When Tipperary and Kilkenny met in the 2011 All-Ireland final the game marked the first instance in 108 years that the same teams had contested three deciders in-a-row – and yet, here we are facing into an All-Ireland semi-final which pits these great rivals against one another for the fourth successive year. It is an extraordinary compliment to the standard set by both teams that there appears little evidence of a public fatigue factor for the fixture. And, one thing is for sure on Sunday, August 19th: if the game is up for grabs with ten minutes to play then there will be no better place to be.
Rivalries like this one tend to define an era and right now Kilkenny-Tipperary defines hurling. There is an historical backdrop, of course, to this rivalry, but what is of more relevance is the fact that this collision represents episode four, a decisive rubber with the score, for those keeping count, standing at two-one Kilkenny.
That’s enough of that – on to our a-to-z of this fabulous hurling rivalry:-
#A – All-Ireland Finals
In 2003 Kilkenny handed Tipperary a humbling 12-point defeat (3-18 to 0-15) in a one-sided All-Ireland semi-final, but the sides did not encounter one another again in championship hurling until the 2009 All-Ireland final. On September 6th 2009
Tipperary Kilkenny won 2-22 to 0-23. Twelve months later, on September 5th, the sides met once again in the decider with Tipperary winning 4-17 to 1-18. Then, on September 4th 2011 Kilkenny beat Tipperary 2-17 to 1-16 in the final.
#B – The Boys of Summer
Irish Examiner journalist Michael Moynihan (@MikeMoynihanEx) haunted the minds of Tipperary supporters in a 2011 Tweet when he described this current crop of players as the boys of summer. Mike Moynihan was making a cultural reference to Roger Kahn’s amazing book – The Boys of Summer (1972). The books tells the story of the Brooklyn Dodgers who won the 1955 World Series in a thrilling fashion and then, for one reason or another, failed to win again. The title of the book was taken from a Dylan Thomas poem which describes “the boys of summer in their ruin”.
Tipperary fans will enjoy the following video on the Premier’s recovery from their ten-point defeat to Cork in 2010 before an irresistible campaign led ultimately to an eight-point win over Kilkenny in the All-Ireland final:
#C – Cut Cats
Following Kilkenny’s 2011 All-Ireland final win the post-match analysis of the Tipperary performance was rather cutting. Enda McEvoy, for instance suggested that “Tipp went up to play a match; Kilkenny went up to fight a war. Kilkenny were supremely focused and savagely hungry; Tipp merely thought they were” while Kieran Shannon believed that Kilkenny’s ability to build up a five-point lead inside the opening 15 minutes illustrated the “difference between greatness and brilliance”.
#D – Diarmuid Kirwan
In December 2009 referee Diarmuid Kirwan defended his handling of the All-Ireland hurling final. In that decider Kirwan failed to take action after Séamus Callanan took 55 seconds to recover from Jackie Tyrell’s blatant frontal charge in the third minute. Kirwan then permitted Richie Power to take ten steps with ball in hand (eight before entering the large rectangle) before awarding the Kilkenny man a crucial penalty in the 63rd minute. Tipperary should have been awarded a free out, but Henry Shefflin converted the opportunity. Forty-five seconds later Kilkenny’s Martin Comerford had the ball in the Tipperary net once more. This time Kirwan ignored Richie Power’s timely push on Paul Curran. Michael Wadding was appointed for the 2010 decider while Offaly’s Brian Gavin took responsibility for the 2011 All-Ireland final.
#E – Efficient
In the 2009-11 All-Ireland finals the team which won the puck-out battle ultimately lost the game – efficient use of possession has been key. In 2010 Tipperary converted 34 scoring attempts into 29 cumulative points (4-17). In 2010 Tipperary converted 59% of their chances and Kilkenny 54%. Crucially Tipperary created four goal-scoring chances and converted them all. In 2011 Tipperary’s level of efficiency didn’t drop. According to Christy O’Connor Kilkenny converted 63% (30 shots) of their shots while Tipperary managed 85% (20). This was an extraordinary feat from Tipperary and leaves you wondering what Tipperary might have achieved had their deliveries forward been more considered. Against Dublin in 2011 Tipperary played 20 long balls into their attack and won five. Against Kilkenny Tipperary played 32 long balls and won just ten – as a result Lar Corbett never struck the ball off his hurley once in the 2011 decider. Tipp’s long-ball tactic yielded 4-13 in the 2011 Munster final, but failed to work to any significant degree against a more capable defence. When Tipperary attempted short stick passes in 2011 the Premier scored 1-5 against Kilkenny. Of the 14 short stick passes Tipperary played into their attack in the 2011 All-Ireland hurling final they won 13.
