Westside Column 14 July 2017

WESTSIDE

 

If you wanted a ruthless performance then this was the business. A crushing twenty-two point win swamps dreadful Dublin and sets up Tipperary for a quarter-final joust with Clare at the new-look Pairc Ui Chaoimh on Saturday week.

As margins go this was as emphatic as you’re likely to see in any championship game. After the Westmeath match the Tipperary players were hurting and it showed in a merciless demolition of the visitors.

According to the Tipperary Twitter account it was the county’s  highest total in ninety-two years of championship hurling, falling just one point short of the 1925 total of 12-9 (45 points) hit against Antrim.

It was a win of historic proportions then but all of that of course must be seen in its proper context. It’s been a vexatious year for Dublin who were reluctant visitors to Thurles and met a Tipperary side on a mission, a team with something to prove.

We expected to win but nobody anticipated a landslide of this magnitude. Well, actually, perhaps the bookies did despite my slighting of their one-sided odds last week.

From Tipperary one sensed a releasing of tension in this free-flowing exhibition. Things haven’t been going smoothly for the team and they needed a blow-out like this to dust off the cobwebs and hopefully push on for the remainder of the campaign.

The onslaught began early and was sustained with merciless emphasis. Callanan’s early goal was a statement of intent. He’d been soundly beaten by Eoghan O’Donnell in the league fixture last February but this was going to be different. Winning possession he spurned the option of a routine point and instead rounded his man before heading in and finishing effortlessly.

Strangely after that early burst from Tipperary they slackened off and Dublin enjoyed their best spell to eventually tie the game at 1-4 apiece with just fifteen minutes played. Cian O’Sullivan’s goal exposed Tipperary’s defensive shortcomings, an issue that is sure to trouble Michael Ryan and company as they plot the remainder of this campaign.

It wasn’t the only instance where our lack of pace was underlined. Later in the half Tossy Hamill saved on the line after another searing run by the Dubs and Donagh Maher was forced into taking a yellow card to halt yet another encroachment by the pacey Dublin forwards.

Otherwise, however, the Tipperary attack was demolishing the Dublin defence. With Eoghan O’Donnell in trouble at full back and Liam Rushe deployed at half forward their rearguard looked decidedly naïve at times. It was the cue for the Tipp attack to open up in a manner that hasn’t properly been seen since last September.

A breaking ball from Callanan let John McGrath in for a one-handed finish for goal number two. Number three was also a Callanan creation. This time a heavy tackle saw Shane Barrett spill possession and in the bat of an eyelid Callanan found McGrath for another clinical finish. The match awareness of these guys bamboozled Dublin.

Our fourth goal was Callanan’s second, ‘Bonner’ the supplier this time. He might (should?) have had another before half time but the goalie smothered it. Still it had now taken on the appearance of a rout, Tipperary ten-up at the interval.

And there was no relief for the visitors on resuming, Michael Breen with a trademark solo and finish to stretch the gap out further just seconds after resuming. The sixth goal would eventually come on the stroke of time, ‘Bubbles’ selflessly laying off to Callanan who duly completed his personal hat-trick. A save by Gleeson at the other end ensured no further breaches and it all concluded with a runaway tally sending the locals into the next round where we can expect something entirely different.

It was merciless from Tipperary but with the team struggling to reassert itself something of this nature was needed to lift morale and get key players back in the groove. Ger Cunningham afterwards referenced Tipperary going for the jugular every time. It reminded me of a Munster final all those years ago where Cork were ‘slaughtering’ Clare and Ray Cummins near the end opted to hand-pass over the bar instead of a routine finish to the net. I’ve no doubt the Cork full forward meant well but you could argue, even from this remove, that his gesture was more belittling of the opposition that if he’d riddled the rigging.

All Tipperary player evaluations must be viewed in the context of Dublin’s ineptitude. Still even allowing for that caveat there were obvious plusses for the home fans as the team revved up several notches from the Westmeath tie.

I was interested in Michael Duignan’s comments on Sunday night where he suggested that most teams build from the defence up but Tipperary’s foundations are in attack. He’s right. The heartbeat of our team is at the offensive end and if we click there things tend to percolate back down the field.

That’s why it was so encouraging to see our full forward line hit 5-17, Callanan managing a personal input of 3-11. It was a throw-back to last September.

Callanan’s re-emergence was clearly the individual highlight though ‘Bubbles’ put in a tremendous shift too and ‘Bonner’ was getting close to his combative best. These are hugely positive signs for the remainder of the campaign. John McGrath too displayed his striker’s instinct when a chance presents itself though his general play is still shy of last year. Dan McCormack did his usual grafting and Jason Forde hit some quality points late in the game though his overall input still needs improving.

At midfield Brendan Maher showed typical industry beside the more fitful contribution of Michael Breen.

The defence, however, will be a focus of attention as we prepare for the quarter-final. I thought Ronan Maher was much improved from the Westmeath game though like others pace isn’t his greatest asset. Joe O’Dwyer too stepped up from Westmeath though fans are wondering if the full back line in its present guise will be up to requirements. James Barry seems uncomfortable at corner back and while Tossy Hamill is strong and solid at full people continue to question his nimbleness when turned, as Ryan O’Dwyer did very pointedly at one stage in the first half. Mickey Cahill’s introduction offers an option but there’s still major uncertainly surrounding this zone of the pitch as we head into the more challenging business end of the series.

Overall, though, it was a display that matched requirements. The signs are positive though more improvement will be needed to progress from here.

On the other side it was sad to see Dublin slump so low after all the progress of recent times.  Clearly all’s not well within Dublin hurling and one assumes that Ger Cunningham’s rule is now at an end. Changing the manager alone though will hardly sort all issues so their decline remains a worry for the wider hurling family.

The second game had an entirely different intensity as two tribes went to war in what was a thrilling spectacle. I feared for Waterford heading into extra time. They’d thrown everything at Kilkenny, led at one stage by eight, but then saw it all undone in a dramatic finish. That’s trademark Kilkenny where they don’t know the meaning of defeat.

This time, however, the more expansive hurling of Waterford ultimately carried the day. They found goals at crucial times and eventually saw it out for a famous win. One sensed that Waterford was the better side all through but they were fighting history as much as Kilkenny and that psychological barrier took some dismantling.

It’s a breakthrough win for Waterford, no doubt, and sets up a fascinating clash now with Wexford, the Davy factor to add spice to the occasion.

For Kilkenny it’s a while since they’ve spent two years on the trot without Liam McCarthy. Their resources have clearly become depleted and willpower alone drove them on last Saturday. Will Cody have the stomach to remain on with a panel that’s obviously well below the standard of previous years? He’s a driven man and I won’t be surprised if he does keep the faith. One thing’s for certain: there will be no local pressure to nudge him out; his status is untouchable Noreside.

One man not staying on is Liam Cahill after his brave band of teenagers finally bowed out to Cork the eventual Munster winners. He’s done his stint and acquitted himself with honour; no more can be asked of anyone. His ability to organize and motivate these lads is widely respected. His partnership with Mikey Bevans was seen as essential in last year’s All Ireland success.

We shouldn’t forget his backroom cabinet either who invested so much unseen effort. Sean Corbett, T.J. Ryan and John Sheedy were ever-present at a whole range of games from schools to club as they studied form in a bid to unearth any gems of talent that may be lying hidden. Theirs will be a hard act to follow.

Finally the county’s footballers are once again grabbing the headlines with their heroics. They seem to relish adversity and just continue to defy expectations. They’ve got a deserved break with a home venue for their game with Armagh after the long trek to Breffini Park last weekend. Good luck to them on Saturday.

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