WESTSIDE COLUMN 13 JULY 2012.

It’s amazing how one match result can alter the hurling landscape so dramatically. Prior to Galway’s great ‘gaisce’ in the Leinster final all pretenders to Kilkenny’s crown were said to be chasing the silver medal. Now, suddenly, it’s an open field with gold once more on offer. Even the dynamic of Sunday’s Munster final is affected with the winners now likely to face Kilkenny in the All Ireland semi where previously avoiding the ‘cats’ was seen as a bonus prize attached to winning the province.
Anyway all that will hardly feature in the pre-match pep talk on Sunday at Pairc Ui Chaoimh as Tipperary return to the site of their demolition of Waterford twelve months ago. Last year’s event was freakish in nature so don’t expect a repeat. Still Tipperary go in as strong favourites to retain the title being listed as 1/5 fancies against the generous odds of 4/1 on Waterford. The minors will seek to make it a double delight on the day when they face Clare – and a dual-code double following that fine win by the footballers on Sunday last.
The back-door system may have brought an element of dilution to the provincials but a Munster final is still a major event in the calendar. Tipperary’s momentum has been building since that wobbly start against Limerick back in May and we won’t want to see it checked here. Waterford, however mercurial in nature, have been a consistent force in recent years, contesting their fourth consecutive Munster final on Sunday, so presumption would indeed be dangerous.
The build up to the game has seen injury concerns galore with specific focus on players such as Michael Cahill, Thomas Stapleton, James Woodlock, Gearoid Ryan and Pa Bourke so hopefully there will be good news on that front by the weekend. Having two defenders on the treatment table is a particular concern because our options at that end of the pitch are especially limited. It’s strange because I can remember back to the so-called famine days when we could put together a respectable defence but forward power was always the issue. Now we’re well stocked with attacking options but it’s the rearguard that causes concern.
Michael Cahill chipped a bone in his hand in the Cork game and his recovery has been slower than expected. Should he fail to make the deadline then Donagh Maher is one possibility for that spot and I’ve heard mention that Donagh’s brother, Shane, is being viewed as possible cover for the corner too, which surprises me. Shane could also come into consideration for half back if Thomas Stapleton is unfit though the vibes seem to suggest that the wing back will be okay. John O’Keeffe is in the mix as well for half back.
Encouragingly Paddy Stapleton appears to be getting back into shape after a very troublesome spell with injury. He played in a challenge last weekend against the county U21s and while hardly up to championship speed yet after his long lay-off, nonetheless it is good news to hear that he’s on the way back.
One assumes that midfield will again start with Brendan Maher and Shane McGrath. James Woodlock seems to be out of the reckoning after being injured in that club game against Loughmore and while he wouldn’t start on Sunday his absence from the bench does limit options in the course of the game.
The issue in attack is whether or not Lar Corbett will start. Well, perhaps it’s not such an issue because I’ll be surprised if he’s not on board from the beginning this time. He’s served his waiting time since the comeback and now it’s as you were in 2011, though obviously Waterford will be hoping that it’s not quite the same.
Who loses out to Corbett? He replaced Gearoid Ryan against Cork and one assumes that the Templederry man will be the one to step aside again, though there are some who would leave John O’Brien out. I wouldn’t. In any case an injury to the Templederry man might make the decision for the management. Eoin Kelly and Shane Bourke came on against Cork in the semi-final with Bourke especially winning praise for his input but both will likely start on the bench again this time. It’s going to be quite a hot bench once more with Kelly, Bourke, Callanan and possibly Gearoid Ryan all waiting for the nod.
There was yet another injury scare during the week when Pa Bourke dislocated a finger in his club’s big win over Bracken’s in the Mid semi but there seems to be optimism now that he’ll be fit to play. Interestingly if Bourke is unavailable it will presumably catapult Eoin Kelly back to centre stage because of the free-taking requirement.
Anyway it’s all very iffy with such a long list of casualties so we’ll have to wait to see what emerges eventually.
Our recent Munster record against Waterford is impressive though we did lose twice to them in Croke Park in the ’06 quarter-final and the ’08 semi-final. In 2010 that record was emphatically set straight but we have enough evidence from the last ten years to be wary of the Deise. They’ve been consistently in the mix at the business end of the championship and their recent win against Clare again underlined their potential on big days.
Interestingly Tipp and Waterford met in nine previous Munster finals with the Premier holding a seven-two lead. The first of those defeats was that often-recalled shocker in ’63, the one that prevented a possible five-in-row All Irelands. Of more recent vintage they out-scored us in the ’02 Munster final when, like ’63, we went in as reigning All Ireland champions.
