Westside Column 15 June 2018

WESTSIDE

 

To borrow a phrase it’s a case of over and out for Tipperary hurling 2018. Our season is over, the team is out of contention and we’re left to pore over the entrails of a hugely disappointing campaign.

For a while on Sunday the Banner roar competed with ‘Tipp, Tipp’, but in the end the Clare voices had the last word. A blistering final few moments left scorch marks on our collective psyche as our summer dreams vanished before our eyes.

In truth is has been a torturous few weeks for Tipperary hurling. In that context defeat and championship exit wasn’t unexpected, though, ironically, the final knock-out came on a day when we produced our best of the series.

Ultimately it wasn’t enough and in truth we have to acknowledge that over the span of the four games we didn’t deserve to progress. Our form was simply too patchy so ultimately we’re left to mull over the carcass of another year of failure, another let-down season, another chapter of underachievement.

It’s depressing. Bob Geldof didn’t like Mondays; neither do I, especially not these ones where you have to relive the agony of another championship car crash. All the great expectations as we headed into this new format are now distant memories as we exit the series on June 10, our earliest departure for many moons – heck I don’t even have the stomach to research how many moons precisely though I’m sure someone will do it for me.

Oddly enough it all looked so promising early on. For the first time in this Munster championship we hit the ground running. In the lingo of the trade we were up for the fight. All over the team was working slavishly getting in the blocks, hooks and tackles and preventing the Banner from developing any early rhythm.

Within twenty minutes we’d gone seven-up, the main lodgment a fine solo goal by Billy McCarthy who rode the tackle and supplied the finish into the Killinan goal. This was upbeat from Tipperary, pushing up on the Clare puck-outs and taking the fight to their opponents.

It rattled the visitors. Clare looked fumbly and jittery in this spell, unable to construct their typical running game and when chances arose their wides tally was soon rising. We had them on the run and needed to drive home advantage.

Dan McCormack’s luckless collision with Tony Kelly was an early setback, however. His battling qualities would be missed later as the management was forced to call on Noel McGrath sooner than they’d have wished.

Before half time arrived there were clear signs that the games trajectory wasn’t going to be a straight line. Clare weathered the early storm and were gaining traction around the middle third of the pitch. They were wasteful with chances, in part at least due to Tipp pressure, but still managing to cut the lead to four by the interval.  On the trend of that first half we should have been at least seven or eight up and by the end we’d pay a heavy price for not building such a cushion.

And yet for much of the second half we seemed to be holding our own, keeping Clare at three or four points of a distance. The forwards were chipping away with points but ominously our defence was resorting to fouling to hold the line. Peter Duggan was in punishing form from placed balls as he hit a sequence of frees unerringly. Podge Collins was on and brought renewed energy to the Clare attack. Our defence was under strain.

Yet the day’s outcome hinged on a calamitous few moments in a frenetic climax. We were four up when a chance came to ‘bury’ this game. The move featured John McGrath to Cathal Barrett to Jake Morris, but the shot from a narrowing angle came back off the upright. What followed will haunt our recall of the day’s events. With dazzling speed Clare worked the ball downfield culminating in Ian Galvin’s emphatic finish. In a matter of seconds the game saw a six-point swing.

The ifs and buts of that cameo are painful. Barrett’s final pass to Morris wasn’t perfect forcing the receiver out wide and narrowing the angle. If the shot had gone wide the team would have re-focused for the puck-out and maybe prevented the Clare goal. It’s useless speculation now, however, as suddenly there was just a single point separating the teams.

And yet Tipp rallied again in a breathless finale. We went back two-up before Forde untypically missed a free that would probably have forced Clare to chase a saving goal. A few errors by Barrett cost scores as Clare kept up the momentum. Joe O’Dwyer went off injured and the defence had to be re-jigged with Paudie going to number three and Kennedy to the wing.  Brendan Maher, the most fearless player on the pitch, did his knee with cruel timing. These losses would prove critical in the final hectic moments.

It was four minutes into added time when Podge Collins hit the leveler and then Peter Duggan closed in out in the next minute with a precious brace of flags for the Banner, the second strike from the sideline of Canning-esque quality as Kennedy tried to block.

With cruel timing for Tipperary the Banner had nosed in front at the ‘death’ and there was no space left to recover. It was a brave effort by the home side but our luck was out, perhaps the Gods decreeing that we used up our quota against Waterford.

Our regrets will be many. When on top in that first half we should have really stretched out the lead and left little scope for a Clare revival. Inter-county hurling is merciless, when on top you need to really strangle the opponent or you’ll pay the price. Jake Morris was the hero against Cork and came within the breadth of a post of another outrageous strike that could well have sent us forward to mid-summer action. Such are the margins.

The injuries too were luckless though we need to temper all this with an acknowledgment that our form throughout the series was simply inadequate. It’s often when you’re struggling that those breaks go against you.

We’ve struggled all season in defence and significantly it was that zone that finally cracked on Sunday. I was delighted to see Paudie Maher back to some of his forceful best and Brendan Maher again showed what an incredible competitor he is. Joe O’Dwyer was a loss when he had to retire and I have some pity for Seamus Kennedy who was forced into an unfamiliar position for this championship. Amazing how far James Barry seems to have slipped, not being called upon in any of the games despite our defensive problems. All our defensive juggling seemed to be of the sticking-plaster variety from game to game with no firm view as to our best formation.

Ronan Maher had some useful moments at midfield as did Cathal Barrett though some critical lapses by the latter proved costly.

Billy McCarthy has been one of the success stories of this series from a Tipperary perspective. He was a late call-up but has shown major potential, which will hopefully develop into a bright future. John McGrath again played a significant role on Sunday, Callanan was improving as the game advanced but ‘Bonner’ simply hasn’t been the ‘Bonner’ of old this season. Overall it’s been a great season for Jason Forde though, being selfish, I’d still like to see more involvement in general play.

Anyway it’s over, the dust will soon settle as we watch as envious spectators for the remainder of the championship. It’s worrying times for Tipperary who seem to be at something of a crossroads. These players have given us outrageous entertainment over the past decade or more, for which they deserve huge credit. However, life moves on and Tipperary now faces a long summer of introspection in an attempt to plot the future.

The problem is that the core of this team is approaching thirty and one wonders if they can re-energise again for another season assault in 2019. The paucity of supplementary talent hasn’t helped matters, the minor class of 2016 yet to supply a first-choice starter. Core areas of the team, such as full back, remain problematic and there’s no obvious solution.

Manager Michael Ryan wisely deflected any questions about his future; a losing dressing room is no place to make such calls. Yet the performance of management will face scrutiny. Some of the selections they sent into battle during the league and championship were highly questionable, the line-up that faced Limerick being the strangest of the lot. Mistakes were made even if injuries did dictate some decisions.

I’m sure Michael Ryan will take counsel over the coming weeks as he considers his position. Of his three years in charge this was clearly the most problematic. Will he have the enthusiasm to soak up the lessons and go again, perhaps with an altered support team? Time will tell. It’s a big decision. By now he’ll know that there’s no huge treasure trove of talent out there waiting to be unleashed upon the hurling world. In fact it’s a worrying time for Tipperary hurling generally.

Despite the acknowledged quality of the talent produced in Tipperary we remain the great underachievers. The present minors seem to be cut from the same cloth, their great finish last week perhaps not enough to undo the damage of previous defeats. Liam Cahill’s U21s will be watched with interest to see if they can buck the trend of other grades.

Anyway that’s all matter for the future. For the moment it’s just another manic Monday, another dreary post-mortem of yet another Tipperary trip-up.

 

 

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