Westside Column – 1 March 2013

 

Eamon O’Shea may be just a few months into his second-coming to Tipperary management but already he’ll be feeling the chill winds of discontent. An abysmal display in the league opener at Cork leaves the Tipperary hurling world collectively head-scratching. First half embarrassment gave way to minor relief in the second, but the crumbs of comfort were scarce in the Arctic cold of Cork. And with Kilkenny coming to town for round two on Sunday week the horizon looks bleak indeed.

Elsewhere Tipperary hurling took a double hit as there was no Harty honour for Our Lady’s Templemore. A riveting first half gave way to a second half landslide as the Dungarvan combination proved too powerful in the sunshine ofSean Treacy Park.

Honeymoon over, Eamon O’Shea and colleagues must be wondering what they’ve let themselves in for. For the second game in succession now they watched in disbelief as their team was filleted by an opponent. Cork are no Kilkenny and yet they played the proverbial ‘Molly Bawn’ with Tipperary in that first half; game over at half time, the second period an irrelevance.

Any feel-good factor that the new management brought to the task has by now evaporated. Those who thought that Eamon O’Shea would wield a magic wand and instantly rediscover the glory of 2010 have been disabused of such naïve notions. Reality bites and, you know it hurts!

Whatever is amiss at the heart of Tipperary hurling we don’t just lose these days – we implode. Look atTipperary’s last three ‘competitive’ games: versus Kilkenny in August, Clare a few weeks ago and now Cork. In three games we leaked a grand total of 5-71 losing by an average margin of just over a dozen points. These are humbling statistics.

The Crystal final experience might have been dismissed as a once-off aberration except that we now have corroborating evidence of just how broken Tipperary hurling is. Almost midway through the second half on Saturday the scoreboard read 0-19 to 0-3. In almost fifty minutes of league hurling a Tipperary side had mustered a mere three points, two of them from rookie, John O’Dwyer, the third off a Noel McGrath free. How pathetic was that?

The final quarter helped to spare some of our deeper blushes, the old warrior himself, Eoin Kelly, sneaking a goal when none seemed possible and players like Jason Forde and Lar Corbett hitting a decent run of points. Don’t let that little flurry of activity fool you though; we were thoroughly skinned alive in this one, looking like a junior ‘B’ side masquerading as seniors.

That first half particularly was cringing stuff from Tipperary. Here was a Cork side full of bounce and energy, coming to the play enthusiastically. Where were Tipperary? Hanging back, skirting around the edges, at all costs avoiding hard labour. In another sport they sometimes use a term called ‘seagulling’ to depict the guy who loiters on the periphery looking for easy pickings. We had plenty seagulls on Saturday in a game that called for a far more hawkish approach.

The result was that Cork players in possession had time and space to survey the scene and pick out their man at leisure. Not surprisingly they went on a point-scoring spree hitting some super scores from outfield without ever threatening to go route one to goal.

By contrast Tipperary were so easily closed down as Cork players worked beaverishly. Everything we did was hurried and laboured. Clearances from defence were aimless, midfield was out of it and the forwards had no ball winners to carry any threat to Cork.

Defensively we could claim some merit for preventing a goal but much of that was down to Cork’s preference for points. One second half cameo illustrates the point: Conor Lehane was closing in on goal with Pat Horgan on the overlap but he chose to tap over instead of going for the jugular. Paddy Stapleton on his return from college duty looked off the pace and was eventually replaced while Brendan Maher, I’d suggest, is still a pale shadow of the prodigy we thought we had three years ago.

Johnny Ryan is the best club hurler in the county but thus far has shown that he lacks that extra notch for inter-county; how many times was he crowded out on Saturday. Then our forward display was depressing. ‘Bonner’ Maher is now in the army and looks at odds with his hurley. Callanan continues to disappoint and Brian O’Meara too was withdrawn after fruitless endeavour. Noel McGrath thrives on broken play but in a game like this we needed winners of primary possession.

If you want positives I suppose you could point to the replacements. Isn’t it instructive that wannabes likes Jason Forde and Adrian Ryan and John O’Dwyer outshone the more established names? They at least had attitude and were busy. Shane Bourke laboured hard too though with little reward and let’s give Lar Corbett credit as one of our most industrious when introduced.

