Westside Column 16 March 2018

 

WESTSIDE

 

Winning your ‘home’ games in the league is often seen as the best route to follow and Tipperary certainly exemplified that philosophy this year. They may have forfeited the ‘away’ games but they ‘nailed’ the Stadium ones and the net result now is a table-topping position and a quarter-final date with fourth-placed Dublin from division 1B.

It was an uncomfortable win in the final round of the competition. Cork should have been clobbered in this one but we left them in the contest and had to sweat out the final tense moments before taking away a three-point win. Doing things the easy way doesn’t appear to be in our DNA.

Joanne Cantwell on ‘Allianz League Sunday’ quoted a figure of fifty scoring chances being created by Tipperary. I didn’t keep tabs but it’s easy to see where that figure comes from. We hit twenty-five scores and an incredible twenty wides. Add in some amazing saves by Anthony Nash plus a few other stifled opportunities and you can easily see where she got that figure of fifty.

It’s an incredible statistic. Fifty scoring opportunities is a rate of around one for every eighty seconds. By contrast Cork hit twenty-two scores but had a mere six wides; that’s economy. Then Brian Hogan hadn’t a shot of note to stop apart from a few lobs, which he coped with efficiently.

And yet … and yet … There we were deep in injury time protecting a fragile lead as Cork reeled off the last four scores of the match. Fortunately it wasn’t a day when the rebels threatened goals and we held out for a win that should have been so much easier.

In this regard, at least, Anthony Daly was correct on Sunday night: we lack that ruthless streak to ‘bury’ opponents when we’re dominating.

There is often a defining moment in games where one team takes a decisive edge and drives home from there. That moment should have come with Billy McCarthy’s goal twenty minutes into the second half. It was a match highlight. He collected possession out on the ‘forty’ and just streaked through the defence. One little shimmy as he appeared to be setting up for the strike caused his chaser to adjust for the hook. It was enough to give the Sarsfields man a step on his follower and then the finish was emphatic as it needed to be against a stopper of Nash’s caliber.

That surely was the signal for Tipperary to put this game away. They were now seven-up and needed to turn the screw. Instead we let Cork back into the contest as they chipped away with points.

There was another chance to close out Cork when Sean Curran was set up but again Nash or the crossbar of a combination of both denied a goal. In the follow-up Michael Breen was blocked. There’s a message here for the Ballina man. Against Kilkenny he had a chance to grab a leveler but was a bit static and got blocked. Again on Sunday he was static on that effort. The old coaching manuals would always stress the need to strike on the move which is so much more difficult to defend against.

In fairness to Michael Breen he came tantalisingly close on an earlier opportunity when he did everything right. This time he was hunted down by a posse of defenders and when his initial attempt was baulked he followed up with a one-handed swipe that brought an astonishing foot save from Anthony Nash.

All those near misses plus all the wides meant that this game stayed tight at the end and gave John Meyler more comfort in post-match interviews than he should have had.

As a game it won’t burden the memory. The tempo was pedestrian enough at times, the intensity level some gears below what one might have expected.

Cork hit an early blow with Pat Horgan’s clinically dispatched penalty. It came from a high fetch by Alan Cadogan at the end of a Bill Cooper delivery. The forward lunged towards the goal and the ground and from some distance the referee decided to award the penalty. Reviewing it on TV afterwards it was difficult to see what the defence did illegally though in real time these aren’t easy calls. A lot less excusable was a later whistle for a Cork free after two of their players collided.

Anyway Tipperary recovered very promptly from that setback reeling off the next few points. It all developed into an interesting contest. Cork seemed intent on this running game but Tipperary worked busily to counteract it. Jason Forde immediately lived up to pre-match billing, winning and pointing some quality scores. Barrett was well involved at midfield and ‘Bonner’ was once more at the coalface of most of the action.

But those damned wides continued to undo much of the good work and Cork stayed closer than their efforts deserved. Alan Cadogan was emerging as a real threat in attack but mostly they were reliant on Pat Horgan frees for scores.

The second half was certainly more eventful. Tipperary’s radar stayed on the blink and the goal chances stayed out. Donagh Maher was finding Cadogan a real handful and eventually gave way to Mickey Cahill. Still there was a lack of cutting drive in the Cork attack, which always seemed happy with popping points instead of drilling for goals. Substitute, Luke Meade, tapped over a pair and it was enough to keep this contest very tight.

