WESTSIDE COLUMN 20 JULY2012.

It was a blue-and-gold weekend for sure with footballers and hurlers delivering in some style. A double-delight by the Lee – our first since 2001 – was the perfect outcome from Sunday’s programme. No goal fest this time from the seniors, instead a more modest delivery of a widely predicted outcome. Not exactly intoxicating but still a flavoursome seven-up to give the county its fortieth provincial and, more importantly, clear the decks for an August 19 All Ireland semi date with either Limerick or Kilkenny.
The minors too played their part in the occasion with a strong first half and a slightly more laboured second being enough to see off Clare. For the teenagers also the prize is a shorter route to an August All Ireland semi.
It was a good Munster final but not a great one, to quote a Dunphy-ism. Perhaps it was the poor attendance or the greyness of the weather but somehow the occasion seemed to lack that electricity we associate with classic Munster finals. The widespread expectation that Tipp would be too strong probably lent the occasion a certain air of inevitability also.
Some of us were uncomfortable with this advance assumption that Tipperary would slice through Waterford without undue bother and it didn’t take long for that unease to be justified. As has been our pattern this season we were slow off the blocks and soon three adrift as Waterford settled better. The opening goal then was worth much more than its nominal value as it undid the Deise’s early work and settled our nerves. It also had an air of familiarity about it as ‘Bonner’ cut through before laying off to Johnno in a carbon copy of the Corbett/ McGrath manoeuvre against Cork.
From there Tipperary played a steadier game. Mullane popped up for a few trademark points and there was one dangerous encroachment by Maurice Shanahan, which brought Cummins into action to deflect out for a ‘65’. Otherwise though Tipperary were beginning to look the part. Johnno had another pot at goal which was well saved – he later hit the side netting – and Corbett was looking menacing too. Lar’s best chance was squandered when he unwisely off loaded to a crowded out O’Brien. Factor in a series of bad wides from Tipperary and you can see the trend of the play.
And yet by half time Waterford had pared away the lead to retire on level terms, Maurice Shanahan mostly on target at this stage – later he’d mislay his pathfinder to goal. After Mullane’s points early on our defence firmed up with Cahill settling into his finest performance for some time. Conor O’Brien too was getting the timing right and doing a neat job so that our pre-match worries about that inner defence were soon allayed. Outside them there was a strong performance by Thomas Stapleton and Maher was busy too on the other wing. Only O’Mahony, untypically, was struggling in defence against Seamus Prendergast.
But it was in attack where our most exciting prospects were evident with Johnno having a powerful half and Corbett always appearing to be just one move away from a major breach. Pa Bourke didn’t survive the half, perhaps unluckily but it’s an indication of our reserve strength in attack that you get short shrift if you’re not impacting. Kelly came on just before half time and by game’s end would have well justified the move.
Still as we pondered over the opening half there was an acceptance that this game was still very much in the ‘to-be-decided’ category. Conditions were difficult after the rain but the game had settled into quite a tussle. Waterford had clearly exorcised the nightmare of a year ago and Tipp had a real battle on their hands.
The third quarter saw Tipperary consolidate their position. Defence got even tighter, Cahill and O’Brien now really excelling. Padraic Maher was again prominent at half back, the midfield was holding its own and the attack was threatening another major breach. Kelly out of nothing came close early in the half off a half chance which goalie O’Keeffe did well to keep out. ‘Buggy’ pointed from out on the right wing, Noel McGrath and John O’Brien followed up with others and then a sign of the day’s fortune when Michael Cahill hit his first championship point.
The Tipp management clearly has a very proactive attitude to substitutions this year and so Shane Bourke entered for ‘Buggy’ O’Meara. Then a modest Tipp lead was soon consolidated on the game’s second goal. Brendan Maher won a free at midfield and when Kelly’s effort dropped short the ball broke out for Bourke to dispatch the ground shot to the net. At five up Tipperary were now firmly in charge and there would be no rally from the Deise.
With our defence in stubborn mood and Cummins on his game Waterford found progress difficult. In fairness wayward shooting hampered their efforts considerably, Maurice Shanahan eventually replaced by Eoin Kelly as free taker. Amazingly they’d manage a mere five points from the second half, just a paltry two from play. In truth once Mullane wasn’t calling the shots that forward line lacked any cutting edge and I suspect that will be a worry for them in the quarter-final against Cork.
It wasn’t all smooth sailing for Tipperary either and there were patches in that second half where our half forwards particularly found possession elusive. From puck-outs and broken play our tactic was mainly the long ball and Kevin Moran and company were returning most of them with interest. We’ll need a more thoughtful approach for Kilkenny, if that’s not being too dismissive of Limerick.
