Westside Column 15 March 2019

WESTSIDE

 

Timing is everything, they say, and Tipperary’s best league display of the season arrived with great precision. A slick performance by the lee yields a rich reward: a quarter-final date with Dublin on Saturday at the Stadium and – more importantly – a general lifting of morale in the wake of defeats in previous rounds.

It’s been an up-and-down league series from Tipperary with the final of five rounds offering some atonement for inadequacies in previous games. The series began to great fanfare with a thumping of Clare at the Stadium but then hit choppy waters against Limerick, Wexford and Kilkenny. Another defeat here would have piled on more agony, so a thirteen-point win was just what the doctor ordered.

It was smooth, it was comprehensive and it was stress-free. Cork began well with an instant point from Alan Cadogan and it looked like we might be in for a testing afternoon. Our record in the rebel capital isn’t good. However, once the game settled to a pattern after the opening ten minutes it was Tipperary who had all the moves.

Tipperary had wind support and from the eight to the twenty first minute they outscored Cork eight-one. That was the launch pad for what would be a most satisfying Tipperary trip to the southern capital.

After their week in Alicante the Tipperary players looked invigorated. They were fresh, sharp and inventive, albeit against a very insipid Cork resistance. Within the opening quarter alone Forde, Noel McGrath, O’Meara, Breen and Callanan had all found the target as the free-flow of points mounted. Cork could muster little response.

Amazingly into the wind Anthony Nash went long on most puck-outs. With Tipperary sharp onto the breaks it paid little dividend. The Tipp forwards were trekking back, John McGrath especially, and Cork got little chance to develop their running game.

The flow of points continued for the visitors with Forde outstanding on the frees. Jake Morris danced away from his opponent for a delightful one. Breen added his second. Tipp continued to dominate the exchanges and by half time the lead stood at ten.

Any neutral hope for the contest vanished four minutes after resuming when Forde availed of a Cahalane fumble to slip in for a consolidating goal. This was embarrassing for Cork. At one stage the lead read 1-25 to 0-9. By then Harnedy was on the sideline, red carded for a gratuitous flick back on Barry. Cork’s irritation was becoming obvious.

In the final phase of the action the locals salvaged some pride. Aidan Walsh had their goal and a late run of points pared back the lead to an end margin of thirteen – a butcher’s dozen without any butchering being done.

It could have been worse for Cork. On several Tipperary raids goals seemed likely but we failed to supply the finish. ‘Bonner’ had one of the best chances and when Nash kept his shot out Morris too was denied in the follow up. In a sense I was glad. They’ll have enough motivation in May without adding any more incentive.

It was credits all round then for Tipperary, apart from the last ten minutes or so when we introduced several subs, dropped off the pace and became sloppy. That allowed Cork develop some belated rhythm where they outscored us 1-4 to 0-1 in the final moments. It mattered not in this game but those final minutes should be a focus for the management going forward. Ruthlessness is a streak we need to develop; when the foot is on the throat you keep it there.

All of the praise has to be read in the context of an utterly inept display by the locals. John Meyler must be head-scratching as to how his team could be so proactive and productive against Limerick and then become so passive in this contest. That’s the league, I suppose.

So many of Cork’s big names didn’t deliver. Alan Cadogan looked dangerous early on before retiring injured and there were snatches of excellence from the likes of Conor Lehane but the overall team fabric was threadbare.

Interestingly Sheedy afterwards referenced the importance of dominating the middle area of the pitch as a way of stopping Cork’s free-flowing game which in the past has hurt us for pace. It certainly worked on this occasion but we can expect a different battle when the sides meet in the championship.

Our defensive end did very well overall, often assisted by players tracking back to lend assistance. It’s a modern development in the game that the present management seems to be embracing. James Barry has re-established himself this spring in the number three jersey and together with Paudie Maher supplied a strong central spine to that defence. Cathal Barrett’s return adds sureness to that zone too where Ronan Maher has the potential to be even more influential.

Goalie, Paul Maher, did well though he won’t like watching that lob that went off his fingers early in the second half. Given the conditions it’s one that can be excused.

