Walking the ground before game time, one would not have predicted a hurling classic, but Tipperary and Connecticut adapted well to the poor conditions and gave the large crowd a treat to take into the long winter.
Tipperary were first on the scoreboard with Liam Cahill’s 4th-minute free. Cahill’s skill from both frees and play were enough to earn the Tipperary county man 0-10 and the title of Mr. Automatic.
Connecticut came into this match looking to cap their dream season with a championship, in only their first year in the senior ranks. Dennis Byrne nearly won it for them by himself. The former Kilkenny star, who had captained the Cats to All Ireland glory, amassed a staggering personal tally of 3-8.
It was no surprise then that Byrne opened Connecticut’s account, notching first a great point from play and following quickly with a free to give the suburbanites a brief, early lead. Tipp were sharper in the early going led by Tom Dunne, who, of course, captained the home squad to the Liam McCarthy Cup, and he did not let the side down in this New York final.
John Madden proved an able partner for Dunne and the Tipp halfback line was stingy, particularly Sean Quirke and their captain, Owen Cummins. Connecticut stayed in touch with Byrne’s first goal, after a misjudgment in the Tipperary back line. Byrne took an intelligent pass from Fergus Flynn and calmly drove it to the twines to put Tipp a goal up 1-2 to 0-2.
Byrne’s 3-pointer allowed Connecticut to weather the ensuing Tipperary storm. Four Tipp points, from Kevin Kennedy, Dunne, Quirke, and Cahill, gave Tipperary the lead again, although Conor O’Keane’s tough point for Connecticut leveled scores. But Tipperary fired over the black spot three more times, stretching their advantage to 0-9 to 1-3.
Connecticut responded with a good stretch of their own. Four points — three from Byrne, and a long free from center back Ciaran McCann — roused the team’s flag-waving fans. McCann and wingback James Ryall, another Kilkenny man, were Byrne’s main accomplishes as Connecticut drew to within a point of Tipperary, 0-11 to 1-7.
With Tipperary’s grip on this match beginning to slip, the Munster side struck back. Kevin Kennedy pointed and then got on the end of a long ball from Owen Cummins to hammer home Tipperary’s lone goal of the afternoon.
Byrne and Tom Walsh traded points and the highly entertaining first half ended with Tipperary ahead 1-13 to 1-8.
It took Cahill less than a minute to get Tipperary’s attack restarted with a free and only another minute to add another Tipperary point, this one from play. Once again, Tipperary could not shake Connecticut. Byrne pointed from a free and then with Connecticut trailing 1-15 to 1-9, Byrne stood over another free from 30 yards. Byrne never wavered. He was thinking goal all the way, and he buried it.
When Flynn followed Byrne’s effort with a point, Tipperary were suddenly clinging to a 0-2 lead. Ollie Moran, who had just switched to wingback from his starting corner back spot, lashed over a great point and Kevin Kennedy added another for Tipp. Byrne sought to respond, but finally, he faltered.
When Byrne missed a routine scoring chance from play, it was a surprise, but when Connecticut’s ace marksman missed the target on consecutive frees, it was a shock. Connecticut kept their composure and outscored Tipperary 0-4 to 0-2, and with only six minutes to play Tipp’s lead was again down to 2 points, 1-19 to 2-14.
Tipperary were challenged and they were up to it. Led by Dunne, Moran, and Mr. Automatic, Tipp stormed back. Two points each from Dunne and Cahill pushed Tipp out to a 0-6 bulge and then they dug in and hung on.
Byrne drove another free to the back of the net, but only 30 seconds remained. Connecticut would fall short as Tipperary regained the championship after a one-year absence.
Man of the Match: Tom Dunne
Tipperary: Tim Cullen, Ollie Moran (0-1), Jim Lyons, Sean Sheppard, Owen Cummins, Sean Quirke (0-1), John Madden (0-1), Tom Dunne (0-4), Tom Walsh (0-1), Mike Kennedy (1-4), Liam Cahill (0-10 [6 frees]), Robbie Ryan. Subs: Tomas Keane, Pat Walsh (0-1).
Connecticut: Donal Leahy, Aiden Kiely, Phil Wickham, Richie Purcell, Ciaran McCann (0-1), James Ryall, Fintan O’Shea (0-1), Keith Hennessey, Kevin Broderick (0-1), Ollie O’Neill, Fergus Flynn (0-2), Conor Keane (0-1), Denis Byrne (3-8 [2-3 frees]). Subs: Declan Ryan, Mark Comerford.