Noel McGrath feels narrow defeat to Kilkenny will only raise levels of determination

Tipperary’s Munster championship date with Limerick on June 1st is now just under four weeks away

Tipperary’s Noel McGrath watches as a shot goes wide in Sunday’s league final against Kilkenny. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Tipperary’s Noel McGrath watches as a shot goes wide in Sunday’s league final against Kilkenny. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

As championship preparations go, a flat-out 90 minutes of intensely competitive hurling is hard to top. It’s just better again if it’s all topped off with a victory. Still the feeling for Tipperary is that Sunday’s one-point extra-time defeat to Kilkenny in the Allianz Hurling League final was the perfect championship send-off: their Munster championship date with Limerick on June 1st is now just under four weeks away, and if anything the narrow defeat can only raise the levels of determination.

Forward Noel McGrath certainly saw it that way, and his thoughts – and that of all Tipperary – turn swiftly and suitably towards Limerick. A year ago Limerick beat them by three points, before going on to win the Munster title, and even if Limerick’s confidence is not exactly soaring after a disappointing league run, followed by the controversial departure of co-manager Donal O’Grady, they remain a dangerous prospect.

With that in McGrath was only very temporarily down in the aftermath of Sunday’s game: “Yeah, to lose a game like that, a league final, by a point, in the last minute, is a bit deflating,” he said.

“But we’ll just have to regroup now. We have four weeks to the Limerick match and we’ll just have to get going again.”

The feeling in both Tipperary and Kilkenny is that the result could have gone either way, such was the constant swinging of momentum over the 90 minutes. And McGrath agreed: “A game like that just takes on a life of its own. We were just unfortunate that they were the ones ahead at the end.

‘Very disappointed’
“So we are very disappointed with that, but again we will just look forward to the championship in four weeks.”

Also, while Kilkenny claimed three-in-a-row league titles for the first time, Tipperary can also claim a level of consistency not enjoyed in recent seasons. After three successive defeats by Kilkenny, Clare and Galway in the earlier rounds, victories over Dublin, Cork and Clare also rebuilt the sort of self-confidence that very nearly pulled off a victory in Sunday.

There is also the nagging feeling that a couple of decisions cost Tipperary the game: television pictures appeared to suggest that Kilkenny’s fifth point – scored by Colin Fennelly in the 11th minute – actually went wide, while McGrath’s own point in the first period of extra-time was waved wide when it actually looked to have gone between the post.

The legitimacy of Kilkenny’s second penalty has also caused some lingering debate. “Look, it’s not for me to say anything about that,” said McGrath.

For Kilkenny’s Michael Fennelly there was no denying either that Sunday’s game was the perfect pre-championship work-out – especially given the added 20 minutes. “I don’t think I even hit a ball in the last 20 minutes,” he said. “I was just running around trying to stop lads, and watching runs. ”

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