Bubbles O'Dwyer delivers when it matters to put himself on legendary track
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When the moment arrived, John 'Bubbles' O'Dwyer was not found wanting.
Winning once is everything you ever dreamed of. Winning again is when you tell yourself you truly belong.
Tipperary's top five scorers went into the All-Ireland final with an impressive tally of 12-124 (160 points) during the championship. The question was whether Kilkenny's defence could contain the Blue and Gold forwards while TJ Reid, Colin Fennelly & Co. could do enough damage down the other end.
For the opening 20 minutes, it looked as that question was being emphatically answered.
Kilkenny started like a thunder-clap and raced into a five point lead. Reid was dialled in, John Donnelly was chipping in and Richie Hogan, wearing 31, was proving a threat. Bubbles and the Tipp forwards were bottled, but not for long.
Niall O'Meara and John McGrath then took out three Cats with a smart one-two and O'Meara skittled one past Eoin Murphy. He had never scored a championship goal before but picked a fine time to obliterate that duck.
Tipperary went into half-time a point ahead and their full forward line of Jason Forde, John McGrath and Seamus Callanan then combined - with a blocked shot flung in for good measure - to make it 2-9 to 0-12.
O'Dwyer had covered half the Croke Park expanse in search of the ball, in the first half, but had been kept scoreless. With Kilkenny down to 14 men from the 33rd minute, and now chasing Tipp, space began to open up and Bubbles took full advantage.
His first score of the game arrived on 40 minutes when he was pushed over towards the sideline yet still backed himself to score. Right under the roof of the Cusack Stand, the Killenaule clubman soared one over Murphy's crossbar.
Within two minutes of that, Bubbles had all but sealed his county's 28th All-Ireland title and the second of his career. Callanan chased a ball into the corner and was left with Huw Lawlor doing his best to snuff out the danger. Lawlor made himself big but Callanan seemed set to lap over another point, only for O'Dwyer to catch his eye.
With four other Kilkenny defenders on the scene, Bubbles had somehow managed to drift in unmarked. Callanan looked up, saw the gift horse and teed him up. O'Dwyer made no mistake and Kilkenny were all but buried.
— The Sunday Game (@TheSundayGame) August 18, 2019
Having missed a huge chunk of 2018 with an ankle injury, the 27-year-old's form and fitness has been vital to the Premier cause, this time around.
With Kilkenny needing goals to get back into the contest, they managed two points in a row and Tipperary's lead looked daunting. When O'Dwyer found Forde with an arrowed pass, after leaving two Cats for dead, it was 3-15 to 0-16.
Still, Kilkenny could not work, nor power, their way into goal-scoring positions and they looked forlorn in the final stages. Bubbles grabbed another cracking score, stepping his marker with ease and smacking his side 10 points clear.
The final whistle ended Kilkenny's misery and the scoreboard operator could finally get a break. Tipperary's starting forwards finished with 3-15 while Noel McGrath contributed another couple of scores, taking his summer tally to 1-21.
In the end, there were too many holes to plug as the Tipperary tide swept in.
O'Dwyer and his fellow forwards may have been slow to get going but once they started there was no stopping them.
Two All-Ireland triumphs in seven championship summer, for Bubbles. It's good, but it could be better.
O'Dwyer and this laudable Tipperary team can make themselves legends yet.