Westside Column 11 August 2017

‘Westside’ column 

As a spectacle it was heart-stopping. The intensity, the courage, the raw passion was incredible on a weekend when hurling out-shone football spectacularly.

For Tipperary it was heartbreaking. Nonetheless the fans were pride-filled in their admiration for the team, which had put in such an heroic effort. All you can ever expect from a side is that it empties itself on the field. This is our team and we’re grateful for the colossal – if luckless – effort on Sunday last.

The management may err at times but in preparation for this game they certainly got a lot right. Adjustments at the defensive end worked a treat. Darren Gleeson restored a reputation that in the past earned him an All Star award. From the time he caught that dangerous lob under his crossbar in the first half he was on top of his game, saving when necessary, advancing when required, even taking a yellow when needed.

The full back line too answered the call in some style. Donagh Maher was bothered in the first half but thundered into the fray in the second. James Barry justified the management’s faith in him with a major step up in form, which can’t be easy for one whose confidence had dipped in previous games. And then there was Mickey Cahill, not worthy of a starting slot in previous games, but bringing all his experience to bear when called upon; a point from that Noel McGrath cross would have crowned his day but in that instant he showed a defender’s, rather than an attacker’s instinct; we won’t blame him for that.

Of course Michael Ryan would stress that defensive security often depends on what’s happening elsewhere and in that regard our outfield performance was crucial to stopping the leakage of goals. Dan McCormack was detailed to play midfield but with license to track back and assist the defence. It often meant a worker less in attack but defensive security was vital. McCormack was immense on Sunday.

The half backs too played a major role, Paudie outstanding, and Ronan and Seamus Kennedy chipping in effectively also.

Outstanding too was Brendan Maher, whose work rate and general involvement was phenomenal. His display wasn’t perfect, missing an easy chance of a point late in the game after a pin-point across-field pass by Seamie Callanan (he had a first half miss too), but this wasn’t a game for perfection; when the commitment is headlong errors tend to occur.

The attack fell short of what we expected against a commanding defence. ‘Bonner’s’ eclipse by Gearoid McInerney was critical. There was the usual work rate from the number eleven, who started at wing, but crucially in that final phase of the game it was the centre back who dominated.

Callanan, I feel, has shipped unfair criticism. He was dominated by Daithi Burke last year but it was a far more even contest this time. He hit two from play in the first half, was involved in the goal, albeit through a mishit, and again in the second half worked hard to get involved. He won and converted our only attacking free in that period and found Brendan Maher for what should have been another point. The missed frees were negatives but he’s often a victim of his own reputation with people expecting him to blow out the lights every day. There is a suggestion too that he may have been dazed for the ‘65s’ following that heavy tackle.

I wasn’t aware of it at the game but it’s disappointing to read published reports of some nasty jeering aimed at the full forward by some Galway followers on Hill 16. This sort of behavior isn’t acceptable. I wonder will the Galway County Board follow the lead of neighbours, Roscommon, who apologized for the targeting of Andy Moran in the drawn football game with Mayo.

The McGrath brothers and ‘Bubbles’ produced some typically delightful touches but overall I suppose the lack of primary ball winners cost us in attack, especially late in the game. The failure to introduce Steven O’Brien surprised many on a day when other subs struggled for impact.

Overall this year we’ve struggled to replicate the form of 2016 and even though we got close it was still just a tad short and that made all the difference. The message, I suppose, is that momentum is something that builds over a period of strong performances and if you slip it can be difficult to regain your footing.

We now head into a period of reflection on a season that promised so much but ultimately failed to deliver that much-desired two-in-a-row. It will be Michael Ryan’s greatest challenge, assuming, as I hope, that he remains in charge. Continuity is necessary and nurturing some of the minors of 2016 is the next task. Already players like Ger Browne and Mark Kehoe are on the extended panel and we might expect others to follow in the future such as Brian McGrath, Paddy Cadell and perhaps a few more. Teams need to be constantly supplemented and one of the difficulties from the last year was that apart from the enforced promotion of Donagh Maher we found no other newcomer to challenge for a starting spot.

A few other items from last Sunday have become topics of debate. Galway’s Adrian Tuohey faces a nervous wait in relation to that incident with ‘Bonner’ Maher’s helmet and faceguard. Already Tadhg De Burca is likely to miss out on next Sunday’s semi-final with Cork unless the DRA  overturns the one-game ban from the quarter-final with Wexford.

The key issue seems to centre around intent, whether or not the action was deliberate. In De Burca’s case it definitely seemed more incidental than deliberate. Unfortunately for Adrian Tuohey, the footage of his incident seemed much more definite despite the lame comments by the panelists on ‘The Sunday Game’. I have no particular desire to see Tuohey sit out the final but it’s difficult to see how De Burca’s ban could stand and the Galway defender escape sanction. Then again disciplinary processes that banned Jason Forde earlier in the season are capable of anything.

The refereeing last Sunday has become part of the public debate on the game also. Tipperary fans certainly felt hard down by especially in the second period when every decision was critical. Some facts here are interesting. The overall free count went 17-9 in favour of Galway. More crucially was the figure for the second half alone which went 9-3 in favour of the Tribesmen.

Those second half figures in particular would suggest that one team was highly disciplined while the other was almost reckless. Yet I don’t think anyone came away from the game with that impression. It’s quite extraordinary that Tipperary got just a single free in Galway’s half in that second period. At least there was inconsistency here and in games as tight as this one every decision was crucial.

It’s an issue that people tip-toe around and especially when you lose you don’t want to be seen as bitter or seeking excuses. Typically ‘The Sunday Game’ ignored the issue, though I’m told Tomas Mulcahy on radio was much more forthright.

The referees’ body made some poor judgments when appointing referees earlier in the season and an issue that arises here is why the same official has been appointed for the last three All Ireland semi-finals involving Galway and Tipperary. Are the options that limited?

Anyway next Sunday it’s the turn of Cork and Waterford. The rebels go in as favourites given their Munster win though Waterford’s rating increased significantly through qualifier successes over Kilkenny and Wexford. Cork is listed at 4/6 and Waterford on odds of 6/4.

The likely loss of Tadhg De Burca is a massive blow to Waterford. As their sweeper he’s particularly central to their game plan and it’s difficult to see how they’ll adjust in his absence. This game is still a fascinating prospect with Cork deservedly fancied; either of them will be outsiders against Galway in the final.

 

 

 

 

 

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