I was lucky enough to attend my 24th All Ireland hurling final yesterday. They are all special and memorable, but this will be less memorable than others.
Being caught in a torrential downpour at Croke Park not once but twice didn't make it pleasant viewing. Not to mind me and my fellow cosseted spectators, it rendered the first half a stop start affair for the Tipperary and Kilkenny players.
The sending off of Richie Hogan ended the match as a contest. Tipperary had the firepower going into the tie, and with extra space, they trimmed Kilkenny by 3-25 to 0-20, inflicting the biggest defeat on a black and amber team in a final for 55 years.
So what did I deduce from the whole affair and season?
1. Liam Sheedy has the 'Je Ne Sais Quoi'
As a Clare fan I remember wing-back Liam Sheedy being fiercely competitive in the 1997 All Ireland final, which Tipperary lost by a point. He brought that controlled passion to his first period in charge of the blue and gold, derailing Kilkenny's five-in-a-row ambitions in 2010 before walking away. Yesterday, in the final minutes with the match won, Sheedy was still prowling the sideline, baying for the blood of the Cats as Tipperary were playing champagne hurling. Eamon O'Shea is a former Tipperary manager and brilliant coach, and one could easily see former Hurler of the Year Tommy Dunne having a claim on the Bainisteoir's bib. That Sheedy has been able to knit these strong figures into his backroom team is impressive. He possessed the man management skills to lift his players after they dipped in the Munster final, his deployment of Noel McGrath at midfield was inspired and he made good use of the bench in the last two games, with Willie Connors, Jake Morris, Ger Browne and Mark Kehoe all making an impact. Sheedy swapped the comfort of the Sunday Game chair for this, but he's now sitting on a seat reserved for the High Kings of Cashel. In 1964 Tipperary beat Kilkenny by 14 points in a final and retained it the following year. The county hasn't managed it since. No better man to try than Portroe's Liam Sheedy.
2. Kilkenny are not the team of old and they'll be waiting a while to be champions again
When I looked at the Kilkenny team that squeezed the life out of Tipperary in the 2014 All Ireland replay, I saw the household names; JJ Delaney, Jackie Tyrrell, Michael Fennelly, Eoin Larkin, Richie Power. Instead of being sent to the line as he was yesterday, back then Hogan was in his utter pomp. Kilkenny reached the All Ireland final this year in spite of their current standing in the game. Their ambush of Limerick in the last four was vintage Kilkenny, straight from the first page of the Brian Cody coaching manual; driven by hunger, work rate and intensity. I don't believe having Hogan on the pitch for the full 70 minutes would have made any difference yesterday. Kilkenny had already lost two games this season and to me, they are over reliant on TJ Reid in attack. They never looked a goal threat on Sunday, they were poor on their own puck out and their aimless deliveries into the Tipperary full back line in the second half was a head scratcher. Cody is the Alex Ferguson of the GAA, but even Mick O'Dwyer moved on to a new challenge. Would it make any difference if Henry Shefflin or DJ Carey was on the sideline? Who knows, but it's not disrespectful to the GOAT Cody to have a gentle discussion about it as sports fans. Here's the thing; without Cody, Kilkenny might not have been sighted in 2019. However, what's changed from three years ago, when they also suffered a hiding from Tipperary in a final?
3. We need big screen replays for all incidents at Croke Park
I had a good seat in the Lower Cusack Stand, but I had no idea what happened between Richie Hogan and Cathal Barrett. I had to wait until 10pm to watch the replay on The Sunday Game. I would have preferred not to. What harm would it have done to show the incident on the big screens around Croke Park? The fans wouldn't have ripped up their seats and rioted. In fact, it may have educated the fans and given them more social currency for the rest of the day. Social currency to debate the game via the lens of your own unique view and identity is the essence of being a supporter. Paying €90 into Croke Park should probably allow that privilege. Ger Gilroy was making the point on Off the Ball AM this morning about how rugby uses the ref link to communicate decision making. Why not have one in GAA? We would know what James Owens was saying to Richie Hogan and why he was arriving at the decision that he made. A ref link would be a nice money spinner for the Association! Was it a sending off? Yes, in my view, but it's always a shame to see a player go to the line in an All Ireland final.
4. Seamus Callanan is the Hurler of the Year
To score a goal in every single Championship game in one season is just ridiculous. Seamus Callanan hit 8-18 in Championship 2019. He's the Tipperary captain and is a real leader. An old fashioned full forward built for the 21st Century, Callanan has height, physique and a predator's eye for the net. He was brave to crash home Tipperary's second goal at a crucial time in the second half and then set up John O'Dwyer for the third goal. Noel McGrath has been a maestro at midfield, while TJ Reid has carried Kilkenny at times, but Drom and Inch clubman Callanan was unlucky not to be named Hurler of the Year in 2016 and deserves the accolade now.
5. Limerick and Wexford will be kicking themselves
We easily could have had a repeat of the 1996 All Ireland final, when Wexford beat Limerick. Alas, it was not to be. Limerick were reigning All Ireland, League and Munster champions entering the semi-final and didn't turn up on the day against Kilkenny. Maybe the Cats didn't let them, but Limerick suffered from an intensity deficit, had their puck out strategy wrong and could never get in front. When they woke up, it was too late. They left their All Ireland behind them. Having swept Tipperary away by 12 points in the Munster decider, the Shannonsiders would have been confident of having another go in the All Ireland final. Wexford had an extra man and a five point lead in the second half of their semi-final against Tipperary and couldn't see it out. That is down to Tipperary's talent, but Wexford would have felt they could have taken this Kilkenny iteration in a final. In top level sport, complacency is not your friend. You have to be vigilant at all times and take your chance. Limerick waited 45 years for an All Ireland, so I fancy them to quickly regroup and come at teams like a runaway train in 2020. I think they'll be ok. I also think Galway will be back. I'd worry a little bit more for Davy Fitzgerald's Wexford, who are waiting 23 years for the holy grail. Will they get a better chance in the coming years?