In 2012, CNN's Top Ten of "Sporting Events You Have To See Live" placed the All-Ireland Senior Hurling Final in second place, after only the Olympic Games. National Geographic have dubbed the spectacle of an All-Ireland Final as "the experience of a lifetime". Hurling at Croke Park has been listed among "Ten of the World’s Ultimate Sporting Destinations" by travel bible Lonely Planet; Ireland is the only European country to be listed.
This centenary year of 2016, happily marked by Tipperary's victory over Kilkenny, provides an opportunity to look back over the wonderful hurling rivalry between the two counties since 1916.
Of course they competed against each other before 1916. They first met in the 1887 All-Ireland semi-final which was played in Urlingford. On that occasion Kilkenny, represented by Tullaroan, objected to some of the Tipperary players not being from the parish of Thurles, who were representing Tipperary. Tipperary obliged by selecting other Thurles players from among their supporters and went on to win by 4-7 to 0-0. It was reported that a certain Frank Moloney "refereed with much difficulty".
The next three meetings were all won by Tipperary: the finals of 1895 and 1898, and the semi-final of 1900. It is worth noting that none of these three matches were played in their proper year. The 1895 final was the first to be played in what later became Croke Park. The 1898 victory featured a second-half hat-trick by Tipperary's captain Mikey Maher. Then Kilkenny won the next three: the finals of 1909, 1911 and 1913. The 1909 final was Kilkenny's first ever victory over Tipperary in championship hurling, and also Tipperary's first All-Ireland defeat.The 1911 final was supposed to have been between Kilkenny and Limerick, but Limerick refused to play the fixture after it was transferred to Thurles from Cork due to the state of the pitch. Tipperary were then nominated to contest the final which was eventually played in Dungarvan in 1912. In 1913, the first fifteen-a-side final, Tipperary were represented by Toomevara, captained by "Wedger" Meagher.
This brings us to the 1916 final, played in 1917 of course. Boherlahan were the County Champions and had earned the right to select the Tipperary team. By this stage, the practice of selecting players from other clubs to augment the county team had become the norm. Boherlahan had defeated the great Toomevara "Greyhounds" team captained by Pat "Wedger" Meagher. This team had dominated the county with their greatly admired and stylish play for some years. The rivalry between the two clubs had involved appeals and objections at boardroom level, and there was acrimony in the air. In the end, players from Thurles, Two-Mile-Borris and Holycross were added to the Boherlahan panel, but none from Toomevara.
Boherlahan were wearing the old blue and gold colours of the team from the townland of Tubberadora who, under the leadership of "Big Mikey" Maher, having won the All-Irelands of 1895, 1896 and 1898, had retired undefeated because, "like Alexander the Great, they had nothing left to conquer". Boherlahan felt the weight of that history and were determined to win another All-Ireland. …..
Coming in Part 2: The 1916 campaign and Final, and Johnny Leahy.