Westside Column 23 October 2020

WESTSIDE

 

As the country slips into lockdown the inter-county scene opens up. For now, at least we have on-field action, though in the present environment news an hour old can be old news. Things change at a pace that makes speculation pointless.

The government has left the fate of the inter-county season in the hands of the GAA, so Croke Park now faces a judgment call. Whether or not to persevere with the championships at a time of general lockdown is a difficult decision with plenty critics ready to jump on the bandwagon either way.

I suspect the senior grade will proceed though there may be a longer debate regarding minor and U20. The timing has been unlucky from the GAA’s perspective with this move to level 5 restrictions coming just as the playing action resumed. A week or two earlier and it might have been easier to call a halt.

One area where Croke Park needs to bring clarity is the club scene. At the moment club action is paused but not cancelled. Some units of the association, like the Mid division in Tipperary for example, have taken a decision to cancel their senior and intermediate championships. It makes sense not to have clubs training indefinitely and incurring costs for competitions that may or may not resume.  A decree from Jones Road might not be universally cheered but it would bring certainty to a very uncertain situation.

Anyway, the inter-county games kicked off last weekend and it was a profitable launch for Tipperary with minors and U20s clearing the first hurdles. The minors were in cruise control from the second quarter onwards but the U20s left it until the second half to hit the after burners against visiting Clare.

It was a strange two-half game at a damp Semple Stadium on Monday evening. Tipperary were hot favourites but Clare were the hot ones in the opening half. They were full of running and energy and just seemed to ruffle the home side into errors and poor judgment.

The second quarter particularly saw Clare take control with big games from the likes of full forward, Mark Rodgers, and winger Cian Galvin, the Anthony Daly protégé. They were surer of touch and smarter with the ball and had Tipperary looking second rate at that stage. We were losing midfield, dangerous ball was getting through to the Clare attack and eventually they strode clear.

We could be grateful that Aaron Browne stood firm to deny Robin Mounsey midway through the half after he was put through with a lovely little pop pass from Rodgers. The shot wasn’t great but the goalie still had to hold his nerve. At the other end Aaron’s cousin, Devon Ryan, set up Andrew Ormond for a chance which came back off the base of the post.

It was an eventful if low-scoring half. Andrew Ormond was the Tipperary star turn early on with some smart points but against that Gearoid O’Connor flapped at a few frees before he was relieved of the responsibility.

At half time it looked dodgy from a Tipperary perspective. We’d been outplayed to a significant extent in the second quarter and a major upset looked on the cards here. Four points wasn’t a huge deficit but it’s still a lot if you’re struggling in so many quarters.

Amazingly, however, Tipperary finally found their mojo on the restart. Conor Bowe announced the turnaround with two instant points. There was now more urgency in Tipperary’s play. Players were getting to the action in numbers, pressurising Clare, impeding the lay-offs that worked so well for the visitors in the first half.

All round Tipperary players lifted their play. We started winning midfield, Eoghan Connolly was mopping up at half back, the attack was now moving with menace, none more so than Moyne’s Conor Bowe. Devon Ryan was influential too and substitute Sean Ryan was adding to the resurgence also.

At the other end less and less ball was getting through to Rodgers and company. Twenty-six minutes would elapse before Clare hit their first point of the half. By then Tipperary had slotted 11 unanswered scores. It was a second half tour de force and Clare had no response.

In the end Tipperary’s resurgence was capped with the game’s only goal. Andrew Ormond was the offended player though looking at replays afterwards it was clear the foul occurred outside the large area. You get those breaks sometimes – often when they’re not essential to the outcome – and Devon Ryan took full advantage with an emphatic penalty strike.

From four-down at half time to a ten-point margin at the end was a spectacular turnaround. Add in 15 Tipperary wides and the fact that Clare mustered a mere two second half flags and you get an even deeper sense of the swing of fortune in this one.

