Westside Column 12 July 2019

WESTSIDE

 

Bin that preview. The mighty men of Queen’s county have rewritten the script. The shock of the year – of many years – has thrown up an unexpected quarter-final.

Not since Antrim stunned Offaly back in the 1989 semi-final has there been such a sensational turn-up. Cork’s easy gallop against Westmeath seemed to underline the gap between McCarthy and MacDonagh Cups, but this Laois win rubbished all prior expectations.

There we were expecting a quarter-final against Dublin, checking the past record and anticipating all eventualities.

The management I’m sure had done likewise. The videos were analysed, the key men identified and tactics fine tuned. But sport at times has a way of defying logic so that the best laid plans of mice and men once again go awry.

A quick reshuffle is called for, a rethink and a refocus on a new and unforeseen opponent. An easier opponent? Yes, surely, though the management won’t entertain any such talk and will readily point to Dublin’s lack of readiness, which has cost them so dearly.

From the highlight pieces we saw on telly the metropolitans certainly looked to be in the wrong mind frame. Slow, sluggish and downright sloppy they met an opponent in upbeat mood and once the pattern evolved they couldn’t change step.

The Laois goal epitomised the difference between the teams. Look how ponderous Sean Moran was in getting out for that ball in the left corner – and then how easily he was passed by Willie Dunphy. Ultimately that was the match winner.

For the Tipperary management it means a quick realignment of plans, starting, one assumes, with team selection. Full strength would certainly have been the requirement against Dublin but there may be an argument now for some element of trialing.

The full back slot, I suspect, will be the hottest topic when the management discusses options. James Barry had an unhappy day in the Munster final and it will be interesting to see if this is regarded simply as symptomatic of an overall team lapse or as an individual item that needs immediate addressing.

It’s not a new issue, of course, but it did resurface with emphasis against Limerick. Cathal Barrett’s return will definitely enhance that full back line but number three is still very problematic. In the absence of James Barry at Ennis Barry Heffernan was the surprise choice and on that day it worked against no lesser an opponent than John Conlon. The management’s thinking here will be interesting.

I suspect that Sheedy and company will want to keep that all-Maher half back line intact so their options for juggling the full line are limited. They sweated over Ronan Maher during the past week but no news from Croke Park was good news, the CCCC obviously deciding that there was enough doubt to give the player the benefit.

Michael Duignan’s role in highlighting the case didn’t endear him to Tipperary supporters. He certainly seemed to dwell on it more than was necessary and his silence on the frontal tackle that floored Paudie Maher a moment earlier did him no favours in Tipperary eyes. Any lack of consistency on these matters leaves you open to charges of imbalance.

Elsewhere on the Tipperary team Michael Breen’s position at midfield is likely to come under scrutiny. He’s regularly the first to be called off and the Munster final was a particularly disappointing day from him.

The problem is that we’re not overstocked with choices for the centre of the pitch. Robert Byrne has been deployed there on previous occasions and Dan McCormack is another option. Jerome Cahill was definitely seen as the liveliest of our replacements the last day so he might be one to watch out for.

It all depends on how the management views this game. There may be a desire to start strong to try and discourage Laois early on in order to create scope later for substitutes to be given a chance. Time will tell.

These counties have only clashed on two previous occasions in the All Ireland championship. Back in 2003 Clare put us out of Munster and we met Laois in Portlaoise in the All Ireland qualifiers. The venue proved no issue as Tipperary came through with little fuss, 3-28 to 0-13. We eventually bowed out to Kilkenny in the All Ireland semi-final on a day when Brendan Cummins performed heroically to save some blushes.

The only other meeting was way back in 1949 when the counties provided a novel All Ireland final pairing. Laois had beaten Kilkenny in the Leinster final and Galway in the All Ireland semi but it was a no-show in the final. Before an attendance of 67,168 Tipperary led by 1-5 to 0-3 at half time and eventually came home winners by 3-11 to 0-3. Seamus King in his county history quotes a punter who quipped ‘The Leix said about it the better! The minors made it a famous double that day, a feat repeated in 2016.

In league hurling Tipperary has dominated also. The counties have clashed on 35 occasions with the midlanders prevailing just 6 times; Tipperary has 26 wins and there were three draws.

Interestingly our last defeat to Laois in Thurles was back in the fall of 1986 just after ‘Babs’ took over. The same ‘Babs’ was in the news recently with an interview in the ‘Irish Examiner’ where once again he managed to ruffle a few feathers with his own individual take on history. Issues with Len Gaynor was news to many. The one guarantee with ‘Babs’ is that you never get boring copy.

Anyway, so much for history and our record against Laois. You’ll get odds of 20/1 if you fancy backing the outsiders next Sunday. Tipperary is listed at 1/80. An upset here would really be unthinkable.

For Tipperary it’s a chance to get back to Croke Park and reassemble the pieces following that Munster final setback. Wexford will be interested neutrals sizing up their semi-final opponents.

So far it’s been a year that has left Tipperary fans somewhat puzzled. The league was uninspiring but then we got on this round robin rollercoaster before we fell off the wagon in the Munster final. It’s been that sort of up and down experience so we’re unsure of our exact whereabouts.

In this exam-marking season I’ve fallen into the habit of quoting literature so I might as well throw another one in here. “Such welcome and unwelcome things at once, ‘tis hard to reconcile”. The speaker is Macduff in Shakespeare’s ‘Macbeth’. He’s been put to the test by Malcolm who’s checking out his loyalty and the poor man is left utterly puzzled by it all. Tipperary fans are finding things hard to reconcile too this year but hopefully Sunday will in some way be revealing.

The aim on Sunday surely is to set down very early markers to discourage the underdogs. The last thing we want is to give Laois early encouragement, as Dublin did, and then get into a dogfight trying to rein them in.

This Laois side may have been plying its trade in the MacDonagh Cup but they’ve built a winning momentum and will rightly feel emboldened at this stage. In goalie, Enda Rowland, they have a well-regarded stopper – and a shooter too when long-range frees present the opportunity. Their defence was heroic on Sunday and they’ve a useful midfield pair in John Lennon and Paddy Purcell. Aaron Dunphy scored 1-2 the last day and players like Willie Dunphy and Ross King are ones to watch also. They’re not household names but they play a smart style of hurling and deserve to be respected.

Losing this one is unconscionable from a Tipperary perspective. Still it’s often awkward territory when you’re coming off the back of a bad defeat and everyone expects you to win handsomely. Let’s view it as our real season starting from here.

The opening game at headquarters will be seen as the likely highlight of the afternoon. There’s a massive tradition, of course, between Cork and Kilkenny so that background will add flavour to this contest. If Tipperary have left their fans head scratching with some erratic displays then imagine how the Cork followers are feeling. They’ve had more ups and downs this season than a camel’s back.

Through it all, however, is the sense that this Cork side has championship potential and in particular they’re seen as a team with the wherewithal to topple Limerick in a potential semi-final.

First, though, they’ve got to negotiate a stubborn Kilkenny formation. Cody hasn’t the riches of the past but he still has that combative mentality drilled into his team, which makes them very difficult to subdue. Cork are slight favourites in this one and I think that reflects general perception that they might just have enough for the Noresiders. It’s one I’m looking forward to.

Before this appears in print Liam Cahill’s U20 side will have hosted Waterford in a Munster semi-final at the Stadium on Tuesday evening. It’s a game with a big prize on offer and could influence senior selection with the likes of Jerome Cahill and Jake Morris on view. They’re strong favourites to make the final and qualification for the All Ireland series.

P.S. As ever my appreciation for SO’D for the info on Tipp and Laois; he remains the one true reservoir of results.

 

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