The All Ireland Senior Hurling Championship Final (Replay) 2014: Kilkenny v Tipperary

Croke Park, Dublin, Ireland, 5 PM Saturday, 27 September 2014

I had always thought that Australian Football was the fastest and most exciting team sport of them all. Well, I was wrong. I have now seen a faster, non stop breathtaking game that rivals anything that Australian Football can do; not that I have lost my passion for that ‘game of our own’ and fervently hope that the mighty Saints will win a second flag before I am no more. And I am not talking here about ice hockey, that game where players wear skates and play indoors because of their lack of their fear of the elements.

I had a chance to go Dublin at the same time as the AFL Grand Final. Given a belated recognition that the Saints would be on holidays in September, I jumped at the chance. My Irish contacts provided me with a ticket to The All Ireland Senior Hurling Championship Final for 2014. It was a replay of a drawn Final between Kilkenny and Tipperary to be held at Croke Park, the pride of the Gaelic Athletic Association. It is the third biggest stadium in the Northern hemisphere, behind England’s Wembley Stadium and Barcelona’s Camp Nou.

Croke Park is a long rectangle of 144.5 meters by 88 metres. I was told that 3 soccer fields could be placed on it side by side. By comparison, the oval shaped Melbourne Cricket Ground is 171 meters by 146 meters. Hurling is a 15 a side game (14 on field players plus a goalkeeper) played with a white ball similar in size to a cricket/baseball and hit with a stick, shorter and more rotund than a hockey stick or lighter and odd shaped compared to a cricket bat. Players can either belt the ball down field with the stick, distances of up to 80 to 90 meters or run with it balanced on the stick. A goal is scored, worth three points if hit or projected into a soccer type goal, and a point if it goes between two poles over the goal. A game is divided into two 35 minute halves.

Croke Park has MCG type stadiums around two sides and one end of the ground and a low open stand at the other end. The significance of this is that the wind can play a factor in the scoring of points/goals. This is more of a factor in Ireland’s other unique contribution to the wonderful world of sports, Gaelic Football. Hurling has only recently required players to wear light weight helmets to prevent or limit head injuries from a sport were participants wield sticks. The helmets need to be light weight because of the almost non stop running associated with the game. Tackling similar to that of Australian Football or the Rugby codes is not allowed. Nonetheless, players use body checking and disrupting players passing or shooting for goal or points by hitting each others sticks.

The players run non-stop throughout the game. They have relatively small upper bodies compared to Australian footballers. They are all lean running machines. The ball can be hit enormous distances. Players in packs of different sizes compete for such long hit balls, a la AFL high marking by trying to catch it high in the air in what looks like their weak hand, similar to that of baseball. In attempting such catches players have to navigate their way around a bevy of raised sticks trying to put each other off. Success in such contests is the ultimate source of who wins or loses, as it turned out in this game.

The logic of Hurling is that one side has a chance to attack and it scores or it doesn’t. Then the other side has its chance, and so the cycle repeats itself. The ball is either belted from one end to the other or players obtain possession of a loose ball and run it down the field trying to set up a score. Points can be scored from well inside one’s own half. Because the ball travels so far and so quickly, it seemed to me that teams would need to have their best players in defence to stop the other side from scoring. As with all sports those that score the odd goal and more prevalent points from numerous chances obtain the most glory.

The difference between Hurling and Australian Football is the speed with which the ball gets to the other end. Australian football has adopted the possession game of soccer. The ball is criss-crossed around the back half of the ground with short kicks and hand passes with multiple chances for less skilled sides to give up possession. With Hurling, a belt of the ball or a quick run out of defence sets up a scoring chance. This is a game that has no truck shillyshallying.

This was the third replayed final in a row. Three weeks earlier, Kilkenny had scored 3 goals 22 points to Tipperary’s 1 goal 28 points. I was told that many believed this was the greatest Hurling game ever played. Kilkenny were in a strip similar to that of Hawthorn, and Tipperary in a blue with a broad yellow sash around the middle. The two teams wearing yellow and brown would prevail on either sides of the globe on this last Saturday in September.

I had seen Hurling a few times on TV; this was my first game in the flesh. The game, in all probability was decided before it started when I tipped Tipp to win. I liked their name, and let’s face it, it had been a long road for me to make the game, and Kilkenny were the favourites. Tipp seemed to possess more energy than the lads from Kilkenny and were on the search for goals when they could have taken points. Kilkenny foiled three such attempts in the first half and several more in the second half, especially in the final hectic minutes of the game. Kilkenny were more assured and methodical and took ‘easy’ points on offer. Tipp jumped to a two point lead at half time: 1-7 to 0-8.

The key to the game occurred in the first 15 or so minutes of the second half. Tipp could not gain possession of the ball in its forward half. Every ball it hurled forward was ‘marked’ by a Kilkenny player and the continual pressure of the ball bouncing back against this impenetrable wall resulted in Kilkenny scoring five unanswered points which propelled it into a lead which it never gave up. Points and goals were traded with Kilkenny winning by three points: 2-17 to 2-14. This was Kilkenny’s 35th All Ireland trophy, and their tenth between 2000 and 2014. There is no need to despair for Tipperary, they are no St. Kilda; they have won 26 titles, their most recent in 2010.

Croke Stadium was a sell out with a capacity crowd of 82,000 in attendance. A taxi driver offered to give me a free ride to Croke Park if I would hand over my ticket! The behaviour of the crowd was similar to that of an AFL Grand Final. Both sets of rival supporters strongly supported and cheered on their respective teams. There was only one break other than for approximately 20 minutes at half time, for a player who was injured. The game, with time on, was shy of 75 minutes. The game was played at break neck speed, with a competitive edge and intensity associated with any game played in the AFL. Oh, there is something I forgot to tell you. The players are all amateurs. On Monday morning, winners and losers, all of them headed off for work; if they were in fact employed.


  1. Dr Goatboat says

    one difference to AFL crowds is that the game is dry once inside the gates!

  2. It seems they have won you over Dr Dabscheck.

    Would love to get to Croke Park one day.

  3. Braham- I saw a gaelic football match at Croke Park in 2005 and it was great. The stadium is impressive and so much of the experience reminded me of our game.

    I’d love to see hurling as it seems remarkably fast, skilled and dangerous, but I’d want to be quite a few rows up in the stand, just to be safe. And they’re all amateurs!

    Thanks for sharing your insights.

  4. Luke Reynolds says

    Hurling is a wonderful sport to watch on TV. Really enjoyed reading about your live experience Braham. A trip to Croke Park is on my bucket list. Gaelic football is fantastic too, International Rules sadly a very poor cousin, awful to watch when compared to the native Australian and Irish football codes. Wish they’d stop wasting money on it.

  5. Braham – loved that.
    I was lucky enough to walk along there to Croke Park for the corresponding 2002 fixture: County Clare defeated County Galway.
    Blue and gold plaited wool (Clare), maroon and white plaited wool (Galway), face paints, t-shirts. the lot.
    It remains a life highlight.
    As does the walk to the ground.
    As does my wee drive over to those counties in the following week.
    Blue and gold festooning the front yards and front doors of many a property over in Clare.
    Thanks for taking me back. That’s a grand game they have there.

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