WESTSIDE COLUMN 26 JUNE 2012

For a record ninth consecutive season Tipperary and Cork eye-ball each other in championship hurling with honours even at four-apiece from the previous eight ties. At stake on Sunday is a place against Waterford in the provincial final as well as a shorter route to the All Ireland series. The bookies have Tipperary installed as marginal favourites but our poor record Leeside – just a single win since the 1920s – offers sobering reflection for the blue and gold.
Elsewhere in club action the South finalised its semi-finals last weekend when Swans claimed the final spot at the expense of near-neighbours Davins. And the county open draw for teams that failed to make divisional semi-finals has thrown up some interesting pairings.
For almost a decade now a Cork-Tipp date in the championship has become an annual affair. We’ve met every year since ’04 when losing an All Ireland qualifier to the rebels down in Killarney and there’s little separating us in the pecking order over the intervening years. That Killarney defeat was followed by more of the same in the provincial finals of ’05 and ’06 before we finally got one back in ’07 when ‘Babs’ managed a surprise outcome in a qualifier at Semple Stadium.
In ’08 under Sheedy we finally broke the Pairc Ui Chaoimh jinx and that ‘away’ win stands in splendid isolation because you need to backtrack to the twenties for our previous win down South. In a sense such statistics are slightly misleading because for several decades Limerick was the natural home for Tipp\Cork games. Indeed I wish it was the venue once again because the present arena on the banks of the Lee is hardly fit for twenty-first century purpose.
Under Sheedy in ’09 we maintained our dominance over Cork but then came a heavy defeat in 2010. In retrospect it’s hard to imagine that we lost by ten points that day because the folk memory of two years ago is heavily coloured by the September All Ireland. Memory can be very selective and that win over Kilkenny has filtered a lot of other days from that season out of our consciousness. Last year back at Semple Stadium we managed another win over Cork but the venue for Sunday’s match just has to be slightly unnerving.
In a sense both teams go into action on Sunday with doubts hanging over them. Cork’s last competitive game was the league final and that chastening experience against Kilkenny. It provided a heavy jolt to their growing momentum. For Tipperary the league semi is a background reminder too and even our first round win over Limerick came with qualifications. So I suspect neither manager knows quite what to expect on Sunday.
Team selections will be eagerly awaited this week with significant decisions facing both managements. In Tipperary’s case most concern centres on the defence and the right flank especially. Donagh Maher and Thomas Stapleton have been the men in possession and the indications are that they could well start again on Sunday. Conor O’Brien appears to be their main rival with Paddy Stapleton still not ready for a full return. Despite much prompting it appears that the management is resisting all suggestions that Brendan Maher is needed at wing back. Given the fact that Michael Cahill hasn’t been on top of his form recently either there are real concerns about our defence, a defence that was opened up alarmingly by the pace of the Cork attack in the league semi-final.
The evidence of the Limerick game should mean that Shane McGrath starts at midfield beside Brendan Maher. For all his athleticism James Woodlock’s hurling tends to be problematic though if we need fresh legs later in the game he certainly can supply that energy.
In attack we’re better resourced now than at any time since last year’s campaign. ‘Bonner’ Maher will surely start on this occasion with Eoin Kelly likely to be on the bench beside Lar Corbett. I would have thought that Gearoid Ryan was struggling to make the starting line up given his indifferent form all spring but others suggest that he might again line out at wing. Noel McGrath, Pa Bourke and ‘Buggy’ O’Meara will obviously be on board though exact positioning will be interesting. John O’Brien is another who will come under scrutiny.
It’s generally accepted that Seamus Callanan offers most when coming in as a substitute and with Shane Bourke also impressing when introduced against Limerick we’re likely to have formidable firepower on the bench on Sunday. In any case the management has shown itself to be unpredictable with its choices on past occasions so we’ll have to await their deliberations on Thursday night.
JBM and his colleagues will also have a lot to mull over before they decide on a starting formation. They had problems in goal and on the full back line in the league so it will be interesting to see their response on this occasion. If Darren Sweetnam is finished with exams he’ll obviously add to their options but either way they’re going to have a mix of experience and youth in their side. The pace of such as Cathal Naughton and Conor Lehane in attack could pose problems and I regard Pat Horgan as a player capable of causing us much agony too.
Overall this one has to be a pretty tight call. In truth there’s uncertainty about Tipperary’s exact whereabouts this season. Did that final flourish against Limerick mark a turning point in our season or was the earlier evidence more instructive? I suspect team selection contributed to our problems the last day so hopefully we’ll be much stronger this time. Cork too must be unsure of their precise location after their developing league momentum came unstuck against Kilkenny.
A glance at the respective attacks would suggest that Tipperary have more potential. Then, however, you must balance that against worries about our rearguard. Ultimately it all comes down to mood on the day. I’m apprehensive but hopefully that’s just pre-match jitters. The bookies give us a marginal nod to gain a second victory Leeside in almost ninety years; hopefully they’re right.

