203-seconds of madness defines hurling's biggest rivalry

Shane Stapleton looks back on the Saturday's Semple Stadium stalemate

BY Shane Stapleton 12:05 Wednesday 15 March 2017, 12:05 15 Mar 2017

Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Tommy Dickson

Brash, bold, daring, over the top. When the dictaphone is holstered, this is TJ Reid. The full expression of hurling.

Pucking around down at the field with the lads, you might attempt to replicate the Ballyhale man's 20-yard opener against Tipperary. Quite often, it's the tubby lad with the tasty hands who has the skill for it, the same man for who there is no longer a place in the game at the top level. First and foremost, it's athletes everywhere now.
You've to close the space, mark your man, win your battle, mind the D... And then we'll talk about making the ball talk. Reid is an aberration. Hurling on the big stages as if he's horsing about with the boys. If the shot's on, he's on for it. Not for the first time, Tipperary were met with his bullets. 

Over time, Reid became at athlete before our eyes. In and out of a stellar team until suddenly, around 2012, he presented himself as a wristy bulldozer. Hurling's self-made every man. How incongruous for his shy post-match interview to be so at odds with his loud display.

Both sides played to a structure but that went out the window at Semple Stadium, leading to beautiful chaos. So often, a run of wides kills the momentum of a game, but here it was all part of the drama.

Tumult was normality in this game. From the opening throw-in when the ball was lost amid a 17-second shemozzle that could best be described as a gathering of hens around a turnip, to that crazy extended period of play around the hour mark, culminating in just three of 11 scoring chances being converted in the dying minutes. No mellow, all drama.

Great sport is affecting. Whether you were partisan or neutral, Barcelona-PSG likely tore you up by the seat of your pants. How could it not? Even though there was very little at stake in Thurles, it felt like everything was.

That unbroken 203-second passage of play between 58:42 and 62:05 - from a Daragh Mooney puck-out to a Richie Hogan foul on Ronan Maher - betrayed the sort of rivalry that remains undiluted despite the relative unimportance of the league. A game isn't about what you're given afterwards, be it a title or a cup, but what you give in it. Tipp and Kilkenny continue to shows us warts and all.

Possession changed over 19 times during that ludicrous stretch of play, 11 times in striped paws and eight within blue and gold hands. As many as 32 tackles (where a player was at least forced to change direction) went in, an average of one every six seconds during this maelstrom. It what's you might expect of an All-Ireland final — as per 2009 — and of this rivalry.

So what did we learn for later down the line? Padraig Walsh has been put to full-back to stop Seamus Callanan, and it's a long-term plan. The latter missed some handy frees as per last year's league quarter-final, but we soon found out that it meant nothing in terms of the All-Ireland race. 

Still, Walsh is a serious hurdle and perhaps Brian Cody has just accepted that whoever is full-back will have to go mano-a-mano in isolation. No doubt the Cats will have noticed Callanan did tune in to hit two quickfire points around the hour-mark when the heat was on.

Niall O'Meara has been around for a few years but this was a coming-of-age performance, and he's known to be a nightmare to mark in training. O'Meara, Dan McCormack, Patrick 'Bonner' Maher and Steven O'Brien all provide exceptional options for the summer. Jason Forde is another and he certainly didn't look fully right on his comeback from injury, with his movement quite restricted.

Saturday's game had the intensity of a September battle. Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Tommy Dickson

John O'Keeffe was the fall-guy for the 2011 All-Ireland loss when Henry Shefflin took control but he was exceptional on Saturday. As 50-50 ball rained in, the corner-back was regularly trucking it out. Competition for Michael Cahill, Donagh Maher and the returning Cathal Barrett.

Midfield is a concern for the Premier because Cillian Buckley played like a 2011 Michael Fennelly, and the prospect of them linking up this summer is a fearsome one. In truth, the spine of the Kilkenny team is coming together. Centre-back is still in flux but Walsh at three, Buckley at midfield, Reid at 11 and Hogan at 14 is as good as what's out there, and perhaps what has been before.

There's talk that Tipperary have shown the soft centre of old by not putting away the Cats; ever the worry in the Premier County. No doubt Kilkenny have come away with more from this as it silences some of the doubts from 2016, but it's clear that they're still leaning on the same men.

Amid the lowering of blades, and the racing pulses, very little blood was spilled. So beware the ides of March.

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