Roy Curtis: ‘The Premier have staked out their territory on the higher ground of the All-Ireland contenders’

John McGrath of Tipperary celebrates after scoring his side's second goal during the Munster GAA Hurling Senior Championship Round 1 match between Cork and Tipperary at Pairc Ui Chaoimh in Cork. Photo by David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile1
John McGrath of Tipperary celebrates after scoring his side’s second goal during the Munster GAA Hurling Senior Championship Round 1 match between Cork and Tipperary at Pairc Ui Chaoimh in Cork. Photo by David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile

Roy Curtis

Liam Sheedy understood the supreme court of public opinion would deliver a stark, stripped-down, unsentimental verdict on his second coming as Tipp’s commander-in-chief.

“By six o’clock on Sunday,” announced the manager who, in 2010, so memorably slammed the five-in-a-row door shut in Brian Cody’s face, “we’ll know where we are.”

After this carnival of fantasy, one that delivered the most emphatic rebuke to the notion of a Tipp as a wheezing, one-paced and time-expired force, it hardly requires the assistance of Google Maps to identify that elevated location.

With their ambition reheated, the Premier have staked out their territory on the higher ground of the All-Ireland contenders.

The heat of the dragon-fire with which they singed Cork will have reached and jolted Limerick, Galway, Clare and Kilkenny.

Tipp, as feral as they were razor-sharp, with Bubbles O’Dwyer turning back the clock to recreate those turn-of-the-decade masterclasses, inflicted a crushing defeat on the Munster champions.

O’Dwyer, lean as a whippet and delivering one astonishing brushstroke of brilliance after another, reminded us of his capacity to use a huge championship crowd as his personal oxygen supply.

Here, in front of an audience of more than 30,000, he hit seven points from play, while delivering an eye-of-the-needle assist for John McGrath’s goal that sent an audible gasp of astonishment across the coliseum.

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On days like these, with his fitness and attitude at platinum standard, O’Dwyer, alone, is worth the price of admission.

He was majestic, delivering a maestro’s clinic of vision and touch that left even the finest of his peers on a lower rung.

Sheedy’s first triumph has been to restore the fizzing effervescence to a too-long flat Bubbles, to offer him one last chance to make the arena his own.

That Tipp soared behind enemy lines (there was only one road victory in the entire, storied 2018 Munster championship) with a fusillade of gorgeous scores spread among so many players, was an emphatic statement of intent.

On a scorching afternoon by the Lee, in a contest drenched by a monsoon of beautiful interventions, Tipp fired a truly phenomenal 2-24 of their 2-28 total from play.

They looked sharp, ravenous, a team ready to push back the tombstone many had placed over these players after they failed to escape the Munster maze a year ago.

So much for the theory that Sheedy had inherited the equivalent of a blue and gold smartphone with its battery running dangerously close to empty.

Brendan Maher, soaring time and again to destroy Anthony Nash’s puck-out strategy, producing a point for the ages, looked like a coltish thoroughbred galloping merrily around his county’s fabled Ballydoyle finishing school.

Noel McGrath picked apart Cork with the scholarly bent of a high IQ bookworm solving a crossword puzzle.

Seamie Callanan set the tempo with an early blitzkrieg that delivered a goal within two minutes; the Drom and Inch assassin was all flicks and feints and deadly intent.

The full-back line, marked out as a weak link, delivered impressive resistance.

That Tipp had won just three of their previous 12 league and championship matters will be forgotten this morning.

Sheedy, by dint of his motivation skills, with the assistance of his old coaching guru, Eamon O’Shea, has restored an old aristocratic house to something close to old glories.

It was a deserved victory, all be it, one desperately cruel on the great Leeside craftsman Patrick Horgan.

Each time Horgan pressed launch, his aim was true.  Ten first half shots yielded ten points:  Eight frees, two from play.  A masterclass in supreme striking.

Without Horgan the Rebels would have been dancing on quicksand.

An example:  After 20 minutes, Tipp had outscored Cork 1-7 to 0-2 from play.  But the psychological comfort blanket provided by Horgan swaddled the Rebels in hope.

But even his 15 killshots could not take Tipp down.  To deepen the heart scald of defeat the Munster champions head for Limerick next week with their season already on life support.

But a world of hope has been unlocked in Tipp.

Sheedy could hardly have been immune to the agnostic whispers circulating like a virus.

They were the ones that insisted that, for all their class, Tipp (with 11 of the team that started the 2016 All-Ireland) were an ageing and fraying carpet.

Too old, too pedestrian, a car on an F1 grid with no fifth gear, no afterburners.

But as they grazed against the highest ceiling of achievement here, as they twinned art with aggression, it was clear that Sheedy has brought firm government.

And the supreme court of public opinion’s verdict could not be any more glaring if it was spray painted in 50 foot letters on the Rock of Cashel.

With the velocity of a Bubbles cannon shot, Tipp have fired themselves back toward hurling’s penthouse.

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