On established form lines neutrals will mostly fancy Tipperary to emerge in this one though Kilkenny’s fate last Sunday might be a salutary theme for Declan to take up in the dressing room this week. There are no certainties in sport and after last year’s mauling the Deise have certainly motive enough this time. Besides since their early-year difficulties Michael Ryan seems to have got some momentum going and on their day they can be very difficult.
Against Limerick and Cork we started slowly and eventually won from behind. It’s not a pattern we’d like to continue here because Waterford are the type of team that works best on adrenaline and if the likes of Mullane is waving to the crowd after early scores we could be in for a difficult day. There’s no doubt Mullane is the talisman in the side so keeping tight shackles on him will be important.
In defence ‘Brick’ Walsh tends to be the central fulcrum though ‘Bonner’ has the potential to disrupt that. Interestingly Noel McGrath has a good record against the Waterford man so we could well see him visit the ‘forty’ at some stage. There’s no doubt we have the forward potential to win this game as long as our defence is tighter than in previous matches. It’s that rearguard particularly that we’ll worry about.
Sunday’s game will be the fortieth Munster championship meeting of the counties with Tipperary having won thirty of the previous match-ups; Waterford won nine and there was one draw from way back in 1933. Another interesting stat shows that Tipperary on Sunday chase a fortieth Munster title. Playing to form it’s certainly reachable but I’m sure Kilkenny felt the same last week.
The minors offer the possibility of a double when they take on Clare in the appetiser. Worryingly we haven’t featured at minor level since ’07 while Clare are this time in their fourth consecutive provincial final and chasing a three-in-row. It’s an underage production line that’s fuelling the Banner’s present senior ambitions. They beat us in last year’s semi-final in a game that stands apart in my mind for the outstanding display given by Tony Kelly, one of the heroes of Davy’s win over Dublin at the weekend.
A form line through Waterford would suggest that Tipperary have a strong chance in this one. The Deise went down to Ennis and beat Clare in an opening bout before the Banner regrouped to get back into contention with a win over Cork. Our semi-final win over Waterford and its emphatic nature in the end would suggest grounds for optimism then. Let’s hope so though things rarely work out as logically as that and in truth Clare underage teams have been very impressive in recent years.
There’s an interesting curiosity to the minor game in that Tipperary will be chasing a hurling/football double which the county last did before I was born – in 1955 to be precise. That year the minor hurlers were captained by Ray Reidy and went on the eventually beat Galway in the All Ireland after putting out Kilkenny in the semi. The footballers, captained by Clonmel’s Liam Boland, beat Kerry in a Munster replay before putting out Mayo in the All Ireland semi. However, Dublin proved too strong in the final.
A quick check of the line outs from ’55 shows just one overlapping name: Solohead’s Sean Ryan kept goal for both teams. By contrast the class of 2012 is well stocked with dual talent. I understand there’s up to ten players common to both panels which is quite a development in a hurling county like Tipperary. It obviously calls for judicious management, something I’m told is being policed excellently by Willie Maher and David Power.
What about that Leinster final! Here we were plodding along in a championship that seemed boringly predictable when out of the blue comes a real shocker. And mind you it wasn’t just the final outcome, it was the nature of the defeat. Thirty minutes in and Kilkenny have just a single point on the board – and yet to strike one from open play. Bemused, befuddled, bewildered, be whatever you want but this was a tour de force from Galway. It didn’t even resemble the 2010 All Ireland because Kilkenny were never too far off in that one. Here they were left floundering, chasing shadows as Galway had all the moves. For once Kilkenny just seemed dazzled by it all, especially Galway’s movement, the in-your-face aggression, the slick hurling. Where did Galway pull that one from, one wondered?
Wherever it came from we simply take our hats off to the tribesmen because they have done the hurling world a mighty service. The old certainties have taken a knock and suddenly the summer is looking exciting once again. Two questions immediately arise: how will the ‘cats’ respond? And was this just another one-day wonder from Galway? Finding out the answers will be fascinating.
There was nothing remotely fascinating though about Dublin’s abject display at Cusack Park. For those who celebrated the arrival of Dublin as a major hurling force this was a real downer. After their trimming by Kilkenny we expected a real ‘kick’ from the Dubs who surely hadn’t slipped so much from the highs of last year. But they had and they face real difficulties now in trying to retain some of the gains of recent years. If Anthony Daly goes it will add to the difficulties but either way they’re back to basics, idle for the remainder of the summer, in division two next spring and facing a major re-reassessment of their whereabouts in the hurling universe. For Clare it’s another shot in the arm for a developing squad; their tilt with Limerick now will be fascinating.
P.S. As ever one is eternally grateful for the work of Ed Donnelly and Ger Ryan with those invaluable press packs – you didn’t think I did all that statistical research did you? Their output never ceases to amaze. We may not be winning All Irelands but in the PR area we do have the best in the business.

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