TJ Reid netted a hat-trick of goals as Kilkenny battled to a 3-14 to 2-17 draw with Tipperary at Semple Stadium.
In an unbelievable game of hurling played under lights in Thurles, the All-Ireland champions led most of the way - and by eight points after Niall O'Meara supplied their second goal in the 22nd minute - but the Noresiders, who hadn't scored a goal in this year's league prior to tonight, refused to give up and a third point from the excellent Cillian Buckley had them in front for the first time on 65 minutes.
But, as the levels of drama remained sky high to the end, Steven O'Brien came off the bench to earn the table-toppers the draw that preserves their unbeaten record in this year's league, despite a frustrating return of ten second-half wides into the crisp breeze. Michael Ryan's charges are already through to the quarter-finals, while the draw sees Brian Cody's men move up to third on the table, albeit with all the teams around them due to play tomorrow.
With a bumper attendance of 14,763 kept enraptured from start to finish of this roller-coaster repeat of last September's All-Ireland final, Tipp led by 2-11 to 2-7 at the break, with their goals coming from John McGrath and Niall O'Meara, while the in-form Reid - who finished with 3-5 - bagged both of the Cats' first-half majors.
On a night when Tipp great Michael Maher was remembered with a heartfelt round of applause prior to throw-in, the Premier County made a suitably dramatic start when McGrath drilled to the Kilkenny net in the second minute. The blue touch paper had been ignited and how!
Reid replied from a free and Dan McCormack pointed for the hosts before Reid drilled an incredible shot to the corner of the Tipp net from 30 yards - 1-1 each after five minutes.
Seamus Callanan's free was followed by an exquisite John McGrath point and a second from McCormack as the league leaders led by three, 1-4 to 1-1, after twelve minutes. Callanan won and converted a free to make it double scores; Buckley replied but midfielder Sean Curran restored the four-point gap before Padraic Maher thumped over a superb Premier score - 1-7 to 1-2 after 21 minutes!
It was more like September than March as Niall O'Meara took a pass from John O'Dwyer and planted a second Tipp major at the end of a flowing team move to make it an eight-point match after 22 minutes. A Reid triple - two frees and one from play - kept the Noresiders ticking over and he then netted a textbook penalty in the 30th minute to bring his team back within just two points of the All-Ireland champions, 2-7 to 2-5.
Walter Walsh shipped a shoulder and replied to a Callanan free. Walsh then cancelled out a Noel McGrath point after Callanan popped over a free and it was Callanan who closed the first-half scoring with a converted '65'.
Upon the resumption, Hurlers of the Year Reid (free) and Richie Hogan - who slotted four second-half scores - pointed either side of a John O'Dwyer reply and Buckley's second of the night had the Cats back within two. O'Meara burst through to kick a Tipperary point in the eighth minute of the second half but there was no such luck for O'Dwyer, whose free came back off a post.
John McGrath slotted a superb point but Hogan took a pass from Reid to point and leave three between them with 19 minutes left. Paudie Maher's foul on Liam Blanchfield, who reacted quickest after the sliothar rebounded off an upright, presented Reid with another penalty and this time he placed the ball to the 'keeper's left and to the corner again to draw the sides level after 56 minutes - 3-11 to 2-14.
Callanan pointed twice for Tipp, his fifth and sixth scores arriving either side of a Cats point from Hogan; Colin Fennelly and Walter Walsh both missed the target as Kilkenny strained to get back on terms again and it was Hogan who stepped up to equalise on 64 minutes.
Five minutes from time, Buckley took his point to edge Kilkenny ahead for the first and only time after Eoin Murphy had saved brilliantly from John McGrath at the other end.
Seconds after joining the action, O'Brien equalised in the last minute of normal time and, in the end, it was wholly fitting that there were no losers tonight. Here's hoping these two meet again during the summer!
Tipperary - D Mooney; J O'Keeffe, J Barry, M Cahill; T Hamill, R Maher, Padraic Maher (0-1); S Curran (0-2), M Breen; D McCormack (0-2), N O'Meara (1-1), N McGrath (0-1); J O'Dwyer (0-1), S Callanan (0-6, 3f, 1'65), J McGrath (1-2). Subs: K Bergin for M Breen, J Forde for D McCormack, S Kennedy for M Cahill, S O'Brien (0-1) for N O'Meara.
Kilkenny - E Murphy; P Murphy, P Walsh, C O'Shea; C Fogarty, S Prendergast, J Cleere; P Deegan, C Buckley (0-3); C Fennelly, R Hogan (0-4), TJ Reid (3-5, 2-0pen, 0-4f); A Murphy, W Walsh (0-2), L Blanchfield. Sub: J Maher for A Murphy.
Referee - J Owens.