#F – Final Defeat
“The league final in 2009 was the first time I ever saw Tipperary people happy with a defeat,” Pádraic Maher told Christy O’Connor (2011) when reflecting upon Tipp’s 2009 National League final defeat (4-17 to 2-26 AET) to Kilkenny.
“People were just happy that we stood up to Kilkenny, but that didn’t sit well with us, especially the younger players. You’d hear people talking about this fear of the black and amber, but we never feared Kilkenny. We knew that we could have beaten them in the 2009 All-Ireland final and we knew if we played to our ability that we could beat them in 2010.”
Here’s a handy highlights package from that dramatic 2009 National Hurling League final between Kilkenny and Tipperary:
#G – Greatest Ever
On the morning of the 2010 All-Ireland hurling final (September 5th) the Sunday Times’ Michael Foley (@MickFoley76) wrote “in so many ways, Kilkenny have no case to answer today. There is nothing to argue over; no questioning of their status as the greatest group of hurlers assembled to play the game. Winning five-in-a-row isn’t required as a riposte to any doubt or slight inflicted on them. It would simply represent a wonderful adornment to an epic story: a tangible, visible expression of their greatness”.
Kilkenny lost that final, but the Sunday Times team remained convinced of their greatness and on July 10th 2011, in “The stuff of legends”, Denis Walsh described the modern Kilkenny as the very “greatest”. In a terrific feature the merits of Kilkenny were compared to Tipperary (1961-68), Cork (1941-47), Kilkenny (1971-75), Limerick (1933-40), Cork (1976-78), Wexford (1953-56), Galway (1985-90), Offaly (1994-2000) & Clare (1995-99).
#H – Hook-Block-Tackle
The hook-block-tackle count remains a key performance indicator for inter-county hurling teams. Kilkenny, for example, have only lost the hook-block-tackle battle once in a big game since 2005 – according to Christy O’Connor (Kilkenny still the team to beat) that anomaly materialised in the 2010 All-Ireland final against Tipperary. In the 2006 All-Ireland final Kilkenny won the hook-block-tackle battle against Cork 43-22 and thereafter registered an average score of 32 before the 2011 All-Ireland final when the Cats beat Tipperary 39-25 (Tipperary also lost the 2011 semi-final hook-block-tackle battle to Dublin – 15-25). In the 2010 All-Ireland final Kilkenny managed just 19. Based on Christy O’Connor’s analysis the team that edges the hook-block-tackle battle wins 85% of inter-county games.
#I – Ifs
In the aftermath of Kilkenny’s harrowing defeat to Tipperary in 2010 manager Brian Cody said: “we have no, absolutely no ifs, buts or maybes. To me the best team always wins the All-Ireland final and that’s the way it worked today. Tipp were excellent from start to finish. It was comprehensive”. That decider represented the first time since the 2001 All-Ireland semi-final against Galway that Kilkenny failed to take the lead at any point during a championship match.
Post-match interviews did not always go so smoothly for Brian Cody – check out this tussle with Marty Morrissey following the 2009 All-Ireland final:
#J – John Allen
“I think that Kilkenny are probably better than Tipperary at the moment. Tipperary are improving. That was a very workmanlike performance by Kilkenny and they’ll be very hard to beat on that form,” John Allen said after his Limerick side suffered a 1-16 to 4-16 defeat to Brian Cody’s men in their recent All-Ireland quarter-final at Semple Stadium, Thurles.
#K – King Henry
In the 2010 All-Ireland final Kilkenny leaked 4-17, their very highest tally conceded in a decider since 1971, but did so without Henry Shefflin who hobbled off with an injury after just 13 minutes (Tipp led 1-3 to 0-1 at the time). One wonders would Kilkenny have gone from level pegging early in the second half to trail 1-10 to 3-11 thanks to a frenetic three-minute spell had Shefflin been on the field of play – either way Tipperary denied Kilkenny their 22nd successive championship win and the five in-a-row.
