a throbbing game when Pep Guardiola’s soccer aristocrats scored two goals and could easily have doubled their tally.
That United fought back to beat them 3-2 is history now. A long ball game had borne fruit.
The first half between Kilkenny and Tipp was pleasing on the eye and it was respectful too, perhaps a little too courteous as the Cats enjoyed a tidy game of keep ball and neat passing and Tipp too played with style.
Perhaps Brian Cody put the wind up his players at half time?
Whatever was said, the Cats whipped up a second half storm of direct but organised play that literally blew Tipp away as the visitors had no answer to Kilkenny’s whirlwind tactics that worked a treat.
There had been little between the age old rivals in the opening half but in the second it was chalk and cheese.
The outpouring of emotion after Kilkenny had done the business was a joy to behold.
The victory was the icing on the cake of a sensational renaissance story that began with two defeats and continued with a wonderful Cat’s tale that would make a Phoenix blush as it rises from any ashes.
There had to be a litany of nominees for man of the match and all of them would have been black and amber clad.
TJ Reid, Paddy Deegan, Walter Walsh, Eoin Murphy immediately sprang to mind.
But the names of the entire Kilkenny squad could have been put into a hat and whoever was picked out would have been a worthy winner.
Brian Cody and his management team don’t do raffles.
And the players, a collection of Captains Courage know full well that the only ticket is a winning one.
The tripping up of Tipp had the bonus of a hurling holiday in Australia later this year.
Tipp may have to settle for Tramore.
A great spot too.