The Christy O'Connor column: Kilkenny still take their greatest pleasure from beating Tipp

The Christy O'Connor column: Kilkenny still take their greatest pleasure from beating Tipp

Kilkenny's JJ Delaney and goalkeeper Eoin Murphy tussle with Lar Corbett, Tipperary, resulting in both Delaney and Corbett being sent off in the 2013 league final. Picture: Stephen McCarthy

WHEN Jackie Tyrrell decided to write his autobiography 'The Warrior's Code' last year, Tyrrell's story was, by extension, going to be Kilkenny's story too. 

They were a machine but the machine was driven by great characters like Tyrrell. Kilkenny just never publicly revealed that character. That mystery and silence added more layers to their mystique as a group but Tyrrell finally lifted back the visor and gave a face to the machine.

For years, Kilkenny operated like a crowd of crazed Terminators - wiping out all before them. They buried, humiliated and broke teams but Tyrrell, and Kilkenny, always took their greatest satisfaction in taking down Tipperary.

Tyrrell was raised on stories from his father of Kilkenny-Tipperary matches, especially in the 1960s, most of which were won by Tipperary. "When our fathers and forefathers carried that hurt in their hearts, you had to hate Tipperary," wrote Tyrrell. "If you hurled for Kilkenny and you didn't hate Tipperary, there was nearly something wrong with you."

Throughout his career, Tyrrell's attitude and mindset towards Tipperary was brimming with malice and intent. 

"It was as if they (the Tipperary players) couldn't help themselves from exercising their birthright to piss off Kilkenny," wrote Tyrrell. "When they were showboating, we felt it was purely just to piss us off. We also believed it was a front, that it was them trying to convince themselves that they were better than us. We didn't think they ever fully believed it."

Tyrrell admitted that Kilkenny probably fabricated a lot of that stuff in their own minds. They made Tipperary out to be worse than they were, as much for Kilkenny's own motivational gain as the historical prejudices which created that mindset.

Yet none of that softened the impact because, as expected, Tyrrell's comments caused consternation in Tipperary. A public forum on one website nearly went into meltdown with the heat - and vitriol - generated from the backlash. 

Some Tipperary players were extremely annoyed but the fallout was also felt in Kilkenny. Fearing that Tyrrell had handed Tipperary decades of motivational speeches to pin on their dressing room walls, there was even talk of the Kilkenny county board offering an official apology to the Tipperary county board.

It's unknown if that ever privately happened but, however the Kilkenny county board or management try to distance themselves from the book, Tipperary know that Tyrrell's views still largely expressed what Kilkenny thought of Tipperary over the last decade.

And yet, despite all the motivation it may have handed Tipperary, they still haven't been fully able to get a handle on their great rivals; Kilkenny won their league meeting in February by one point.

Throughout this decade, Tipp have kept waiting for the wheel to turn, but it never really has. Tipp's victory in the 2010 All-Ireland final was expected to be a turning point in the relationship but it wasn't because Kilkenny continued to dominate it. In their 16 league and championship meetings since the 2010 All-Ireland final, Tipperary have won just two of those games.

Tipperary finally exacted revenge in the 2016 All-Ireland final. That looked set to be even more of a landmark moment than the 2010 final, especially with the manner of how Tipperary slayed the dragon that afternoon. Yet even in the face of huge transition, Kilkenny have still managed to hold strong against their arch rivals.

The sides haven't met in the championship since but Tipperary still haven't beaten Kilkenny in their last two league games.

They had Kilkenny over a barrel in last year's match in Thurles when leading by eight points after just 20 minutes but Kilkenny chipped away and eventually reeled them in for a draw. Apart from the physicality and intensity Kilkenny always bring, their composure, and decision making under pressure, has been a defining factor in the modern history, especially in league games The closing stages of the 2014 league final was a classic case study in those subtle margins. 

Cathal Barrett, Tipperary, and Henry Shefflin, Kilkenny, tussle off the ball in 2014. Picture: Diarmuid Greene
Cathal Barrett, Tipperary, and Henry Shefflin, Kilkenny, tussle off the ball in 2014. Picture: Diarmuid Greene

With time up in extra-time, Darren Gleeson tried to do the right thing when attempting to pick out a team-mate with a free but the ball went over the sideline. TJ Reid dinked the sideline cut into Richie Hogan's hand, immediately ran for the return pass before slotting it on the run.

When they met in the league in Nowlan Park two years later, Tipperary led for the majority of the match. They played the better hurling but just when Tipp appeared set for a memorable victory, it evaporated in front of them during a frenetic few minutes, with Kevin Kelly delivering the deadly blows with goals in the 67th and 72nd minutes.

When the sides met in the league in February, Kilkenny showed that late composure and conviction once more. Just after Michael Breen had levelled the match, Kilkenny did what has become encrypted in their DNA against Tipperary.

TJ Reid won the subsequent puckout before laying the pass off to Richie Leahy for the lead score. Lester Ryan won Darragh Mooney's puck-out but when Tipperary won back possession, and Billy McCarthy had a shot at goal, his attempt was blocked by a diving Ryan, who flicked the ball out for a sideline.

A few seconds later, Breen had another opportunity to land the equaliser when he shot from just outside the '45 but Cillian Buckley launched himself at Breen and blocked down the attempt with the top of his hurley. When Breen picked up the loose sliotar and took off towards goal, he was hunted down by five Kilkenny players before eventually being turned over by James Maher.

Tipperary threw everything at Kilkenny in the second half when chasing down a seven-point lead. Tipperary seemed to have momentum heading down the home straight but when the heat was at its most intense in the last six minutes, including two minutes of injury time, Kilkenny made 28 plays to Tipperary's 16.

Tipperary were down some of their biggest names but another defeat to Kilkenny underlined how hard they still find it to beat their greatest rivals. opponent.

And for Kilkenny, the winning sensation always tastes that bit sweeter against Tipperary. It always has. And always will.

Kilkenny's Eoin Larkin and Pádraic Maher of Tipperary. Picture: INPHO/Cathal Noonan
Kilkenny's Eoin Larkin and Pádraic Maher of Tipperary. Picture: INPHO/Cathal Noonan

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