#L – League Encounters
Since the appointment of Liam Sheedy as Tipperary manager the Premier have encountered Kilkenny in the National Hurling League on six occasions. Kilkenny have won four times and Tipperary just twice: 2008 semi-final Tipperary won 1-15 to 1-10, 2009 Kilkenny won 5-17 to 1-12, 2009 final Kilkenny won 2-26 to 4-17 AET and 20,254 witnessed Tipperary beat Kilkenny 1-14 to 0-13 in 2010. In 2011 Kilkenny beat Tipp 1-17 to 1-10 and did so once more in 2012 (2-17 to 0-15) – when the 2011 All-Ireland hurling final is factored in Tipperary have now lost three consecutive games to Kilkenny. In all the sides have met 62 times in the league with Tipperary winning 29 times, Kilkenny 27 times and there being six drawn affairs.
#M – Man of the match
RTÉ’s Sunday Game panel have managed to get the Man of the Match award gloriously wrong in the last two championship meetings between Kilkenny and Tipperary (the Sunday Game also failed to highlight the fact that Shane McGrath effected an amazing four block downs in the 2010 All-Ireland final). The exceptional analyst An Moltóir has illustrated as much in his statistical analysis of both the 2010 and 2011 All-Ireland finals. An Moltóir has devised an intricate means of evaluating the contribution of individual players in a given game. In 2010, for instance, the Sunday Game named Lar Corbett as man of the match. Corbett played the ball just six times in the game and, according to An Moltóir, earned 16 quality points (in 2010 Lar scored three goals, but was more influential in 2009 when earning 44 quality points). In 2010 the efforts of Brendan Maher trumped Lar Corbett by some distance. The Borris-Ileigh man earned 46 quality points and amassed 31 alone in a magnificent opening half. Remarkably Brendan Maher did not start the 2011 All-Ireland final, but when introduced after 30 minutes he scored 25 quality points. Now that’s a fair indicator that the best place for your best players is on the field of play. RTÉ, according to An Moltóir, got it wrong once more in 2011 when naming JJ Delaney as man of the match. JJ Delaney amassed 41 points, but was trumped by Michael Rice who earned a stunning 53 quality points.
#N – Newspaper
Sometimes the pundits get it wrong. Take the Sunday Times for instance. Prior to the 2010 All-Ireland hurling final (Sunday, September 5th), in an article entitled “The history boys” Denis Walsh wrote that if Kilkenny “wanted to be diverted from vainglorious thoughts of five-in-a-row they couldn’t have wished for a more effective distraction than Tipperary”. Walsh believed that Kilkenny would prevail that very afternoon: “this Kilkenny team has one chance at immortality. They will seize it”.
A year later (Sunday, September 4th 2011) the Cork man found himself in the opposite camp. In “Cats avoid making same mistakes but Tipp have the right balance” Denis Walsh wrote: “you can argue that Kilkenny are not as good as they were in 2009 but they will explode in Tipp’s faces today and Tipp will need to absorb that blast. Can they? Yes. Tipp by a goal or less”.
#O – Odds
It is oft suggested that the bookies never get it, ahem, wrong. But consider the following: on August 10th 2010 a Paddy Power press release priced Kilkenny at 1/6 to win their fifth consecutive All-Ireland hurling title and at just 4/5 to win six in-a-row, 7/4 to win seven in-a-row and 4/1 to collect the eight. Paddy Power had changed their minds significantly come September 2011 when Tipperary entered the All-Ireland final as 8/11 favourites. At the time of writing Kilkenny are 8/13 favourites to beat Tipperary on August 19th.
#P – Personal
In the build-up to the 2011 All-Ireland final Christy O’Connor eagerly suggested in the Sunday Times (“This time it’s personal”) that Kilkenny had a personal score to settle with Tipperary. On the morning of the final O’Connor described how a Kilkenny hurler had told a bunch of Thurles friends that Tipperary were “arrogant after only winning one All-Ireland” before highlighting the “fist pumping” of the Tipperary players. Christy O’Connor went on to explain how another Kilkenny player was “spitting fire about Tipperary” and that if they encountered one another again “there’s no way we’ll lose to them”.
