Westside Column 2 June 2017

WESTSIDE

 

A week on from our Munster exit and the debate continues to rage about the nature of the display and the challenges now facing the team in the qualifiers.

For Michael Ryan, as manager, this is new territory. His maiden year as ‘bainisteoir’ had a few bumps and bruises during the league but once the championship kicked off it all fell neatly into place.

Now, however, he faces a different challenge, one that’s familiar to past Tipperary sides – how to follow-up. As a perceptive manager I’ve no doubt he’ll have gone through all the minutiae of this defeat in a bid to unlock answers. Finding solutions when form slips really is the toughest trade for any manager.

What’s extraordinary when you reflect back on the game is the fact that we could have sneaked a win despite all our difficulties. For example Cork won the puck-out count by 40-26. It might surprise some to read that they won 18 of their own puck-outs but 22 of Tipperary’s. Puck-outs are now regarded as an important platform for any team and we were hammered in that zone.

It’s quite extraordinary that we could still score 1-26 despite this obvious difficulty in winning primary possession. That score could have been much bigger if a few of those goal chances were finished. Perhaps it hints at the huge potential in our attack that such a score was amassed despite playing off very limited supply.

For Michael Ryan and his management team now the challenge is to work on these shortcomings. Winning primary possession is a fundamental of the game and without it a team is always going to be on the back foot.

Statistics tend to confirm our impressions as match viewers so it will come as no surprise to read that in the second half Tipperary played 29 balls into attack and won just seven of them. Worse still we won just two of the last fifteen when the match was still winnable. By then Seamie Callanan was ploughing a lone furrow, heavily outnumbered, leaving one to wonder where were the other Tipperary players.

‘Bubbles’, for instance, had an outstanding first half but what happened in the second half when he had just one single possession and never touched the ball after the 44 minute. Michael Breen, our best player on the day, had no possession from the 50 to the 71 minute.

And yet five minutes from the end we led by a point. It leads one to think that even a small swing in the statistical balance and the outcome would have been different. That’s probably the biggest plus for the management, the realization that we have major firepower in attack if we can get a few aspects together elsewhere.

Past failures to follow-up All Ireland wins has generally been attributed to a dodgy culture in the county. We celebrated too long and too well, got smug about our own abilities and let softness creep in. This time it’s generally accepted that Michael Ryan put a huge focus on changing that culture and the players seemed to respond appropriately.

Yet we’re still now facing another dip following an All Ireland win. So perhaps it’s something deeper that just culture, something more ingrained in our collective psyche which leaves us vulnerable and unable to follow up great achievements.

All is not lost yet, of course, because the qualifiers offer a path to redemption. We’re scheduled to play in the qualifiers on the weekend of July 1 so there’s time to re-focus and re-energise in defence of the All Ireland title.

Who are we likely to meet in the first round of those qualifiers? Munster will supply three teams to the qualifiers. Tipperary and the two losing provincial semi-finalists go into one pot. In the Leinster pot you have five teams. Westmeath, Dublin and Laois will be joined by the two losing provincial semi-finalists. That much so far is straightforward.

Then the winners of the Christy Ring Cup (Carlow or Antrim) will play a preliminary qualifier against one of the Leinster sides. That still leaves five on the Leinster side against three from Munster so to even up the draw one Leinster team will be switched into the Munster pool and four pairings will then be drawn to play-off.

Our first round qualifier opponents then will come from Westmeath, Dublin, Laois (all three already in the mix) or Offaly (likely losers to Galway) or Wexford (assuming they lose to KK). The nightmare draw would be that Wexford beat Kilkenny and we get the ‘cats’ in a repeat of 2013.

The four winners of the first round of the qualifiers will then play-off with no repeat pairings allowed. The two winners there qualify for All Ireland quarter finals against the beaten Munster and Leinster finalists.

It’s a long and winding road to Croke Park in September but that’s our lot following that defeat to Cork.

Meanwhile the club scene saw a glut of activity last weekend with some significant outcomes as situations become a little clearer in the groups.

I’d rank Clonoulty’s triumph over Drom/Inch on Sunday evening at the Stadium as probably the most notable outcome of the lot. It’s a win that came courtesy of a resounding second half display from the West side, a display that Drom couldn’t handle.

Approaching half time it looked ominous for the West men as they trailed by eight. Seamie Callanan was the main man in that half bagging two goals and hitting 2-5 in total as the Clonoulty defence struggled to contain him.

On the stroke of half time, however, Conor Hammersley offered some hope for the West with a smashing goal that left five between them at the interval. Even that, however, hardly foretold the second half transformation that materialised.

The raw match stats tell the story. Clonoulty outplayed Drom by 17 points to 6 in that second half hour. A single pointed free was all that Seamie Callanan could add to his first half total as he was shadowed by Joey O’Keeffe and starved of possession.

It was easily the most impressive thirty minutes I’ve seen from Clonoulty for many years. They dominated all over. Timmy Hammersley hit twelve points, three from play.

It must have been a particularly pleasant outcome for coach, Sean Prendergast, who last year was in the Drom camp. It was certainly a strong statement by the reigning West champions.

Clonoulty seem to have a neat blend of players this year. You have the long serving guys such as John Devane, John O’Keeffe, the Hammersleys and others mixed in with an impressive younger element. I was especially struck by the play of Dillon Quirke who seems to be developing well – one second half point was top-drawer. Jimmy Ryan also caught the eye in defence. It’s good to see John O’Neill back in action too this year and Sean Maher come on and made a significant impact at half forward.

This was a big scalp by the West men who will now top their group in the championship. Even if they lose to Portroe in the final game (unlikely) and Drom beat Ballina (likely) the West team will still top the section on the head-to-head.

In the other game at the Stadium on Sunday evening Borrisoleigh and Loughmore played out an exciting draw. The first half was a free-taking contest between John McGrath and Brendan Maher, which left the sides level at the interval.

All the drama and excitement was crammed into the final moments. With four minutes to play and his side trailing by a point Cian Hennessy raced through for a spectacular goal for Loughmore, one which seemed to swing the verdict in a tight contest.

Within seconds, however, Conor Kenny was slamming one home at the other end. Eventually Ciaran McGrath hit the leveler for Loughmore before we had more drama as Brendan Maher was just wide on a long-range free. Thankfully it ended level because neither deserved to lose. Brendan Maher was the stand-out player at centre back for Borrisoleigh.

Earlier in the day at Templemore I saw Sarsfields master Kilruane after a stiff test of their mettle. The North side stormed into an early lead with goals from Cian Darcy and ‘Buggy’ O’Meara but Sars’ gradually clawed their way back into it. Pa Bourke was set up for a goal and the reigning champions led by five at the interval.

To their credit Kilruane pushed hard in the second half and it was only in the closing minutes that Sarsfields got into a comfort zone. Four points by substitute, Tommy Doyle, was a very significant contribution to the seven-point margin.

Sarsfields’ overall strength and spread of scorers was too much for Kilruane for whom Niall O’Meara was well policed. Lar Corbett still plays a useful role in this Sarsfields side hitting three points. They have classy players all over which makes them difficult to pin down at this level. They’re still the side to beat in this championship.

Finally there was disappointment for the West on Saturday evening as Kickhams fell to a heavy defeat at the hands of Holycross. It was tight enough in the opening half but veered very one-sided on the turn-over. Conceding soft goals at one end and failing to finish at the other proved very costly for Kickhams. Darragh Woods was top scorer for a Mid side minus Cathal Barrett; Liam Moloney too was impressive.

The result means that Holycross have won that group and second place will be decided when Kickhams face Lorrha later. It looks like the West side could be facing another relegation battle.

 

 

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