Midfield was one of the most pleasing areas of the team on Sunday where Noel McGrath brought all his innate hurling brain to bear and Michael Breen chipped in with six points from play. With Brendan Maher set to return there are options available for midfield or half back.

A forward line that shoots up 1-29 away to Cork deserves credit. Jason Forde got the TV man-of-the-match award. Few will quibble. Apart from the excellence of his free taking his general play was also back to last year’s level. Niall O’Meara too was excellent, ‘Bubbles’ maintained recent impressions of a return to top form and likewise John McGrath is improving by the game. Jake Morris too showed some delightful touches and ‘Bonner’ was the most prominent of the subs introduced.

We’ve been commenting a lot on referees lately. On this occasion Tipperary could have no complaints with the Kilkenny official. In fact we definitely got the ‘breaks’ in this area. It made for a welcome change. Now, if only that would happen in a tight game!

Once Tipperary prevailed all attention turned to Wexford Park and the hope for a clear result there – a draw between Wexford and Kilkenny would have eliminated us from the ‘quarters’. There was a clear verdict alright and perhaps not the one some expected with Davy’s crew pulling off a notable win. It was enough to get us through on score differential with the added bonus of a home ‘quarter’ against the Dubs.

Not having to go to Dublin is a definite advantage though I wouldn’t over-egg the idea of the Dubs as a favourable draw. They’ll come to Semple Stadium with strong credentials having topped section 1B including a win over Waterford; their only loss was to Galway. Mattie Kenny clearly has them moving nicely and Tipperary will need to be on their guard.

The bookies see a gap alright. Tipperary are raging favourites at odds of 2/9 with Dublin available at 4/1.

We met at Croke Park in the corresponding quarter-final last year when Tipperary’s favouritism was even stronger – 1/14 against 8/1 for the Dubs. However, after ten minutes we trailed nine-one. It was an unnerving opening. Eventually we recovered, a John McGrath goal helping the team to a four point interval lead, though by then Ronan Maher was on the sideline after two yellow cards. In the end it all came good as the side eased to a 2-25 to 0-20 win in the second half.

The present Dublin side, I’d suggest, is a different proposition. Mattie Kenny took over from Pat Gilroy last November and thus far he seems to have brought a new impetus to the team. They’ll come to Thurles with serious intent and I don’t see the gap as wide as the odds suggest, even if we’ll still expect to get through. In a further repeat of last year a win on Saturday will set up another semi-final with Limerick.

There will, as ever, be much interest in the team Sheedy and company selects for the job. So far he has been conservative in his team selections with only a few of last year’s U21s getting game time. Hopefully Jason Forde’s injury isn’t serious – that would be a huge blow at this stage.

Given our league experiences in past seasons some people are lukewarm about the competition and the value of getting to the final. I disagree. The best boost that Tipperary hurling could get ahead of the championship is winning a league final. Go for it.

Elsewhere the ongoing decline in Offaly hurling has drawn much comment in GAA circles. Their defeat to Carlow in last weekend’s relegation battle was yet another staging post in a downward spiral. They’ve now dipped out of the top twelve and will next year ply their trade in the company of Kerry, Antrim, Meath, Mayo and Wicklow.

For hurling folk everywhere it’s a sad decline. Their teams of the ‘80s and ‘90s brought great novelty and excitement to the sport. With the hurling family is so small to begin with it’s unbearable to be losing any branches. Yet, as Donal Og Cusack pointed out on ‘The Sunday Game’, the ‘80s and ‘90s were an aberration for Offaly, so their present fate is a return to their traditional status. True – but sad nonetheless.

In the first round of the league in January 2018 Offaly defeated Dublin by 2-25 to 1-15. It was a result that brought an exaggerated, knee-jerk reaction from some Offaly pundits who saw it as a breakthrough, the heralding of a new era under one of their own, manager Kevin Martin. In the process they felt free to castigate others who’d managed the county, including Martin’s immediate predecessors, Eamon Kelly and Conor Gleeson.

They should have paused for further evidence before lunging in on the basis of a one-hit wonder on January 27 2018. Their comments were unwise and unfair as history has now shown.

 

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