Kilkenny scored a three-point victory over Tipperary at Nowlan Park this afternoon to claim the Allianz national Hurling League Division 1 crown for a 16th time, 2-17 to 0-20.
The Cats retained their League crown following a fiercely-contested tie that saw Tipp forward Lar Corbett and Kilkenny defender JJ Delaney sent off in the second half.
Referee Barry Kelly dismissed the pair in the 46th minute after they ended up grappling on the ground 14 yards from the Kilkenny goal.
The sides were level with 20 minutes remaining before Kilkenny hit three unanswered points to establish a match-winning lead, in front of 21,447 spectators.
It was an advantage the All-Ireland champions would hold all the way to the finish in the first National Hurling League final played at Nowlan Park since 1966.
At half-time, Kilkenny led by 2-07 to 0-11 – with returning midfielder Michael Fennelly hitting 2-03 of that tally.
Kilkenny were first back out onto the pitch for the second half and Tipperary could face a fine from Croke Park after they were late out.
Tipp boss Eamon O’Shea may have wanted to pass on some extra direction to his players – with Fennelly causing the visitors serious damage from centre forward in the opening half.
Kilkenny manager Brian Cody was absent once again as he continues to recuperate from heart surgery but he surely had a say in positioning Fennelly in direct opposition to Tipp defender Pádraic Maher.
It was a tactic that worked extremely well as Kilkenny, playing against the breeze, made better use of possession to edge two points clear at the break.
In the early exchanges, it looked like Kilkenny would blitz Tipp as they led by 1-02 to 0-03 with less than three minutes on the watch.
Lester Ryan – excellent again and the find of the season for the Noresiders – pointed with just nine seconds on the watch and after Eoin Larkin followed up with a pointed free, Fennelly stormed through the centre of Tipp’s defence to whip home a fantastic goal.
But Tipp – with Brendan Maher excellent at midfield – settled and began to play some good hurling.
They got to within a point – 0-05 to 1-03 – by the 21st minute but Fennelly rocked them back on their heels with his second goal.
The former Hurler of the Year beat Darren Gleeson at his near post and that strike gave the Cats breathing space again.
Tipp were finding goal chances extremely hard to come by but Patrick Maher could have done better in the 29th minute, scuffing his shot with a goal for the taking.
But with Kieran Bergin doing extremely well on his debut in defence, Tipp had gained a foothold and Noel McGrath’s 33rd minute point tied the scores at 0-10 to 2-04.
Kilkenny hit back with two points before the break to lead again and they stayed in front until the 50th minute, when Brendan Maher lofted over his fourth point from play.
Both sides were now down to 14 men in a tie that produced eight yellow and two red cards.
Kilkenny, playing with the breeze, were not ruffled by Tipp’s comeback and points from Richie Hogan, Larkin (free) and Cillian Buckley put them three points in front again.
It was a lead they would hold all the way to the finish but the feeling leaving Nowlan Park this evening is that these two sides will meet again in the championship.
And what a game that promises to be.
KILKENNY: E Murphy; P Murphy, JJ Delaney, J Tyrrell; T Walsh, B Hogan, K Joyce (0-01); L Ryan (0-03), M Rice (0-01); C Buckley (0-01), M Fennelly (2-03), E Larkin (0-06, 5f 1 65); R Hogan (0-01), C Fennelly (0-01), A Fogarty.
Sub: M Ruth for Fogarty (62).
TIPPERARY: D Gleeson (0-01f); C O’Brien, P Curran, M Cahill; C O’Mahony, Pádraic Maher (0-01), K Bergin; B Maher (0-04), S McGrath; N McGrath (0-03), L Corbett, Patrick Maher; S Bourke (0-01), E Kelly (0-05, 3f, 1 65), S Callanan (0-02f).
Subs: J O’Dwyer for Kelly (48), J Forde for Callanan (57), J O’Brien (0-01) for S McGrath (58), P Bourke (0-02f) for S Bourke (61), J Woodlock for Patrick Maher (67).
Referee: B Kelly (Westmeath).