WESTSIDE COLUMN 24 AUGUST 2012.

 

 

Not since 1897 has Tipperary shipped a heavier championship defeat. Even for a county accustomed to tasting some bitter medicine from Kilkenny in recent times this brought us to a new low. A nightmare second half saw Kilkenny inflict a crushing defeat, one that’s going to take some digesting in the weeks and months ahead. The fall-out surely will be major. Thankfully there was some minor relief as the U18s carved out an impressive passage to a final date with Dublin.

In the meantime it will be back to basics on the home front next weekend. Among the highlights will be the West final clash of Clonoulty and Eire Og on Sunday as well as a Holycross double-bill on Saturday featuring the relegation and O’Riain Cup finals.

No sooner had the final whistle sounded on Sunday but the statisticians were scrolling through the archives. Was it Tipp’s worst ever championship result? Almost. Eventually one heavier defeat was unearthed from the far off days of the late eighteen hundreds. The Suir View club in Boherlahan had Tipperary representation that year and after a seemingly chaotic ending to the county championship they went South to play Cork in the Munster series. Assisted by some players from Thurles, including Tom Semple, the Tipps went down by 4-16 to 0-2.

Canon Fogarty in his famous book has a one-line summation of the event: ‘The hurling was a farce’. One hundred and fifteen years later and the good Canon’s words can be redeployed. Sunday too was a farce, at least from a Tipperary perspective.

Losing was not the issue here – Kilkenny were deservedly strong favourites – but it was the nature of the defeat that will burn deeply into the Tipperary psyche. After three epic All Ireland finals when the cumulative score showed the ‘cats’ just one point ahead how could we suddenly slump to an eighteen point whitewash? It’s incomprehensible and has left the pundits baffled.

Baffling too was the side show between Lar and Tommy Walsh, which at times in the second half was cringing to watch. There was one little cameo in that second period when with play outfield Lar, Tommy, Pa and Jackie sloped off together for a little jog down by the Davin Terrace and across in front of the Hill. Lar spent the whole afternoon desperately seeking Tommy like a tomcat on the trail of an in-season feline.

This was silliness masquerading as tactics. It was okay to try to match up the pairings as we wished at the start of the game but once the Kilkenny defenders refused to play ball then that should have been the end of it. Lar needed to settle down, concentrate on the hurling, get onto the breaks, lay off the passes and do all the things that mark him out as such a lethal forward. Instead he sacrificed his own game and that of Pa Bourke to some silly notion that by distracting Tommy Walsh the rest of the Tipp forwards would have a field day.

Of course the question has arisen since as to who was behind this great ‘tactic’? Was it a management decision, or a solo run by Lar or a combined call? And when it clearly wasn’t working why didn’t somebody have the sense to call if off? Media questions on this topic since the game have only brought more confusion with nobody shedding any real light on the issue.

Our half time position was a mirage. Nominally we were ahead by a point but if boxing judges had been scoring that half we’d have been trailing badly. Shefflin set up T.J. Reid for their first goal and only the brilliance of Brendan Cummins prevented Colin Fennelly from landing a second. Then against the run of play David Herity spilled what should have been a routine ball as Corbett came in to challenge; it fell kindly for Pa Bourke to hit an open net. A deficit of five or six points would have been a fairer reflection of that half and in hindsight perhaps the one-point lead encouraged a false sense of wellbeing in the Tipp dressing room.

In all sectors of the field there was clear first-half evidence that we were under the cosh. With O’Mahony a doubt beforehand there were signs that our defence would yield more scores as this game unfolded; midfield was coming off second best; and the attack was shapeless and directionless with all the distraction around Corbett.

The mirage didn’t last long in the second half. First Aidan Fogarty whizzed through that corridor between numbers five and six to send one flashing past Cummins – it was probably the most blockable of the goals. Shortly afterwards Eoin Larkin brushed past Curran to land another and T.J. Reid posted the fourth. I have sympathy for our defence because with midfield overshadowed and our attack gone AWOL the barrage was relentless.

We scored just five points in the second half, which is a humbling statistic for a proud hurling county to swallow. Beforehand it was generally felt that Tipp had an edge on the bench but that assumed that the game would arrive at the final quarter while still in the melting pot. It was well decided by then.  And it appears that Eoin Kelly wasn’t fit enough to be introduced so one of our bench aces was unavailable. In any case I don’t think it would have mattered this time.

One of the most disturbing aspects of the game is the fact that for the second consecutive year we seemed unready for the Kilkenny challenge. They out-worked us, out-muscled us and out-hurled us. We knew we had to stand up physically to the challenge but we seemed to over-focus on getting the jostle in while Kilkenny kept the eye on the ball. We needed to match their work rate but we didn’t even come close. We needed to get decent ball to our forwards and we needed the forwards to be moving – neither happened. In that second half Kilkenny gave us a lesson on the basics of strong, direct hurling.

