I suppose it was a week of consolation for Tipperary hurling. The wounds from the senior demise may still be raw but the U21s and intermediates supplied some balm to the hurt with welcome wins over Cork – the U21 was quite emphatic while the intermediate was more marginal.
There’s no doubt we look to the U21s for evidence of upcoming talent so progress by Ken Hogan’s crop gave the county a definite lift midweek.
That fifteen point margin certainly raised a few eyebrows and had people wondering was it a record. As ever SO’D was prompt with the answer. It was only our second largest win over the rebels at U21 level, the biggest gap of all was back in 1964 when we thrashed them by 6-9 to 1-1 in an opening round. That was the inaugural year of the championship when Tipperary went on to win the All Ireland with a team that included future senior stars such as Peter O’Sullivan, Len Gaynor, ‘Babs’ Keating, Mick Roche and captain Francis Loughnane.
A fifteen point margin sounds stress free for the followers but actually it was more of a yo-yo performance that veered through extremes. Most of the opening half was one-way. Bill Walsh took an Aidan McCormack pass to slap home an early goal and Jason Forde added a second after about twenty minutes. In between there was a decent sequence of points with Forde and Niall O’Meara particularly prominent so that by the twenty-seventh minute we were in cruise control at ten-up.
Alarmingly though we seemed to hit the snooze button at that stage sitting back to admire our handiwork while Cork set about retrieval. In the minutes before the break the rebels reeled off six unanswered points to undo much of our slickest hurling and cut the margin to just four.
There was plenty to mull over then at half time and even more to ponder when the pattern continued on resuming. A few fluffed chances of stabilising points were quickly followed by Cork’s opening goal and suddenly our lead of ten was back to the minimum.
However, the crisis didn’t last and the remainder was a canter for Tipperary who now resumed match control and hit something of a scoring spree. Bill Walsh waltzed past his marker for his second goal, Forde got the team’s fourth from a ‘penalty’ and Tommy Heffernan planted the fifth. With a steady stream of points supplementing the major lodgements and virtually no retort from Cork the lead stretched out to eighteen points at one stage before a late consolation goal for Cork left the end margin at fifteen.
Any time you demolish Cork in a major championship game it’s noteworthy and there was indeed much to admire about this display from Tipperary. It was slick and skilful with an abundance of flashy scores albeit against an awful Cork team whose defending at times was abysmal.
Individually Jason Forde came out top scorer but ‘Buggy’ O’Meara’s brother, Niall, won much praise too and I really liked the contribution of Bill Walsh who was strong and direct and took his goal chances emphatically. The defence too was mostly in control with Tom Hamill steady at number six and Joe O’Dwyer and Seamus Kennedy doing the business on the flanks. The full line too was strong with number three, Michael Breen, continuing to attract notice as one who might have senior potential.
Against all that there are cautionary words to be noted. Cork provided dismal opposition and this tendency to tune out for spells could be very costly on other days. Clare came through a tough examination by Waterford in the other semi and they’ll provide an entirely different obstacle in the final.
The intermediates saw us deliver a double-whammy to Cork but the tone and texture of this contest was entirely different. It was a Munster final win and credit to the team and management for that but it was a win that needed a major let off at the end as Cork went for broke when they might more sensibly have taken a draw. Darragh Egan made a crucial save and then two Cork players fluffed chances on the rebound before we got a relieving free from the goalmouth scramble.
There was precious little between these teams. Cork had the better free taker in Peter O’Brien and he kept them in touch throughout. At different stages Tipp got a few clear but could never open a significant gap as Cork kept retaliating. After being level at the break it all came down to that frantic finish.
The Tipp hero was undoubtedly Darragh Egan. The Kildangan man began his minor career as goalie and has now gone full circle prompting the thought that if he’d concentrated on the art of goalkeeping he’d have been far more successful than his failed attempts to make the senior grade as a forward. His stops and his three pointed frees made a huge contribution to this success.
Having won this grade last year it’s quite an achievement to be now chasing the double with a new-look side. From a county senior perspective it’s difficult to see anyone from this side making an impression on Eamon O’Shea. Some people had been speculating about Clonoulty’s Thomas Butler, seeing him as a style of player who might make a contribution to the senior set-up. Unfortunately he’s been plagued by those knee injuries and looks a long way short of county senior standard at the moment.
Finally writing a column can be a strange old experience, your audience mostly unseen and unheard, so that you often wonder if there is any audience out there at all. Then you pass a comment that hits a nerve and here comes the reaction.
Such has been the case following my dig at the Kilkenny supporters and their jeering of Lar Corbett in Nowlan Park. The missives have arrived varying from a mild rebuke to demanding an immediate retraction.
You see, folks, here’s the point. There is a time-honoured tradition in sport which stipulates that you never, ever jeer a player who gets injured. Injuries are an unfortunate by-product of sport, contact sports especially, and to gloat on a player’s misfortune is the absolute antithesis of sportsmanship. Jeering a player sent off is not acceptable either (reference Tommy Walsh in last year’s league game in Thurles) though mostly when a player is sent off there is an element of culpability on his part.
And here for me is the clincher in this argument. Every county has undesirables among its supporters, Tipp included, but what happened in Nowlan Park wasn’t the action of a few headless chickens carried away on the emotion of the moment. A sizeable section of the Kilkenny supporters cheered/jeered loudly when Corbett’s hamstring snapped.
At least most of my correspondents recognised that what happened in Nowlan Park was wrong; their issue was that I didn’t highlight other incidents like the Tommy Walsh case and the applause for John O’Brien last year. Point taken, but unfortunately it was the sheer volume in this case that made it stand apart.
A parting word on it: the silence from official Kilkenny sources didn’t help either. People like Nicky Brennan and Eddie Hehir have been quick off the blocks in the past when they felt their county’s integrity was being impugned; a word from them on this issue would have been very well received in Tipperary.