Despite defeat, our hurlers deserve thanks and credit

The county was deflated following Tipperary’s defeat by Kilkenny in Sunday’s All-Ireland Senior Hurling Final.

The county was deflated following Tipperary’s defeat by Kilkenny in Sunday’s All-Ireland Senior Hurling Final.

The sense of disappointment was felt by all the supporters who attended the annual hurling showpiece at Croke Park and the thousands who followed the match live at home and abroad via the television, internet and radio.

The mood in the county this week is in stark contrast to this time last year, when everyone seemed to be walking on air after Tipp had won the McCarthy Cup for the first time in 9 years and denied Kilkenny an historic five-in-a-row.

However as Dr. Dermot Clifford, the Archbishop of Cashel and Emly and Patron of the GAA stated at the homecoming for the team in Thurles on Monday night no one was feeling the hurt more than the players themselves.

They had entered the final as favourites to win successive All-Ireland Hurling titles for Tipperary for the first time since 1964-65 but came up against a highly motivated Kilkenny team who simply refused to accept defeat.

Kilkenny, who gained revenge for their defeat by Tipperary in last year’s final, hit the ground running with five points before Tipp had time to draw breath. When Noel McGrath opened the holders’ account with a point after 16 minutes they gradually clawed their way back into contention. Despite trailing by 8 points midway through the second half they made a fight of it to to the finish, helped in no small way by a goal from substitute Pa Bourke with 15 minutes remaining.

However try as they did they couldn’t breach a watertight Kilkenny defence in the tense closing moments and Kilkenny held out for a deserved victory.

It was generally agreed that the performance by the Tipperary team didn’t reach the same exalted standard as their displays in either of the last two finals – including the defeat in 2009 – or during this year’s Munster Championship, especially the Final when they blitzed Waterford with a devastating display.

By the final whistle on Sunday, however, they were still only 4 points adrift of Kilkenny, leaving their supporters to speculate on what might have been had they hit any sort of form.

The phenomenal effort made by the panel, management and backroom team this year shouldn’t be overlooked. Since January the panel has held 110 collective training sessions, while the players have also followed their own individual training programmes.

When the hurling year is reflected upon, however, it’s the team’s performance in the All-Ireland Final that will define its season, which only serves to underline the oftentimes cruel nature of sport.

Thankfully the feeling of disappointment has gradually begun to dissipate since Sunday, as the county slips into recovery mode and starts planning to return to hurling’s summit next year.

Captain Eoin Kelly has promised that there are many positive days ahead for Tipp hurling. He said that the hurt of last weekend would drive the panel on and he says they will get it right again in 2012.

The Mullinahone player says that the team will remain positive and will be back again next year.

Manager Declan Ryan has also sounded an upbeat note, saying he was proud of his players. He hopes the pain that everyone felt would inspire the team to regain the McCarthy Cup in twelve months time.