I don’t think any Tipp player can claim to have been master of his patch on Sunday. There were individual items that one could isolate and praise but overall we lost all battles. Paul Curran for example won some but then lost others and eventually was hindered by injury before being withdrawn. It’s been a troubled year for Padraic Maher too, that second half swing which could (should?) have drawn a red card coming from sheer frustration. Brendan Maher again disappointed, the rich promise of 2010 yet to blossom. We saw individual items then from the forwards but little of an ensemble nature. Lar should have been the creative spark but instead chose negativity. ‘Bonner’ Maher seemed misplaced for much of the time – wasn’t he the one to take on Tommy Walsh given past evidence?  Of the five replacements John O’Neill probably made most impact scoring twice and hitting the side netting.

Overall it was a second-half horror story from Tipperary and one worries now about the fall-out. Hopefully there will be no hasty player retirements though obviously the intentions of a number of them will be watched with interest. After their second year in charge it’s difficult to see how the management can ride out this storm. There was a certain indulgence last year for the new cabinet but there will be a lot less sympathy now after getting it so badly wrong a second time. The shortage of alternatives will be in their favour but the extent of this mauling I suspect will prove terminal. We’ll watch and wait.

In all of this you can only admire, and maybe envy, what Cody and company have achieved. There are no fancy tactics to their play instead they keep it simple and traditional.  They choke the life out of opponents through relentless pressure. There’s no secret formula just each man winning his individual duel and on a one-to-one basis they’re stronger, faster and better than all opponents. Galway won’t have liked what they saw on Sunday.

Thankfully our minors provided some relief from the dismal gloom of the senior collapse with that impressive win over Galway. We’ve come to highly respect Galway minor teams under the baton of Mattie Murphy so this win has to be put it its proper context. It was a classy win by Tipperary, recovering from a frightening start when hit by an early goal and then pushing on to lead marginally at the break before ‘nailing’ the game in the second half.

Mark McCarthy’s great individual goal was a decisive moment in the game though it has to be accepted also that the dismissal of the Galway full back was influential in the outcome. It seemed to be a ridiculous decision and the extra man in our defence made it very difficult for Galway to chase the game in the final quarter.

Still Tipperary did what was required and did it with real style with plenty of individual displays standing out. Goalie, Paul Maher, certainly played his part with a key save in each half. I thought our half back line was very strong with Barry Heffernan winning rave reviews and Thomas Hamill and Tom Fox very effective too. Substitutes Sean Maher and Sean Ryan played significant roles also in the outcome.

Overall it’s a win that raises hopes of a first All Ireland in the grade since ’07 though it won’t be easy against the Dubs. If heads stay focused it’s certainly doable and I’m sure William Maher will be keeping his players well grounded in the coming weeks.

The highlight club fixture next weekend is undoubtedly the West final scheduled for Golden on Sunday afternoon. Title-rich Clonoulty take on wannabes Eire Og Annacarty who haven’t won the West since the eighties. The holders will be strong favourites to add another to their lengthening list of West wins but Eire Og are anything but no-hopers in this one. When they met in an earlier round of the series Clonoulty edged it but were lucky to do so. You had some fine displays that night on the Eire Og side and that form will encourage them to have a go. It should be an interesting final with Clonoulty deserving favouritism.

There are four other important county championship games on the bill also this week with the field of contenders set to reduce dramatically in the weeks ahead. This Thursday evening Cappawhite face Borrisoleigh over at Clonoulty. Then on Saturday you have Roscrea facing Lorrha at Nenagh and on Sunday at Dolla you have a double header with Kildangan facing Templederry and Drom against either Nenagh or Burgess. Incidentally the winners of those four games will then be drawn against the four divisional runners up; the winners there face the four divisional champions in quarter-finals.

Not to be ignored this weekend either is a planned double-decker at Holycross on Saturday. In the opener Upperchurch face Aherlow in the relegation final, which will then be followed by the O’Riain Cup final between neighbours Boherlahan and Moycarkey. So Tipperary may be gone from the All Ireland series but there’s no shortage of club attractions for the fans.

P.S. I have apparently been critical of Kilkenny fans in the past, something a certain Enda McEvoy notes in a biography of Fr. Tommy Maher which I’m presently reviewing. Well to balance the verdict I can’t ignore their genuine applause for John O’Brien when he was substituted on Sunday. It was a nice touch and a moving tribute to a player and a family who have all our sympathy after last week’s tragedy.

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