But the odd positive aside there’s no glossing over this appalling display by Tipperary. It’s not about losing – we’re well used to that – it’s about the manner of defeat, the way we buckle so easily and get wiped out. Eamon O’Shea has a major job on his hands to turn heads and get players playing to potential once again. The problem is that this league schedule leaves little scope for gradual improvement. On Saturday’s form we wouldn’t win a game in this division. Kilkenny will hardly be accommodating on Sunday week so a sharp turnaround is needed. The training ground should be an uncomfortable place during the week – if not we’re really doomed.

What of Cork? JBM has had his difficulties so I suspect this win was just the tonic he needed to calm nerves down Leeside. I suspect also that he’s wise enough not to be carried away by this result. Cork did what they had to do but were facilitated by an inept Tipperary. Still he’ll have been impressed by Christopher Joyce at centre back as well as his midfield pair of Lorcan McLoughlin and Daniel Kearney. Pat Horgan is still the main man in attack.

Before leaving the game a brief comment on refereeing matters. The doling out of yellow cards was farcical. In some instances the alleged offences wouldn’t even earn a free in summer championship. Annually we suffer this surge of righteousness at the start of the league before things gradually settle down and common sense kicks in. There is absolutely no consistency between league and championship refereeing.

Meanwhile the association is much exercised about the number of people on the sideline and has put in place a whole list of restrictions. Their energies might be better used addressing refereeing where poor standards remain one of the biggest issues facing the association at all levels.

There were interesting results in other games in our division of the league with Waterford putting one over on their former boss, Davy Fitzgerald, and Galway edging out Kilkenny at Pearse Stadium. That Waterford win was certainly a surprise and it probably highlights how difficult we’ll find the going in this series. The expectation that we’d collect two points against Waterford might now have to be revised.  I can imagine Brian Cody revving up for his visit to Semple Stadium too, determined not to lose a second time – especially to Tipp. It’s going to be a tough series with four games on the trot starting on Sunday week.

As Eamon O’Shea works to sort out the Tipperary team following yet another dismal performance he might acquire a video of the first half of the Harty Cup final, which was played in sunny Tipp town last Sunday. Play it in the dressing room highlighting the go-to attitude of both teams in a rip-roaring half hour of hurling. Here was hurling to warm the heart as two sides threw everything into the collision and served up a truly cracking game.

Templemore levelled the match just before half time and we seemed set for a thriller. The Tipp School came tantalisingly close to goal on two occasions in that half and were left to rue also a number of bad wides, all of which could have set them up nicely for the resumption.

Alas it didn’t quite pan out that way. Early on resuming Dungarvan hit the first of their goals and went from parity to five-up in double-quick time. We’d seen the game’s turning point. Buoyed by those scores the Waterfordcombination drove on and eventually had the game closed out when Ryan Donnelly hit his and his side’s second goal.  There was a consolation goal from John Joe Ryan for Templemore but really there was only one side in it for that second half.

It’s disappointing for Templemore but they’ll have to accept that the stronger side deservedly won the day. A lot depended on their midfield pair, John McGrath and Colin O’Riordan, and on this occasion they failed to dominate as in other games.

The Waterford schools have put together a fine strong hurling team which will take beating in the All Ireland series.

Templemore are still in the All Ireland hunt and remember how Nenagh regrouped to take the national title last year after losing in the Harty. Still I can’t see Templemore recovering from a defeat like this especially given their exertions in recent weeks playing both codes. They were without centre back, Joseph Nyland, too on Sunday and that really stretched their resources forcing a re-jig of the team. It’s difficult for a single school to compete against an amalgamation and the trend with the Harty in recent year is for more of these combinations to chase the famous cup.

So for this year the dream of a second Harty Cup is gone for Templemore. Their sole win in the competition was back in 1978 with a team that featured players like Bobby Ryan, Pat McGrath, Peter Brennan, Mick Ryan and others who subsequently wore the Tipp jersey. Hard to imagine that it’s thirty-five years ago.

 

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