By James McMahon
It is often unfair to make comparisons. In the minds of many, Sunday’s stalemate between Kilkenny and Tipperary in the All-Ireland final was the ‘greatest' game of hurling ever played.
This day last year, we all waxed lyrical after Clare and Cork finished level in their final meeting. The chorus of approval grew even louder in their replay – an absorbing goal fest played out as nightfall was setting on Jones’ Road.
Kilkenny and Tipp were at it again in 2009 and ’10 – All-Ireland deciders played at a rate of knots – and the titles were shared.
We don’t, however, have to wait until September for such exhilaration. Cork and Waterford in the 2004 Munster final was a contest that ebbed and flowed amid the June sunlight in Thurles.
Eight years earlier, on an equally sun-drenched day, Clare, as defending All-Ireland champions, were undone by Ciaran Carey’s catch from a puck-out and subsequent point that edged Limerick home in a provincial semi-final.
There are other matches I could recall that had the stamp of greatness.
We live in the here and now and a reflection on the 70-plus minutes played in Sunday’s Croke Park drama leaves us with many wonderful memories.
Level of intensity: It’s a much-used phrase, but right from the off Kilkenny and Tipperary tackled hard, yet there was no hint of malice. Passes did go astray, however, further highlighting the high-tempo on offer.
Scoring blitz: 54 scores and only nine wides. Not much time to catch your breath. As well as missing two penalties, Lar Corbett, Gearoid Ryan, Patrick Maher and Seamus Callanan all had great chances for goals.
Likewise, the Cats will feel that their goal tally could have been higher if Colin Fennelly had been more selfish inside the first ten minutes and TJ Reid’s effort had not been stopped by the brilliance of Darren Gleeson in the Tipp goal.
Hats off also to the Kilkenny custodian, Eoin Murphy, whose agility was seen to good effect.
Wonder strike: To borrow a phrase from soccer, TJ Reid turned on a 'sixpence' to crash the ball into the Tipperary net just after half-time. It gave the Cats the platform to push on in the second half.
Closing the deal: Yes, Kilkenny did push on in the second 35 minutes, but were reeled in late on by Eamon O’Shea’s troops. Earlier this summer, the Cats built up a nine-point lead against Galway in the Leinster semi-final and again conceded late scores, allowing the Tribesmen to force a draw.
At the height of their powers, Cody’s charges would have shut the door firmly on any late surge from an opponent. That aura of invincibility may have gone, but Tipperary are still finding it difficult to lower the Black and Amber colours in a match that matters.
Lar is back: After an indifferent showing in the semi-final against Cork, many questioned whether Lar Corbett would prosper in the white heat of battle. He proved all the doubters wrong. He scored two points; had an effort for goal that came off the post and often had the Kilkenny defence in a tizzy.
Sideline calls: Henry Shefflin wasn’t on long enough to make an impact. However, the Tipp triumvirate of Michael Cahill, Jason Forde and Paddy Stapleton all delivered points when they entered the fray – crucial scores that saw Tipperary live to fight another day.
Hawk-Eye: The awarding of that free late on was contentious. A brave call from referee Barry Kelly. John O’Dwyer’s effort had just gone an inch wide. Hawk-Eye confirmed this fact. No controversy then to sour an otherwise marvellous day.
The second instalment: With such talented players on both sides, there is every possibility that the replay will be just as engrossing on 27 September. Brian Cody will feel that there is a bit more to come from his side.
Two years ago he pulled a rabbit out of the hat when Walter Walsh was introduced for the replay against Galway. Will ‘King’ Henry see more game time the next day? What about Tommy Walsh and his brother, Padraig?
Tipperary, no doubt, will aim to be more ruthless in front of goal.
Bring it on!