ON my way to Croke Park for what I anticipated, as well as many others, would be the game of the year I met a lot of present-day players from several counties as well as a lot of ex-hurlers.
Being the inquisitive person I am, I asked them how they thought the game would go, and more importantly what type of a game we would get. The general consensus from chatting with them was that it would be hard to call, but everyone was expecting a real good game of hurling, both hard and physical.
Actually, a lot of people were expecting a classic, this writer included. Of course, that was all anticipation, and anticipation like expectation can sometimes prove disappointing.
One great player I met that got me thinking was that Cork stylist John Fenton and he looks fit and well. I wondered how this he might have performed if he was hurling in this era.
As we all know John was a brilliant striker of the ball, both off the hand and from frees, but above all his ground striking was superb. Will we ever forget that wonderful goal he scored against Limerick in Thurles with a ground stroke from at least 70 yds if not more?
A spectacular effort against a brilliant goal keeper Tommy Quaid. I think his outstanding skill and ability would be a match to many a player in the modern era.
As I went through all the players on the field last Sunday I could see that every one of them were skillful like John Fenton, and for that reason, I was convinced that we were about to witness a classic game of hurling. I have to say here and now that what we got was not anywhere near that. This was one of the worst games, or at least All-Ireland finals, between Tipperary and Kilkenny.
When you go to any match what you want to see is a contest all over the field. This was only a contest for about 20 to 25 minutes, and then it died a slow death. There are a few reasons for that, and one of the major reasons was the sending off of Richie Hogan.
People paid big money going to this final, and they were prepared to do that especially those with families, both Kilkenny and Tipperary people and neutrals alike. I'd say every one of them would have said that Richie should not have been sent off, and I'm not just talking Kilkenny people here. Even at half time you could feel the lull in the crowd, and the talk was all about that bad decision.
I think Cathal Barrett made a meal of it as well. After that, he almost had a Man of the Match performance for the rest of the game.
The greatest power a referee has apart from the whistle in his mouth is common sense, but common sense did not prevail here, either from the linesman or the referee. It helped spoil this All-Ireland for everyone. I'm sure Tipp, the proud hurling people that they are, would have preferred to beat a full-strength Kilkenny.
The game got more like a challenge game in the second half, definitely the last 25 minutes it was a non-contest.
Tipperary dominated everywhere. Kilkenny were a shambles with no aggression or intensity in their play and tactically getting it very wrong as well. Long high ball down on top of a Tipperary defence that were in top form, especially Seamus Kennedy, Barry Heffernan, Brendan Maher, Pádraic Maher and the really outstanding Ronan Maher.
They were returning every ball with interest, with Noel McGrath getting the freedom of Croke Park in the middle of the field and his brother John back to his best form, and with Bubbles, Callanan and Jason Forde finding the target at will, Kilkenny were in real trouble.
I got great advice one time from an old coach of mine, and it was to never put a player on that is sick or injured. Kilkenny did that on Sunday by playing Adrian Mullen, who I believe was sick all week, and Cillian Buckley who had been injured all the year. You could see Buckley is carrying an injury, as he is not anywhere near the player we was. In my opinion, he was left too long on the field, as was Mullen.
Also Richie Hogan looked to be carrying an injury, but of course the Ref made sure he didn't stay too long.
I was surprised Brian Cody put on these two players as he always talks about the panel of players he has. Why didn't he start Richie Leahy, James Maher or Ger Aylward?
I believe he would have gotten more out of these guys. At least they would be fit! Then again, loyalty always comes to the fellas that have done it, but as anyone who has ever been involved knows, loyalty can cost you as well. I think that is what happened to Brian here.
Sheedy was also loyal, but all his charges were fit to play, but you know what, they didn't have to play too hard here - it was men against boys really.
Even the great TJ Reid couldn't do anything about it, and neither could Colin Fennelly. John Donnelly was the best of the Kilkenny team, a player with a good future, but Kilkenny will need a lot of them. Put simply, they were just not good enough.
Fair play to Tipperary, they are All-Ireland champions. They did it with style in their score-taking and their brand of hurling. Pity for us all, that the challenge was only for 25 minutes, and after that they waltzed home without a glove being laid on them... very unusual for a Tipp-Kilkenny game.
No spark on this occasion, just raindrops.
The one team that must be really kicking themselves is Limerick.