In the end Tipp held out. One aerial fetch by Paudie Maher was a big lift; goalie, Hogan, too handled safely at a time when any wobble could have been critical. Cian Darcy came in for Billy McCarthy and Mark Russell for an off-form John McGrath.

When it comes down to individual credits it’s something of a mixed bag for Tipperary. Goalie Hogan wasn’t tested but was solid on the routine stuff. The race for number one remains a live issue.

Donagh Maher’s game this spring has hit some bumpy parts. He certainly found Eoin Cadogan hot to handle, though in fairness the Cork man is a tricky opponent any day. Alan Flynn continues to make a favourable impression and Ronan Maher was back to where most feel he’s best suited. Barry Heffernan divides opinion, good in parts but often not staying the pace.

The experiment of playing Cathal Barrett at midfield goes on though ultimately he may be needed more on that full back line.

Forde and ‘Bonner’ were the key men in attack on a day when John McGrath looked very lethargic. Michael Breen continues to play a significant part and Sean Curran’s industry is always a plus factor. That Billy McCarthy goal will boost his confidence considerably, his pace a welcome addition, one that has surprised many.

And so we head off to Dublin on Sunday for a quarter-final clash with Pat Gilroy and company. Memories of a friendly (questionable term?) earlier in the spring won’t be lost on the Tipperary side who are forewarned of the potential abrasiveness of this Dubs outfit. Our two previous visits to Parnell Park ended in defeat so this is one to correct that record. We’ve won six of our last ten meetings with the Metropolitans, losing three and drawing one. Historically our record against the sky blues is impressive; out of 34 previous meetings we’ve won 21, lost 9 and drawn 4.

As ever it will be interesting to see which fifteen is chosen to take the field on Sunday. The puzzling starts immediately with goalkeeping duties; all three have decent claims so one wonders will the rotation policy continue.

Mickey Cahill came on last Sunday and may well be in line for a start this time. James Barry too must be in the frame for a line where I’d expect some changes. The Mahers will likely be part of the half back line with competition for the number 5 jersey between Barry Heffernan and Seamus Kennedy. Paudie Feehan is tied up with Killenaule’s footballers.

I doubt if we’ll see major change at midfield or attack. Forde, ‘Bonner’, Breen and Curran are all likely to continue in the forwards. Thereafter the pressure may be on John McGrath to produce something better and maybe Billy McCarthy will again get the nod. Noel McGrath is unlikely to be fit to return and otherwise perhaps it’s time for ‘Bubbles’ to make an entrance, at least as part of the match day twenty-six.

Dublin and Pat Gilroy have had a testing spring time but played their best last Sunday against Laois. Tipperary will be expected to advance but the venue adds a complication that we’ll need to be ready for.

 

Finally, a follow-up to last week’s piece on the clubs and management teams being put in place for 2018. Carrick Swans, I understand, were slightly peeved about supplying the headline focus of the article and its emphasis on the challenges they face.

Their discomfort is understandable. Seeing the situation put in such stark terms can be dispiriting especially when you’re working hard to progress matters. The point, I suppose, is that Swans were simply taken as an example of the difficulties faced by many other clubs.

Take a club like Liam Sheedy’s Portroe for instance. This year they’re being managed by their own Dinny Hogan together with coach Tommy Guilfoyle from Feakle. The ex-Clare player did great work with Kickhams in former years. If Portroe go out of the North championship after a game or two then, like Swans, all they’re left with is the uninviting prospect of games against Loughmore, Borrisoleigh and Kiladangan. Not many would bet on them emerging from that group.

For their part Swans are important upholders of senior hurling in Carrick-on-Suir since Davins were relegated. Passionate and progressive, they’ve embarked on an ambitious development programme on Ballyrichard Road. When completed their facilities will be the envy of many.

They face challenges, like many others, but I wouldn’t be counting them out. Last year they won South senior and U21 ‘A’ hurling titles and I doubt if Killenaule will be assuming victory when the sides meet in April.

P.S. One important correction from last week: Ballingarry have pointed out that Kevin O’Sullivan (Cashel K.C.), and not Liam Cahill, has been appointed manager for 2018. It’s a correction I’m happy to make.

 

 

 

olumn 16 March 2018

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