Two weeks previously (August 21st, 2011) in “Tipp the balance” Christy O’Connor, following Tipperary’s narrow semi-final win over Dublin, wrote: “this final will be decided by raw hunger and that elemental desire will never be greater. One former inter-county hurler, who spoke to a Kilkenny player before last weekend’s match, said that the “eyeballs were nearly coming out through his sockets” when he discussed the desire of getting another crack at Tipp”.
Then, following Kilkenny’s win over Tipperary in the 2011 All-Ireland final, Christy O’Connor revealed that loose talk from some of the Tipperary players in Copper Face Jack’s nightclub (Dublin) had driven Brian Cody’s men to distraction.
“They told another customer that, while they had been taken aback by Dublin’s physicality and intensity, they had still overcome it. Also, they didn’t think Kilkenny would be able to replicate a similar level of intensity and were convinced they’d be able to match whatever Kilkenny threw at them. And, subsequently, beat them.
“What the Tipperary players weren’t aware of was that the guy they spoke to was a friend of a Kilkenny player, who inevitably relayed the sentiments back. Before long, the whole squad had word of it. Kilkenny already had a beef with Tipp but that anecdote added fuel to the flames. “Tipp are talking about intensity,” one Kilkenny player remarked to a teammate in the lead-up to the game. “Well, they’ll need a new definition of the word after Sunday.”
In keeping with the above here’s the inimitable Jason Statham describing hurling as a cross between hockey and murder in the 2011 film Blitz:
#Q – Quality
An Moltóir has devised an excellent means of evaluating the performance of hurling teams and individual players in terms of “quality points” scored. Indeed, An Moltóir has analysed the 2009-11 All-Ireland finals in great depth. In 2009, for instance, An Moltóir’s analysis suggests that Tipperary should have won the game by some distance – according to An Moltóir’s evaluation Tipperary scored 165 quality points and Kilkenny 149. “Never,” wrote An Moltóir, “has a team which produced so many good individual performances lost an All-Ireland final”. Extraordinarily in the 2010 decider, a game Kilkenny lost, the Cats enjoyed a superior score in terms of quality points – 189 to 182. But in 2011 there was no doubting the result – Kilkenny won the quality points battle hands down: 203 to 178. Indeed, Kilkenny deserved to win by much more than four points.
#R – Route One
Between the 2010 meeting and the 2011 All-Ireland finals Tipperary’s approach play changed significantly – in 2010 Tipperary scored a cumulative 29 points from 30 shots at goal while in 2011 Declan Ryan’s men managed just 13 shots at goal from play (three in the first half and ten in the second). Kilkenny had 28. Shane Stapleton (@shanesaint) wrote two excellent pieces this year on Tipperary’s predilection for route one – here & then here – which are both required reading. As is Denis Walsh’s Sunday Times article following Tipp’s defeat in the 2011 All-Ireland final: “to be as close as they were, and still in it with minutes left, was a testament to their character. But there will also be regrets. The subtle change in their style of play up front, with the longer more direct ball rather than the crisp medium-range passing of the old regime, was much easier for an experienced defence to counteract. Against weaker opposition in Munster it paid dividends, but was far less likely to open up a defence as good as Kilkenny’s, especially with the motivation of last year driving them on”.
#S – Sweet
After the 2011 All-Ireland final Brian Cody had the following to say about his side’s four-point win over their age-old rivals: “winning an All-Ireland final on any given day is a great feeling. I always say the present one is the best because it is the only one I can feel right now. But, if I’m being honest, this is by far our best achievement without a shadow of a doubt, absolutely phenomenally satisfying”.
Cody had a number of factors to cherish: it took Tipperary 16 minutes to get their first score, following a sensational Richie Hogan goal in the second half Kilkenny were eight points clear, the Cats’ starting full-forward line scored 1-5 from play, their Tipperary counter-parts accounted for 0-1 and Lar Corbett was held scoreless.
