Tops off as Tipp slay Cats by 14 points to regain the Liam MacCarthy Cup
THE proud tradition of tops off for the Championship continued unabated at Croke Park yesterday.
On the hallowed turf at Headquarters, Tipperary slayed old rivals Kilkenny and after the whistle ended a one-sided final, hundreds of jubilant young fellas from the Faithful County pogoed up and down on The Hill, swinging blue and gold jerseys above their heads in celebration.
“Tipp! Tipp! Tipp! Tipp!” roared the jubilant fans as skipper Seamus Callanan accepted the Liam MacCarthy Cup to a deafening roar.
Callanan made as gracious a speech and you could hope to hear before retreating to the dressingroom as the strains of the Tipperary anthem filled the air.
‘Oh I never will forget, the sweet maiden I met, in the valley near SLEEE-EEEV-NA-MONNNN…’ “Powerful stuff,” I thought, forgetting myself and starting to pull my own top over my head in a sign of solidarity with the winners.
Luckily I caught myself on before officials in the press box had to step in.
Earlier, many miles from that valley near Slievenamon, Union flags fluttered on lamp posts all around as I waited in Loughbrickland for my lift.
Hurling is played around there and the local club Ballyvarley’s most famous son, the late great Joe Lennon, had stood where Callanan stood yesterday to accept the Sam Maguire on Down’s behalf back in 1968.
The first time I’d made the journey to the All-Ireland hurling final was 21 years after Joe lifted Sam. It was back in 1989 after my father had sourced tickets through a convent in Limerick and we cheered on ‘Sambo’ McNaughton, Ciaran Barr, Olcan McFetridge and co. as Jim Nelson’s Antrim – surprise finalists and rank underdogs – did battle with Tipperary on a sunny September Sunday.
No motorway then of course, it was the slow and winding road through Dundalk, and Ardee and Monasterboice and Drogheda…
But the destination was the same and I can still remember the Antrim fans’ cheeky chants of: “Ohhhhhhh, spot the looney, spot, spot, spot the looney bin” as they came across fans of Tipp on their way down Jones’s Road.
The Glensmen were well beaten in that final. In the early stages they landed a few good digs but Tipp had run away with it by midway through the second half. Late in the game, Nicky English, Tipp’s genius forward, sprinted onto a long ball, pulled on it with a swing of his hurley and struck it straight and true screaming into the top corner of Niall Patterson’s goal.
It was the cherry on the cake for Tipp. Watching from the old Cusack Stand it was poetry in motion. English’s pace, his skill, his finish… TV doesn’t do that goal justice
Three decades on and the blue and gold was back in force yesterday, for the ninth time since Antrim had burst briefly onto the scene. Sadly, the Glensmen haven’t made it back and, sadder still, there’s not much prospect of them returning any time soon.
The road to Croke Park has changed and the game has changed too but some things stay the same. You cannot play with fear, you cannot give less than everything and yesterday players gave out hits and slaps and took them in equal measure to earn the right to show off their skills.
It was ferocious early on. Richie Hogan ripped off his helmet and trotted off to have the blood mopped from his face before returning in a new jersey but with the same fire in his belly.
At that stage the Cats briefly led by five but then Tipp’s Niall O’Meara broke through and sent the sliothar whistling into the Kilkenny net and suddenly it was level.
Then Richie flew in for a ball near sideline. Cathal Barrett ended up on the floor, Hogan almost in the Hogan Stand and as the Tipp defender received treatment referee James Owens flashed a red card making the Danesfort clubman the first player in black and amber to be sent off in an All-Ireland final under Brian Cody, the Kilkenny maestro who has sent out 16 teams for this showpiece.
Tipp led by a point at the break.
“Purple rain, purple rain…” blared out as the fans scurried under the stands to escape another deluge under the stand.
They were barely back in their seats by the time Callanan scooped home Tipp’s second goal and Kilkenny, against the breeze and a man down, started to feel what so many teams have felt against them over the years: Beaten.
John O’Dwyer’s goal put more distance between them and all the Cats had to offer was a series of hit-and-hope Hail Mary’s in the general direction of full-forward Colin Fennelly. A barrage came in and Tipp defender Ronan Maher repelled most of it.
One did break Fennelly’s way and he threw himself atit, stretching to scoop the sliothar into the net. He couldn’t reach it though and he was still on his knees as Tipp broke with lightning speed to sweep over another score.
Point after point followed as the Munster men ran away with it.
Blue and gold tops were off long before the finish.