Kilkenny 0-20 Tipperary 1-14
Kilkenny displayed the greater belief in Nowlan Park to defeat Tipp a little more comfortably than the three point margin suggests in a nervy encounter. This was by no means vintage Kilkenny but it was a significant improvement on their three championship outings thus far.
The early exchanges were tense and the sense of ‘real championship hurling’ was palpable. Notably, there was a premium on space throughout the evening giving the advantage to the defending team and perhaps explaining some of the poor shooting in evidence throughout. The Tipp forwards could gain very little traction in enemy territory and the old failings resurfaced as they won very little primary possession. The Kilkenny half back line dominated, ably assisted by Paul Murphy at corner back. Cody’s men persisted with their direct game but unlike against Dublin they succeeded in winning their own ball in the forward line.
Both sides were guilty of some poor shooting in the first half and with both defences on top a 15th minute Lar Corbett goal looked to have put Tipperary firmly in the ascendancy in a four point lead. Kilkenny hung in there though and were able to stay in contention courtesy of the free taking of Eoin Larkin something that is becoming a feature of this year’s championship. Corbett pulled a hamstring in the first half and his subsequent departure enhanced the impression that Tipp didn’t really believe they could beat Kilkenny in Nowlan Park. A late Seamus Callanan point, who replaced the stricken Corbett, left the teams dead locked at the break.
Tipperary started the second half brightly and will rue an early Eoin Kelly goal chance that was saved. The resultant straightforward 65 also went a-begging. The momentum began to swing in favour of the home team though and Richie Hogan was starting to influence proceedings in the Kilkenny forward line. He was getting more and more opportunities to do just that as the Kilkenny clearances became increasingly frequent. James Woodlock carried the fight to Kilkenny from midfield and ran impressively at the heart of the The Cats’ defence. He was the only Tipp man that offered something different as Tipperary persisted in pucking long ball down the middle with little or no success. This made the withdrawal of John O’ Brien, one of the few Tipp forwards capable of winning his own ball, all the more curious.
Tipp stayed in contention but the longer the second half wore on the less likely a win seemed. The ball that did stick in their forward line was wasted through poor shooting. As the wides piled up, their belief faded with it. Kilkenny were picking off scores much more easily than their near neighbours. The game, although close on the scoreboard when Henry Shefflin was introduced for a short cameo, was edging away from Tipp. Kilkenny showed the greater composure in the closing stages and rattled over three consecutive scores to make it a four point game going into injury time. A late John O’ Dwyer point was merely cosmetic.
Tipp will be disappointed with both of their championship showings and leave the impression that a Declan Ryan style figure is badly needed in their forward line to both win and lay off ball. This was a massive win for Kilkenny who, when their backs were to the wall, fought like the champions that they are. With both Shefflin & Fennelly to swell their ranks they are open to the type of improvement that will undoubtedly be required to successfully defend their title.