For this occasion it was sufficient unto the day. A few half breaks threatened more goals but again Lar took a wrong option and when ‘Bonner’ tore through he was grounded by ‘Brick’ Walsh just outside the area. But Shane Bourke had brought a renewed energy to the attack, one chase and block on Tony Browne exemplifying the input. And Eoin Kelly too showed he’s anything but a spent force popping another point as we drifted into the comfort zone with the game petering out.
After the flamboyance of last year’s Munster final we’re on a different flight path this time, grafting out wins rather than embellishing them. In successive games now we’ve started slowly only to eventually grind out results when it really mattered. One senses that Declan Ryan has it right when he suggests that we’re still not at full throttle, still not playing to maximum potential. Hopefully that will come by August.
Still the team has improved game-on-game and there were major advances again last Sunday. Mickey Cahill’s return to form was surely one of the brightest items of the day and when you couple that with Conor O’Brien’s input (getting in crucial blocks and hooks) as well as steadier form by Curran then that inside line looks much more secure now. The return of Paddy Stapleton to contention increases options also as the crunch championship time approaches.
Half back too looks more secure now. It wasn’t O’Mahony’s best day but he has a proven pedigree and you can be sure will stand tall when the need is greatest. Beside him Thomas Stapleton has nailed down that wing back slot with another powerful input. I liked one particular first half cameo when Mullane broke inside Cahill and the wing back tracked back to get in a tackle. Mullane still pointed under pressure but it was reassuring to see Stapleton covering the ground to get back, which is a facet of his game that some worry about.
Midfield was adequate on Sunday where McGrath had individual items and Brendan Maher was more heavily involved.
The attack though is the shop window of this team. Corbett seems to be playing with great freedom since his return and those burst and flicks simply electrify the place every time he’s involved. He’s unusually shot-shy since his comeback, passing obsessively, but I’m sure that will even out as his decision making improves. With Lar on board we’re simply a different team because of the expansive dimension he brings to our play.
‘Bonner’ continues to pound his way through working slavishly as creator for the silkier skills of such as Noel McGrath and John O’Brien. ‘Buggy’ is another grafter and then you have such as Kelly and Shane Bourke to supplement it all when introduced. There’s a real cutting edge in that attack at the moment though getting the primary possession is still something that needs refinement.
From a Waterford perspective there were many positives too. Coming from the shadow of last year’s nightmare this was redemption of sorts. They’ll probably be outsiders now against Cork in the quarter-final but I’d certainly give them a decent chance in that game. Pauric Mahony was just back from injury and clearly not at peak sharpness; if he picks up form it will be a major boost because at the moment too much hangs on John Mullane in the forward line. Tony Browne got a very warm reception from all followers on his substitution – genuine hurling fans acknowledge great players whether they come from friend or foe. Incidentally I like the gracious manner of their manager who strikes me as a genuinely decent guy.
Our minors too deserve recognition for completing a fine double on the day. I won’t bluff about the first half because I missed it. A certain Loughmore man spotted me on entry and wouldn’t be impressed! Anyway the consensus at half time seemed to be that Tipperary were well in control and cruising to an easy win. Well it didn’t quite work out that way. Clare eat into our six point lead to a worrying extent and it was a nervy enough final quarter.
Eventually we did enough to stabilise matters and got home in the end by four but only after a few jittery moments. John McGrath played a significant role in it all; he’s a bright prospect who could well follow in the footsteps of brother Noel. I haven’t seen a lot of this minor side but they seem a well-balanced crew who play a smart brand of hurling. Always good to see the minors progressing because they represent the future and we haven’t had a winner in the grade since ’07. Kilsheelan\Kilcash will welcome putting the club name on the honours list through captain Bill Maher.
With a five week break now before the All Ireland semi-final I assume the clubs will be busy next weekend. I know the two West semis are on the agenda in any case but you’ll have to check the fixture list for details of these and other games countywide. Before all that happens the county U21s will have played Limerick midweek in the provincial semi-final at the Gaelic Grounds. It’s a Limerick side well stocked with senior panellists so I assume we’ll be outsiders to make the final. Still a side that beat Cork down by the Lee has to be made of stern stuff so I’m sure they’ll give it a lash.
P.S. Hopefully the wrecking ball now moves in to Pairc Ui Chaoimh because in its present guise it’s shameful to have followers enduring such primitive conditions.
P.P.S. Sunday’s attendance at the Munster final was yet another reminder to the Association of just how severely the economic crisis is impacting. There may have been other factors keeping fans away but I’ve no doubt that cost was number one. In the present environment we’re still over-pricing games.

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