Westside Column 23 February 2018

Westside Column:

 

 

It was a stiff challenge alright before ‘Bonner’ finally slammed the door shut on Wexford’s revival. The two league points ease the pressure on Tipperary ahead of a distinctly awkward trip to Nowlan Park on Sunday next with depleted resources.

Goals at one end and escapes at the other were essential parts of the script. Tipperary’s economy contrasted Wexford’s wastefulness.

It was an important result for Tipperary and briefly put us top of the table before Clare on Sunday leapfrogged to the summit on the back of their win over Cork. The table has taken some shape though much can change in the final two rounds.

Wexford were always going to bring a stubborn challenge to Semple Stadium. Both they and Clare are probably ahead of others in the fitness stakes at this stage and league results thus far reflect that reality. It was a typically robust Wexford challenge full of brawn and brio; a little more finesse at the attacking end and the outcome could well have been different.

We started poorly, four-one down after just six minutes, Paudie Feehan’s giveaway point to Kevin Foley symptomatic of our uncertainty. But we soon steadied the ship and the first goal offered a real boost, Sean Curran whipping the centre across where Jason Forde’s one-handed lift and two-handed strike was cheered to the rafters.

Already it was shaping up to a sturdy contest, ‘Bonner’ taking a heavy frontal hit from Liam Ryan. Wexford did a lot of fouling and Forde has been impressing in this department since taking over the role from Callanan.

Yet, shortly after our opening goal there came a sharp reminder of Wexford’s potential. Our defence was drawn outfield and the pass inside found Lee Chin ahead of the chasers.  Barry Heffernan had little option but to pull him down and Aidan Nolan beat Mooney on the penalty.

Still, that setback aside, we were showing commendable work rate all over. We won the second quarter of the match by eleven points to two. Forde’s free taking was impeccable and even defenders, Barry Heffernan and Donagh Maher, put their names among the scorers. Wexford’s sweeper was mostly being bypassed.

The third quarter sustained the trend. Wexford made some inroads early on but then Forde had his second goal after being fed by John McGrath from a breakdown when Mooney drove a long free into the goal area.

At eight-up it might (should?) have been a smooth passage from there. But it wasn’t. Wexford showed deep determination and, under pressure, Tipp began to pump aimless ball forward.  Lee Chin became a major threat and their movement and pace had us stretched. Several times our defence looked at breaking point, one pass away from a major breach. Even when the defence was beaten Mooney made a pair of incredible reflex saves. The home fans shuffled uneasily.

From our second goal to injury-time, a period of twenty-seven minutes, Wexford outscored Tipperary by ten points to five as the lead dwindled alarmingly. Substitute Billy McCarthy hit a precious point and will be annoyed not to have landed a second when set up by club mate Paudie Maher. A Forde sideline ‘cut’ was uplifting too and even more stirring was a Paudie Maher flag at the end of a frantic passage of play where possession alternated several times.

It all came down to a memorable finale. Two minutes into injury time with the lead standing at four points Darragh Mooney made the second of his saves turning out a point-blank shot from Conor McDonald. Lee Chin pointed the ‘65’ and it was still ‘squeaky bum’ time for the locals. Fittingly it was ‘Bonner’ who closed it all out with a late run-in and goal sealing the deal.

A six-pointer it may have been but it wasn’t comfortable. Wexford can feel unlucky. A little more nuance in attack and they could have picked our pockets for goals that would likely have swayed the day. Tipperary was more clinical and that made all the difference.

‘Bonner’s return to form was undeniably a match highlight. He’s been subdued recently but this was a return to his marauding best. For Jason Forde too it was another major lodgment to his credit account. Perhaps at last he’s beginning to embrace the faith we have in his great ability.

There were other bright sides for Tipperary too. The goalie position remains a point of debate, an issue that’s unlikely to be resolved definitively any time soon. This time it’s Mooney to take the centre ground.

I like what we’ve seen from Paudie Feehan thus far. He endured provocation on Saturday but seemed unruffled by it all putting in another strong display for one so young and new to the scene. Barry Heffernan’s display was a bit like the curate’s egg, good in spots, though in his favour he was shackled with Wexford’s best player for much of the night.

Otherwise there were mixed reviews. Individually the defenders did fine though collectively the cover was at breaking point too often. We don’t even bother praising Paudie Maher at this stage, he just robotically turns in powerful displays week on week. Ronan had a quiet day at midfield and Michael Breen’s impact in attack remains problematic. Billy McCarthy looked the brightest of the replacements.

Next Sunday’s trip to Nowlan Park will revive so many recent memories though neither side is likely to be at full stretch. The Fitzgibbon Cup final on Saturday keeps players like John McGrath, Jason Forde, Barry Heffernan and Kilsheelan’s Paul Maher busy and unlikely to be called upon. When you add those to the list of injuries the depletion is major.

An elbow infection kept Mickey Cahill sidelined on Saturday so perhaps he’ll be ready for a return this time. Niall O’Meara too looks set to resume and I expect Cathal Barrett to be called upon also. The case of ‘Bubbles’ remains curious, out of favour and sidelined since the start of the year; maybe this would be a day to test his mettle?

Interestingly Kildangan’s Willie Connors and Lorrha’s Eoin McIntyre have been added to the panel; both impressed when playing in that challenge against Waterford recently. Eoin is a son of Aidan and nephew of John. He never featured on Tipperary underage sides, which is a reminder of how fluid Michael Ryan and company keep this panel. Nobody is pre-judged and anyone who shows form can get the phone call.

Our historical record against Kilkenny in league games is pretty even: played 69, won 32, lost 30 and drew 7. Narrow it down to the last ten meetings, however, and the digits are less favourable: won 3, lost 6 and drew 1. We haven’t won in Nowlan Park since 2008. On that occasion it was a semi-final ahead of our league win over Galway, the last to come to the county.

Here’s an interesting oddity from our league record against Kilkenny. What is it about the score total 2-17? In five of the last eight meetings between the counties one or other of the teams scored 2-17 – and it was never a losing total.

Anyway given the player depletion for Sunday it could be a tough day at the office. A win isn’t an absolute imperative but it would be sweet. In its absence, and depending on other results, everything could ride on the final game v. Cork at the Stadium.

Sadly Cashel CS’s brave effort to bring home a Munster title fell tantalisingly short on Saturday last at Clonmel. In the face of adversity they put in a stubborn resistance and were luckless in the end to be pipped by CBS Mitchelstown.

Unfortunately there’s little space to give recognition to these lads for whom I’ve great regard. They were stung by an instant goal on the throw-in when James Keating stole a march on a defence that had yet to settle. His marker John Ryan came out with the next ball and overall did well on one of Mitchelstown’s key players keeping him scoreless from play in the second half.

That poor start hurt Cashel and they struggled to find traction in the opening half, trailing by four at the interval. A really gutsy performance in the second half saw them eventually go ahead on an Eoghan Connolly free only to be stung immediately by the concession of an unfortunate goal. The ‘keeper needn’t torture himself over that one; I’ve seen seasoned goalies get caught by similar ones which dip just under the crossbar.

They went four-down again at that stage but once more rallied heroically. A James Kirby point eventually leveled matters approaching the final minute of normal time. In the end a soft free gave Mitchelstown the winner. There was a late award to Cashel but it was a real long shot – literally – and Eoghan Connolly was just wide on that one.

It was a luckless day for sure where no break went Cashel’s way either in general play or in refereeing calls. They disputed it admirably throughout. Eoghan Connolly is one to watch in the future. Ross Bonner took a few of the best scores of the day. They deserved better but sport can often be cruel.

 

 

 

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