Tipp’s white-line fever
BY SHANE STAPLETON (pic @Inpho)
PERHAPS Tipperary are suffering from white-line fever.
Immobilised at a point when they have their finger on the trigger, faltering as the moment of truth passes them by.
Seamus Callanan suffered from it on Sunday. Richie McCarthy is a handful for any full-forward but the Drom-Inch man won a couple of crucial 50-50s, though too often failing to capitalise.
There was a moment in the second half where Callanan beat McCarthy to a ball, leaving the full-back grounded, but instead of driving for goal, he hesitated before shooting instead and was hooked by his marker.
It was a key moment, and one of many to let the Treaty off the hook. On 55 minutes, Patrick ‘Bonner’ Maher drove through the middle of the Limerick defence and instead of handing Callanan a simple goal chance, he was run off the road.
What could have been a four-point lead was just as quickly made level down the other end. Decisions.
When Kieran Bergin won a free in a very scoreable position in the latter stages, it should have put Tipp three up. But as he fist-pumped in celebration of the free, his hand was disrupted and his hurley flew into a Limerick man.
The free was lost and a yellow card was given to the midfielder, with the Treaty hitting the next score. Inches.
Shane Bourke had a chance to put in Lar Corbett, coming on the loop, for an easy score but was blocked down instead. Denis Maher shot an aimless wide when Bergin had overlapped into the penalty area in an ocean of space. Bad, bad decisions, despite winning enough ball to close the game out.
Worst of all, with Tipp three points up and heading for quitting time, a long ball was driven deep into the Town End towards the blue and gold defence. Three jerseys matching that description all rose for the one ball, but instead it broke to Kevin Downes who carried it into the penalty box.
Shane Dowling received the ball, took it on a tour of the square and lashed it into the net. A break at the right time but crucially Limerick took their chances late on, didn’t waver under pressure, as the hosts had.
The concession of frees, avoidable or otherwise, is a huge concern for Eamon O’Shea. Dowling notched 1-9 from placed balls on Sunday, continuing on a theme from the league final against Kilkenny.
The Cats had 13 scoreable placed balls that day and converted 2-9 of 2-25 from them. Fifty per cent of Limerick’s scores weren’t from play, and 48 per cent likewise against Kilkenny (both when converting goals to points). It goes without saying that this needs addressing.
Part of that is down to recalibrating the defence. Brendan Maher has been a revelation at centre-back but will have been disappointed with a couple of sloppy challenges in needless situations.
Paudie Maher, so assured under the high ball against Kilkenny recently, was less so against Limerick in an otherwise fine performance – and there’s little doubt his hand was being played for rather than the ball and that the goal was rightly disallowed. Both players will continue to improve in their roles.
For a long time, that’s been the issue, that this team can only improve, and yet Tipp still haven’t won a championship match of any description since July 15, 2012.
There is a concern that only Kilkenny can raise their dander enough to produce a performance of intensity, and yet Brian Cody’s men have won nine of their last ten encounters.
Perhaps there are those inside the county who think Eamon O’Shea is not getting the job done, but it’s nonsense when the players seem to so firmly believe he is.
And why should those outside the camp dictate who steers the ship. After all, just 4,768 witnessed the final round win over Dublin, and only 6,615 were there for the league quarter-final against Cork.
The masses returned for Kilkenny, as you’d expect, with 20,000 witnessing the extra time league final defeat, and the guts of 25,000 showed up for Limerick’s day.
No doubt the knives will be out again after yet another loss on a day that counted, O’Shea will understand and accept that, but in the main he seems to be building something.
As he admitted on Sunday, they have a problem with killing games and opposition off. The Premier are showing signs of panic at the scoring end — Callanan was blocked down four times against Limerick, and dropped another into Nickie Quaid’s hand.
He had dropped a couple more to Eoin Murphy in the league final but the upshot is that he hasn’t given up in either game, contributing despite this.
The silly frees at the other end suggest nervousness too, as did three men rising to fall on a crucial ball near the end, from which Limerick goaled. But in between, Tipperary had the game in their hands, as they did in the league final.
Those are plusses and so too is going from two points behind in normal time of the league final to force extra time against Kilkenny. They need to but a few more cases, but they do have bottle in stock.
O’Shea spoke during the league about getting his players to like the ball again, a tacit admission of anxiety on the pitch. Sunday showed that there are still elements of that, and a riled-up Limerick were good enough to take advantage.
The Tipp boss has four weeks to rebuild what was lost at Semple Stadium ahead of the qualifiers. His challenge is to get what’s in his players out of them, and those on the field must deliver for him.
Follow Shane Stapleton on Twitter @ShaneSaint