The South division drew a decent crowd to Davin Park on Sunday last for their annual showcase of neighbourly rivalry. In this instance the stakes couldn’t be higher so you were assured of a full-blooded effort with all the attendant tension as Swans and Davins battled for a semi-final spot. In the event Swans claimed the spoils and will now face Killenaule in one semi with Mullinahone and Ballingarry in the other.
As local rivalries go the Carrick version is about as intense as it gets. Bragging rights on the streets of Carrick are important and you can always be assured of a heavy hit when these two tribes go to war. I saw the corresponding fixture last year and enjoyed it so I needed little encouragement for a return.
The old jaded cliché has it that goals win matches and this encounter once again underlined the truth behind the proverb. Swans raised a green one in either half and they proved crucial to the outcome as Davins just couldn’t breach Tom Kennedy’s line even in the hectic final minutes when they huffed and puffed but couldn’t blow a hole in that rearguard.
There was only a point in it at half time. At that stage Davins were certainly taking the fight to the Swans driven on by a powerful display from Lee Mackey at centre back. In fact Davins led for much of the opening spell but the goal was a big item. It came from a twenty-metre free with Kieran Reade the offended player and Danny O’Hanlon drilling home the shot. Davins did have a ‘penalty’ later in the half when Willie O’Dwyer was fouled but Lee Mackey’s shot sailed over the timber.
The other Swans’ goal came early in the second half, Anthony O’Donnell the scorer, and it gave them a cushion that Davins could never quite puncture for the remaining time. I thought Swans defence was excellent in repelling Davins, led by Kevin Lanigan from number six. J.J. Butler and company tried to take them on at every opportunity but there was simply no way through.
Six points was the widest the lead stretched and it finally settled on a margin of four. The final few minutes were hectic as Davins threw everything into attack and we saw some frantic defending. But goalie Kennedy and his protectors held firm.
An entertaining game for sure even if the standard of hurling wasn’t particularly high. Davins hit a lot of bad wides in the second period especially and in the absence of a goal these proved critical to the outcome. The Davins lacked nothing in battling commitment but I though Swans had a bit more in the hurling department. They’ll fancy their chances now against Killenaule in the semi-final. Incidentally Davins will face Lorrha in the county series.
We did have a couple of flare-ups in the game but nothing nasty and I thought referee, Keith Delahunty, handled matters very sensibly. A jumpy referee might have started waving red cards but I didn’t see anything serious enough to merit such sanction. So for another year the bragging rights rest with the high-flying Swans.

P.S. Be careful what you wish for. Vincent Hogan, my favourite sports’ journalist, was writing in last Saturday’s Indo about Ireland’s second rugby test against the All Blacks. Scribing in advance of the game he anticipated ‘another heavy defeat’ and saw the planned third test as a pointless exercise which merely pandered to ‘rugby’s money-men’. As an earnest of his conviction he provided a post script offering to march naked to IRFU headquarters and apologise should Ireland record an historic victory. He must have been opening buttons – metaphorically of course! – before Dan Carter drop-kicked that late winner.

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