Here’s a short highlights package from the 2011 All-Ireland final with Thin Lizzy’s “The Boys Are Back In Town” adding to the mood:
#T – Tradition
In all Tipperary and Kilkenny have met 22 times in the All-Ireland senior hurling championship – Tipperary have won 13 times, Kilkenny nine, no draws. The 1967 final is regarded as a watershed game since Kilkenny beat Tipp in a decider for the first time since the 1922. Previous to that occasion Kilkenny had endured 44 years of Tipperary one-up-manship before their 3-8 to 2-7 win in ’67. Again and again Tipperary fans had reminded Kilkenny of a famous conversation which took place between Johnny Leahy and Sim Walton, the respective captains of Tipperary and Kilkenny after the 1916 All-Ireland final. Apparently, and as legend has it, Walton insisted that Kilkenny “were the better hurlers”. Famously, Leahy responded: “aye, but we were the better men”. Hence the cruel jibe: “Kilkenny for the hurlers and Tipperary for the men”.
Following 1967 Tipperary beat Kilkenny in 1971 and 1991. The sides did not meet again until the 2002 All-Ireland semi-final which Kilkenny won. A year later Kilkenny beat Tipperary so severely that Enda McEvoy, in April 2008 (Keep your friends close and . . .), wrote: “Kilkenny handed their neighbours their heaviest championship defeat since Matt the Thresher was a juvenile”. Tipperary’s stoic belief in a tradition which suggested that the Premier bred the hardier hurlers was well and truly rattled that day.
It’s rare that a reason can be found to praise RTÉ in general and the Sunday Game in particular, but this promo teaser released in advance of the 2010 All-Ireland hurling final was/is truly exceptional:
#U – Upset
In the 2010 All-Ireland final Tipperary stunned Kilkenny 4-17 to 1-18 in one of hurling’s greatest-ever shocks. But where does it rank among this top ten of hurling championship upsets: Antrim 4-15 Offaly 1-15 (1989), Wexford 2-20 Kilkenny 1-6 (1976), Kerry 4-13 Waterford 3-13 (1993), Offaly 3-17 Kilkenny 5-10 (1980), Galway 2-14 Cork 1-13 (1979), Galway 4-12 Cork 5-5 (1985), Waterford 2-23 Tipperary 3-12 (2002), Offaly 0-19 Cork 0-15 (2000), Dublin 0-19 Offaly 1-14 (1991) & Clare 2-11 Tipperary 0-13 (1994).
#V – Vital Statistics
The team that has won the puck-out battle in the last three All-Ireland finals has ultimately lost the game. In the aftermath of the 2011 All-Ireland hurling final the “hunger” of the Tipperary hurlers was questioned. Indeed, immediately after the game Tipperary manager Declan Ryan said: “we were second best to Kilkenny. They seemed to be the hungrier team. They’ve set the standard since the late 90s and hats off to them. We were blown out of it in a couple of tackles and I suppose that’s down to attitude, maybe hunger”.
Most would agree that a key indicator of “hunger” is a team’s ability to win puck-outs. Well, consider the following: in the 2011 All-Ireland hurling final Tipperary won 21 of Kilkenny’s puck-outs while Kilkenny won just ten of Tipperary’s. In all Kilkenny won 17 puck-outs and Tipperary 35.
Kilkenny are regularly heralded as a team who are utterly dominant under the dropping ball, but take the 2009 All-Ireland final. Of the 26 Kilkenny puck-outs, according to An Moltóir, which were clearly won the Premier won no less than 19. Tipperary also won 17 of their own 25 puck-outs.
Then, in 2010, Kilkenny won the battle 14-12 on their own puck-out and 19-5 on Tipperary’s. Extraordinarily Tipperary only won clean possession off one of their 11 second half puck-outs in the 2010 All-Ireland final.
So, on each occasion that a particular side has won the puck-out battle they subsequently lost the game. This is why the outstanding Christy O’Connor is at pains to point out again, again and again how important turnovers are in the modern game.
Christy O’Connor explained in Kilkenny still the team to beat (May 8th 2012) that the 2010 All-Ireland hurling final represented a “landmark in terms of how central turnovers have now become”. The 2010 final saw possession turned over 27 times (the most ever recorded by O’Connor) with Tipperary dispossessing Kilkenny 15 times. A year later Kilkenny effected 18 turnovers while Tipperary could only manage a pathetic three – Tipperary went from winning 15 turnovers in the 2010 All-Ireland final to three a year later. Tipp also lost the turnover battle to Dublin in the 2011 All-Ireland semi-final 6-12.
