Westside Column 23 August 2019

WESTSIDE

 

O frabjous day! Lewis Carroll is credited with coining the phrase which suggests a combination of fabulous and joyous, feelings all Tipp folk were attuned to on Sunday evening last after the county secured title number 28 – and did it in some style.

It won’t enter the annals as an All Ireland classic – the fourteen point margin was too wide for that – but who cares. A terrific second half performance in particular from Tipperary left an entire county ecstatic. The hurt of previous defeats was easily forgotten as Seamus Callanan accepted the trophy and the strains of ‘Slievenamon’ rang out across Croke Park.

A third title in a decade rebalances the record significantly in our rivalry with Kilkenny. Played six finals (seven if you include the 2014 replay) and won three is a decent return against our great rivals. For Sheedy it’s two out of three in his head-to-head with Cody.

The manager and his entire cabinet will rightly take huge credit for the achievement. Sheedy’s second coming was a major gamble, one that took conviction and courage. Yet he embraced it with characteristic passion, carefully assembled his backroom team and created the environment for the players to prosper.

Along the way there were ups and downs – the Munster final the biggest downer of the lot – but ultimately the highest peak was conquered and that’s what will outlive all else.

Management is all about decision making and the stamp of great management is when those calls are got right. Sheedy excelled in this department.

The choice of Seamus Callanan as captain surprised some but ultimately proved an inspired decision. The free-taking became a bit problematic but once that issue was resolved in favour of Jason Forde the full forward really blossomed in his leadership role. He became a goal machine, the go-to man in attack who spread fear in all defences. He scored 7-16 from play before Sunday’s final and then added another 1-1 as well as a pointed free against Kilkenny.

In other areas too Sheedy and company pressed all the right buttons. Repositioning Noel McGrath to midfield during the league proved a masterstroke that has paid rich dividends for the team. The Loughmore man is now among the favourites to become hurler of the year.

In other areas too there were issues to be resolved. Brian Hogan became the number one choice goalie and has by now firmly established himself in that role. There were defensive issues too so Barry Heffernan and Seamus Kennedy stepped up with outstanding results last Sunday.

In our euphoria around last Sunday let’s not forget the early difficulties. The opening twenty minutes or so was uneasy viewing for Tipperary fans. Kilkenny were having the better of it. They were scrapping better for every ball, getting the majority of the breaks and Tipperary were struggling for traction in the game. Reid’s frees gradually took them into a lead that would eventually stretch out to five points. For twenty five minutes a Michael Breen point was our solitary score from play. Thankfully Jason Forde was faultless on frees and ‘65s’.

It was worrisome and would have been even worse if Kilkenny divined a goal in that period. They came very close early on when John McGrath did superbly to track back and hook Colin Fennelly on the edge of the ‘square’.  There were untypical Kilkenny wides too so everything considered we might have slipped eight or nine behind, which would have changed the complexion of the game significantly.

Our short puck-outs were problematic also as Tipperary looked a bit jumpy early on. Barry Heffernan and Seamus Kennedy got caught on occasions though both would redeem themselves spectacularly later in the game.

Against that we should have had a penalty after eight minutes when Callanan was clearly inside the large area when upended. A twenty meter free was poor consolation.

In this opening quarter Tipperary were definitely struggling to gain a foothold in the game. Our inside forwards were seeing very little of the ball though the defence was holding up reasonably well with Brendan Maher on T.J. Reid and Ronan Maher policing Colin Fennelly.  Noel McGrath was already heavily involved in everything that was happening.

I’ve no doubt the tide was turning before Richie Hogan was dismissed. Paudie Maher switched over on Walter Walsh and gradually we started getting more grip on the game. Then came what, for me, was the real turning point.

A huge catch by Paudie initiated a move that eventually led to Niall O’Meara going on that swiveling run, turning the defender this way and that before firing home a cracking goal. Some Kilkenny fans were critical of Eoin Murphy but viewing the strike later on video I don’t think the goalie had much chance with a shot that flew off the wet surface.

It was a massive score in the context of that opening half. Suddenly after appearing to be in some difficulty we now had impetus. Forde followed up with a ‘65’ and we led for the first time. The terms of engagement had shifted.

The red card for Richie Hogan was an item of controversy but the video evidence has surely put to bed any doubts. It was a black and white red, if you’ll excuse the colour blending. The equivocation that we listened to later from the likes of Shefflin and Tyrrell was shameful. These paid pundits need to be told to bring some objectivity into studio. The most despicable of the lot was Tyrrell’s attempt to put blame on Cathal Barrett for supposedly making a meal of it. This was similar to the Eddie Brennan dig at Paudie Maher following the dismissal of a Laois player in the quarter-final and it’s the type of guff that needs to be called out. In civil society blaming the victim is decried; it should be similar in sport.

