Westside Column 2 March 2018

WESTSIDE

 

In a piece in last Sunday’s match programme Enda McEvoy referenced Nowlan Park as a Temple of Doom for Tipperary hurling. The words echoed painfully as we left for home on Sunday evening.

It was another tantalising, tormenting one-point defeat, the latest in a long string of such experiences for Tipperary hurling fans.

It’s a decade now since we came away winners from a league game against Cody in the Marble City. Nobody from Sunday’s team sheet was part of the action that day back in April 2008. Sunday was our sixth visit to the venue to play the locals in the league since ’08 and the record will now show six played and six lost.  It’s a frustrating statistic.

This one grates particularly because it was winnable – or at least ‘drawable’. Michael Breen had a chance at the end but was a bit static on the shot and got blocked down. We deserved a draw, at least, but sometimes you don’t get what you deserve in sport.

There was of course much to admire. After an indecisive first half we shipped two heavy blows early in the second period with those Kilkenny goals, pushing them seven-up. The response was admirable. Substitute, Mark Russell, had Joey Holden bothered and his physical presence played a major part in the first goal, booted home by Michael Breen. Then Breen did a solo take on the second powering through before finishing from a sharp angle.

It was ‘game on’ once again. We went two-up, lost it and had to come from two-down approaching the final call. But for some reason we can’t muster the fortitude to drive home in those final minutes. There was almost a sense of inevitability about Kilkenny’s winning point. Another great fetch by T.J. Reid – Donagh Maher a bit naïve under that dropping ball – and then the lay-off to Ritchie Leahy for the shoveled finish. They know how to do these things at the climax; we don’t.

It has to be acknowledged that Tipperary’s display was honest and brave and passionate throughout. We disputed everything stubbornly and had individual stars in the likes of Brendan Maher and Michael Breen as well as a super sub in Mark Russell. But the overall texture of our game wasn’t cohesive enough to get the job done.

Most people have been extolling the positives since the game; forgive me if I don’t join the sing-song. This was a chance for a morale-boosting victory and we came away losing – yet again.

Once the team was announced last Friday there was a sense that we were forfeiting this one in advance. Of course some of the changes were enforced through injury and the Fitzgibbon Cup, but others weren’t. We did the same going to Ennis back in January and paid the same price.

Panelists have to be given game time, for sure, but you do it in a measured, balanced way because always one eye has to be kept on winning. You could argue the case for leaving Paudie Maher and Noel McGrath on the sideline to begin with; not using them during the game is harder to justify. Was resting them such an imperative? Neither is burdened with college or club action at this time so I don’t see the absolute necessity. Could you imagine Cody in similar circumstances leaving, let’s say, Shefflin and Eddie Brennan on the bench?

Not reacting to T.J. Reid’s domination of James Barry in the opening half is another area where the management will face criticism. There were plenty of options in defence or even a recall of Ronan Maher from midfield where he was mostly peripheral to the action. Not reacting at all seemed strange.

Individually there were positives and negatives in defence. Darragh Mooney can’t be blamed for the two that whizzed past him and otherwise did the routine business well. Donagh Maher impressed apart from his role in the winning point and Alan Flynn continues to draw compliments. The centre of the defence, however, was problematic, with neither Barry nor Hamill having happy days.

Brendan Maher was superb at midfield; Ronan more marginal to the action.

In attack Michael Breen took the individual gong as top scorer; he certainly has strength and drive and knows how to score though there is a lobby of opinion which still sees the defence as his more natural zone. For work rate Sean Curran is never found wanting and included a few great high catches on Sunday. ‘Bonner’ couldn’t follow up on the Wexford showing with that vital first touch often deserting him.

Debutant Billy McCarthy can be happy with his contribution – a bit rushed and inexperienced at times but for a first-timer in Nowlan Park this wasn’t bad. Niall O’Meara has to be the most ill-fated player in the country. It was desperately sad to see him ship another serious-looking injury. Ger Browne has found it difficult to find his feet at this level and needs some time to develop his undoubted talents.

Both substitutions worked well. Mark Russell’s impact was certainly eye-catching and Cian Darcy looked lively and inventive too when introduced.

In a tight, one-point game, inevitably the refereeing and specific decisions will come under the microscope for analysis. For much of the game we got a decent break with the frees but a few instances were annoying. In the first half Kilkenny’s Paddy Deegan was penalised for over-carrying. I thought it was harsh at the time but on video review the ref got it absolutely right. Now here’s the worrying point: that incident happened near the Kilkenny management who weren’t slow to vent their fury. It was the last time the ref called a Kilkenny player for over-carrying. So you still think referees can’t be influenced?

It had relevance in the second half when Walter Walsh clearly over-carried while trying to pass Tossy Hamill and was still awarded a free. And what about Paddy Deegan again coming out towards to sideline near the end? He took about double the allotted steps and then met a strong shoulder from Brendan Maher. For his troubles he got a crucial free out. It was the worst decision of the game. Nor was the penalty award to Kilkenny the clearest call either. If we had a TMO I suspect it would not have been given as both players shared culpability in that particular wrestle.

Anyway, you can argue the bits and bobs of refereeing and management decisions and whatever else but ultimately we’re left now with a tricky situation on Sunday next where victory over Cork is essential. There are several permutations that may arise so the clearest way for Tipperary to view the game is to see it as a knock-out fixture where a win is needed to stay in contention for league honours. Theoretically we might lose and still qualify if three sides end on four points but otherwise we go out on the head-to-head with Cork. The worst case scenario will see us in a relegation dog-fight with Waterford.

Given the requirements of the occasion I expect Tipperary to revert back to a strong line-out. Cork have their own difficulties. Ironically they got off to a flier with victory over Kilkenny in their opening game but it’s been downhill ever since. Seamus Harnedy’s red card last week against Waterford is a serious blow coming on top of injury to Conor Lehane. In the circumstances we’ll be expected to prevail. I think we will.

Elsewhere Congress took place last weekend with a few items of interest emerging. Hurling is to follow football with the U21 grade being replaced by U20, though it’s unclear whether this will happen next year or in 2020. However, unlike the football situation, senior inter-county players will be allowed partake in the new grade. Why the difference? I suspect it’s related to hurling’s more limited pool of players though there is sense in the football situation where the U20 acts as a development squad for players who have yet to make the senior cut.

In other news the Jason Forde suspension from last year was the catalyst for change with the introduction of a new rule covering minor physical interference with a match official which carries a one-game ban. A Tipperary motion to define a melee as involving at least five people was defeated.

It will be recalled last year that Forde was initially charged with assault. When that was clearly seen as an outrageous exaggeration of what happened he was hit with a one-match ban for contributing to a melee. Clearly it was stretching linguistic boundaries to describe what happened as a melee either but Croke Park seemed determined to pin something on the player and this was the catch-all rule used – and used most unfairly.

Now they’ve introduced a rule to cover Forde’s situation. It’s a classic case of retrospectively introducing a rule to justify a past suspension. Croke Park, I’m afraid, behaved shamefully in the case of Jason Forde.

Finally our congratulations are due to John Costigan who was elected as one of the Trustees of the Association, a position which earns him a seat on the management committee. It’s a tribute to the man’s popularity. Incidentally one wonders will we have another Tipp man in high position when Pauric Duffy’s successor as Director General is shortly announced. Liam Sheedy is said to be on a short list for the top job. We await news on that one.

 

 

 

 

 

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