#W – Winning
“The scoreboard only matters once in a game – at the end,” Brian Cody explained after his Kilkenny team had beaten Tipperary for the third time (and by an average of nine points) during the 2009 season. Tipperary supporters however were feeling very sorry for themselves after the ’09 All-Ireland final. Nevertheless Tipperary had the chances to win the game. Indeed, they made a hero out of Kilkenny ‘keeper PJ Ryan who saved gilt-edged shots from Séamus Callanan, Noel McGrath and Eoin Kelly. When it mattered most Kilkenny out-scored Tipperary 2-3 to 0-2 when it mattered most.
And, if anyone needs reminding here’s a short video tracing Kilkenny’s late scoring surge against Tipperary in the 2009 All-Ireland hurling final:
#X – X Factor
In terms of quality the 2009 All-Ireland final between Kilkenny and Tipperary stands out as the most exceptional game in this modern series – Enda McEvoy described it best: “was there ever a better All Ireland final? Not in modern times, and as good as 1947’s may have been we can be certain it didn’t come within an ass’s roar of last Sunday for pace, intensity and the precision deployment of the skills of the game under pressure”.
#Y – Youth
The average age of the starting Tipperary team was significantly younger than their Kilkenny counterparts for the 2011 All-Ireland final – Tipperary averaged at 25.5 years of age while Kilkenny’s average came in at 27.3. Tipperary’s average was significantly influenced by the presence of 36-year-old ‘keeper Brendan Cummins. When Cummins is removed from the equation the Tipperary average dropped to 24.8 years while when Henry Shefflin, Kilkenny’s oldest player, was removed from their line-up the Cats’ average dropped to 27.
Kilkenny’s 2011 All-Ireland final starting team by age: David Herity (28), Paul Murphy (22), Noel Hickey (30), Jackie Tyrell (29), Tommy Walsh (28), Brian Hogan (30), JJ Delaney (29), Michael Fennelly (26), Michael Rice (27), Eddie Brennan (32), Richie Power (25), Henry Shefflin (32), Colin Fennelly (22), Eoin Larkin (27), Richie Hogan (23).
Tipperary’s 2011 All-Ireland final starting team by age: Brendan Cummins (36), Paddy Stapleton (26), Paul Curran (29), Michael Cahill (22), John O’Keeffe (22), Conor O’Mahony (26), Pádraic Maher (22), Gearóid Ryan (23), Shane McGrath (26), Séamus Callanan (22), Noel McGrath (20), Patrick Maher (21), Eoin Kelly (29), John O’Brien (29), Lar Corbett (30).
It’s also interesting to note the following – way back in 2005 the excellent Enda McEvoy took a punt at predicting the 2010 All Stars. Here’s the team Enda came up with: Adrian Power (Waterford), John Walsh (Laois), Paul Cleary (Offaly), Michael Fennelly (Kilkenny), Shane O’Neill (Cork), Tomás Brady (Dublin), Michael Rice (Kilkenny), Brendan Maher (Tipperary), Cathal Naughton (Cork), Colin Ryan (Clare), Joe Canning (Galway), Ray McLoughney (Tipperary), Kerill Wade (Galway), Eoin Ryan (Limerick) and Des Mythen (Wexford).
#Z – Zzzzzzzz
Apparently Tipperary are considered a soft touch. On February 25th, 2012 Enda McEvoy (a Kilkenny man) wrote in Top dogs in danger of slipping back to the pack: “more worrying in a long-term context, however, is the message that radiated from last year’s All-Ireland series. Get stuck into Tipperary, as Kilkenny and Dublin did, instead of standing off gawking at them, as Waterford had made the mistake of doing, and you’re well on the way to disrupting that clockwork-mechanism attacking game of theirs. Think this small fact wasn’t noticed in Cork and such places? Winning the league, or going as close as makes no difference, would soothe many a savage breast in the homes of Tipperary”.
Mr McEvoy wrote something similar in 2010: “as Páirc Uí Chaoimh demonstrated, moreover, Tipperary do not like teams who get in their faces and work double shifts. Give them a no-hurleys-broken shooting match against a Wexford in Thurles instead and they’d win it 11 times out of 10. And even in view of his recent form it should go without saying that the Joe Canning factor still obtains. Will Galway win if he goes mad and hits 2-3? Not necessarily. But, clearly, they’ll be nine points closer to doing so”.