Ironically, at half time the chat among Tipperary fans was peppered with concern over the dismissal. A sending off is often a rallying item for a team where deep defiance is churned up and players reach new levels of motivation. Wasn’t that the case with Tipperary against Wexford?

However, in this instance it never happened. In the past Kilkenny have often blitzed teams on the restart of games but now it was Tipperary’s time to turn the screw. Reid leveled with a free but then Callanan did what he’s been doing all year. John McGrath’s effort was half blocked but the full forward courageously pounced on the break to poke home his eight goal of the season. It wasn’t the most stylish of his goals but it was one of the most critical.

The Tipperary adrenaline was new really pumping as all sectors of the team drove into the game. The defence was now outstanding, Barrett sweeping like a new broom, Paudie, Ronan, Heffernan and Kennedy lording it. The exhibition of aerial fetching was a sight to behold, a feature not normally associated with Tipperary teams. Every ball was attacked with confidence, every clearance directed with purpose. Noel McGrath remained the essential link man, the playmaker, retreating back to collect short puck-outs, spraying passes this way and that and rarely sending one astray.

Within five minutes of Callanan’s goal we had the third of the day, this time the Drom man turning supplier to ‘Bubbles’ whose control and first-time finish was brilliant. Kilkenny was on the rack, Tipp’s confidence soaring.

And yet Sheedy continued to patrol the sideline, roaring encouragement and ensuring there was no slackening. To their credit Kilkenny would keep battling so Tipperary needed to be ruthless and relentless. It’s what Kilkenny would have done if the roles were reversed.

The players were clearly now enjoying the occasion as the defence continued to dominate. Hogan would keep a clean slate, one brave block by Paudie on Walter Walsh particularly noteworthy. There would be a few scrambles around the goal area too but Tipperary was unyielding.

Keep the scoreboard ticking over now and play out time, was the motto. We did just that. Substitutes arrived and like the semi contributed handsomely to the effort, Ger Browne, Mark Kehoe, Jake Morris and Willie Connors all getting on the score card. By the end it was all tensionless and emphatic. Glory, glory hallelujah!

The architects of this day of days were many in a truly ensemble effort. Noel McGrath got the individual gong on ‘The Sunday Game’ for his masterly manipulation of the play. It was surely a career peak for the maestro. His skill and vision is peerless.

At the defensive end Ronan Maher was majestic as he’s been all year. Barry Heffernan earned new respect from this column for his high fielding and intelligent deliveries. Seamus Kennedy had become something of a forgotten man of Tipperary hurling since 2016 but here we saw just what we’d been missing. Like Heffernan he was outstanding. Likewise with Paudie and Brendan – is it ever otherwise with these guys. Barrett was the perfect choice for sweeper with his positional sense and that sidestep that takes him away from opponents.

They were heroes all. Michael Breen an able accomplice to Master McGrath at midfield. In attack John McGrath had a major input this time, his work rate immense. ‘Bubbles’ too embellished the occasion with some extraordinary touches – an artist of the game. Niall O’Meara will rarely score a more precious goal. Forde too delivered and Dan McCormack made his input to a memorable occasion.

The impacting substitutes represent the future, which at the moment looks bright.

Speaking of which leads on nicely to next Saturday’s U20 decider at the Gaelic Grounds. The senior win will have given enhanced impetus to Liam Cahill’s team but this is a very tricky assignment. There may be echoes of 2010 but this Cork outfit is in a different league to the Galway team that Tipperary crushed nine years ago.

Probably the worst thing to happen this U20 side was the runaway win over Wexford in the semi-final. That’s not the preparation you need for a final because regardless of the warnings from the management a softness can seep into the side.

Cork will be dangerous opponents with massive motivation given what happened last year and also in the recent Munster final. It should be a battle royal where hopefully Tipperary’s present mood will carry Jake, Jerome and the lads through. Good luck to them.

P.S. I was shocked to hear of the unexpected passing of Micheal Crowe, Clonoulty, at the weekend. He worked as gate checker at many games over the years, always a friendly presence, anxious to chat and interested in collecting match programmes. I brought him a programme from the championship game in Ennis but never got to deliver it. Peace to his kind soul and our sympathies to the family.

P.P.S. Delighted to hear that Pat and his fellow keepers of the peace at Mountjoy still seek out this column every week. Hope they enjoyed Sunday whatever about the contents herein.

 

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