The Tipp defence had problems in the first half but came to terms with the threat on the turnover once their team mates were winning outfield. As ever it’s a team sport so what happens at one end of the pitch has an influence elsewhere. Eoghan Connolly was a stronger presence in the second period, Eanna McBride did a lot of tidy work and I love the little flicks and blocks and general work rate that Johnny Ryan contributes.

The McCarthy/Maher midfield pair came good in the second period while in attack Conor Bowe was the stand out performer – an easy choice as man-of-the-match for TV. I’d rate Devon Ryan next to him in that department and thereafter Andrew Ormond. Of the replacements Sean Ryan and JD Devaney did best.

In summation then it was a mixed bag performance from Tipperary – poor in the first half, powerful in the second. Remember Clare were without a few big players so you sense that something more consistent will be required from the reigning champions in future games. The injury to Andrew Ormond will be a concern ahead of the semi-final against Waterford.

Before leaving the U20s an interesting observation: three years ago Tipperary played in the special U17 competition organised as a type of compensation for those players who would miss out with the change in the minor age the following year. Tipp lost heavily to Cork the eventual champions. However, a quick glance at that 2017 team shows that just 3 of the starting 15 lined up on Monday evening last: Eoghan Connolly, Kevin McCarthy and Ray McCormack. It’s quite a turnover, isn’t it, highlighting the level of flux during these teenage years.

Meanwhile the minor hurlers of the county got their campaign up and running with, as expected, an easy romp against Kerry. Heck this was more than easy, it was facile and ultimately meaningless.

It was Kerry’s first experience at this level since 2014. Six years ago Cork thrashed the Kingdom by 5-26 to 0-9. In a second chance play-off game against Clare things got no better, losing by 6-25 to 0-11. Those 32-point defeats were against teams that didn’t even make the Munster final; the provincial decider was won by Limerick who beat Waterford in a replay.

Set against those stats I suppose a 23-point roasting to Tipperary on Sunday last might almost be considered respectable. Yet the experience does nothing for Kerry hurling and is of little value to Tipperary either.

There has to be a better way to promote hurling in Kerry. Can you imagine these Kerry lads heading home on Sunday evening last feeling uplifted and encouraged to focus on at the game of hurling? Of course not. All this experience will have taught them is that they’re miles away from even being competitive at this level. They’ll be deflated and discouraged. So much for promoting Kerry hurling.

The story of the game is easily enough told. In the opening quarter Kerry were plucky and competitive, working hard and not allowing Tipperary settle to any pattern. They trailed by just two points at the first water break.

Thereafter the expected happened. Tipperary took a grip on proceedings around the middle third of the pitch and the forwards began to clock up the points with growing ease. It would have been worse for Kerry but for the eagle eye of goalie, Darragh Quinlan, who kept out several goal attempts. Still the margin was in double figures at the break, 0-14 to 0-7.

The remainder was an inevitable procession with Tipp indulging in a point-fest. The absence of a goal was a minor blemish and one for Shane McGrath and company to work at on the training ground. He might stress that when you get to eye-ball the goalie it’s best to put the shot away from him, preferably low where his chances of saving are diminished.

Of the starting Tipperary fifteen everyone from 7 to 15 got on the score sheet – as well as two subs. Full forward, Tony Cahill’s input of 0-5 was especially noteworthy as was Peter McGarry’s contribution of 0-4 from midfield play plus two frees. Stephen Ferncombe was flawless on the free shots earlier. The team was slick, at times playing some neat combinations albeit against a fading opposition.

For Paul Collins and company it’s best to just sign off on this as a training spin at the Gaelic Grounds and nothing more valuable than that. The championship starts from here beginning with a semi-final set-to against Waterford.

P.S. A minor correction from last week: my print off of the minor panel for some reason cut off two names at the bottom of the page. Both were from West Tipp so the division’s quota of panellists is 11, the same as the North’s and not 9 as I stated.

P.P.S. In a transfer market I’d be chasing Kerry’s midfielder, Ronan Walsh. He looked the real deal.

 

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