WESTSIDE COLUMN 31 AUGUST 2012.

 

 

A week on from the Kilkenny defeat and the repercussions continue to agitate an entire county. We’ve had to take heavy flak in the media on this one and it hasn’t been pleasant. Tipperary hurling stock has hit a new low; repairing the brand image won’t be easy.

Meanwhile the world continues to turn and so our domestic championship was the focus last weekend. Headline items included Clonoulty’s historic sixth-in-a-row in the West as well as Moycarkey’s retention of the O’Riain Cup, Aherlow’s relegation and the draws for the next phase of the Dan Breen.

It has been a traumatic week for Tipperary hurling with the fall-out from that Kilkenny game finding many targets. Even for those of us who’ve been around for a few decades observing the highs and lows of the game hereabouts this is still unchartered territory.  There was something almost insidious about that second half which has left the genuine fans utterly stunned. I’m not talking about the morons who post vile emails and tweets but the true fans for whom Tipperary hurling is a passion, even an obsession. When people as reasoned and reasonable as Len Gaynor and Michael Cleary express embarrassment then you know that something was seriously amiss.

In hindsight now (a great ally) it takes no great insight to recognise that things were not as they should be. We limped through the Munster games perhaps deluding ourselves into believing that momentum was building. It wasn’t. Our league form was spotty and there was only marginal improvement in the championship. In a sense we sleep-walked into this haymaker from Kilkenny and in the process lost dignity as well as the game.

Small indicators are often symptoms of a deeper illness. A big match day should be marked by clear, sharp focus and precision in all arrangements. A dressing room spat over jersey allocation was a worrying preamble. Then you have players joining the parade late and of course Lar’s absence for almost a minute of the second half action. At best this was sloppy; at worst it hinted at something more viral in the set up.

A week on now from the debacle and we’re still no clearer on the origin of the Lar tactic of chasing Tommy Walsh. Management has maintained a dignified silence on the affair though I sense that by now most people attribute the ploy to Lar, albeit with some sanction from others. Why it wasn’t jettisoned by half time remains a mystery and I suspect that’s the aspect which will reflect most on Declan Ryan. It’s quite plausible here that the management felt the need to bend somewhat to Lar’s wishes after he came out of retirement and there is a theory about which suggests that Lar was spooked by his experience on Jackie Tyrrell last September and sought refuge this time in a diversionary tactic. Either way it remains the most embarrassing focal point of our second half misery.

It’s difficult to overstate the intensity of feeling that this entire affair has stirred among Tipperary fans. Again, sadly, I have to distinguish here between the legitimate anger among genuine fans and the other type of muck that has become part of media culture. Some of what passes for comment and criticism on social media outlets is merely a modern version of toilet door graffiti produced by adolescent airheads. It should be ignored. The most valuable button on a keyboard or mobile is that which has ‘delete’ written on it.

But there is a raging anger out there among the true fans, one that won’t be easily quelled. They’re not angry about losing the match, but they are incensed about the manner of that second half collapse and its farcical nature. These are people, some of whom contributed their €100 to the recent telethon to raise funds to train Tipperary teams, and they are quite entitled to question what we saw at Croke Park. These are the ones who will be at club games every weekend, who travel to league games and maybe visit training sessions. Some are ex-county players so please don’t lecture them about the sacrifices made by the present day players. They felt let down and their anger is entirely understandable.

On that score I felt that a statement from County Board in the past week would have been desirable. I’m not talking about an attempt to ‘explain’ what happened but simply to acknowledge the legitimate anger of people and express regret. Instead we’ve had something of a void and unfortunately such vacuums tend to be filled with rumour and innuendo. Even Padraic Maher felt the need to tweet an apology.

I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to suggest that it all represents a crisis for Tipperary hurling. The present management cannot continue and I’ll be surprised if there’s not some announcement on that score very soon. I’m sorry for Declan Ryan because I’ve had huge regard for him over many years. His status as one of our all-time great players is cast in stone and will always remain intact. Taking over from Sheedy after the 2010 win was a brave decision but it simply hasn’t worked out for him. The problem though will be to find a replacement, no easy task for whatever committee is put in place in the weeks ahead.

People will wonder too about a number of players and their intentions, especially the ‘thirtysomething’ club.  I suppose the spotlight will shine especially on the likes of Cummins, Curran, Corbett, Kelly and John O’Brien. Hopefully there is not a mass exodus because the replacements are not there. There’s no need for anyone to rush into retirement and I suspect some will wait until a new management is put in place before making their intentions known.

All of these are exceptional players and an eighteen-point drubbing by Kilkenny is hardly the swan-song they would have wished for. Then you have that other clown suggesting that he will never attend a Tipp game again if Lar Corbett is playing. Well I hope to attend many future games with Lar playing because he’s probably the most exciting hurler of his generation.  Lar was wrong against Kilkenny but that doesn’t cancel the fact that he’s given us so many magic moments in the past.

Hopefully there will be lessons taken from the second half shambles against Kilkenny. The decision to go on a boot camp to the Beara Peninsula in the weeks before the game was clearly ill-advised.  I feel too that there was a downplaying of our injury/health issues in the lead up to the game, which in hindsight did the players no favours. Paul Curran has struggled a bit all season and illness the week before the game clearly sapped some energy reserves. Curran at his peak would never have let Eoin Larkin slip his clutches so handily for that goal.

O’Mahony’s toe was also a negative in the build up to the game and the Newport man in his meaner moods would never have allowed Shefflin or Aidan Fogarty invade his territory so easily for those goals. Thomas Stapleton too was recovering from injury and the debate around that number five slot was never fully resolved during the year. We argued earlier for Brendan Maher to be positioned at right wing and in hindsight now I suspect it was the best option to take.

Then there was the case of Eoin Kelly, such an influential substitute in earlier games but clearly unfit for any action this time. It meant our much-vaunted bench was minus a key element going to Croke Park despite reassurances that there were no injury issues.

Management will ultimately take the biggest hit on what happened but the players too need to reassess their roles. It’s by now common knowledge that misbehaviour by some on social occasions became a major worry. It happened after last year’s All Ireland when some shed more than tears after the defeat. A nightclub bust-up earlier this year became a major news item and some would claim it impacted on team selection though I feel that’s most unfair to the management. There were other rumours of drinking after training stints and more of the same doing the rounds since the latest Kilkenny defeat.

I know these aspects can often be exaggerated but I think there is enough evidence to suggest that discipline was not as tight as it should have been. You certainly couldn’t imagine Cody tolerating some of what went on.

Anyway we face into a period of major uncertainty. Once more it seems that a great Tipperary team is likely to settle for just one All Ireland. Sadly the pattern of past decades looks set to continue.

Clonoulty’s dominance of West Tipperary hurling continued last weekend with a record-making sixth divisional in-a-row. Eire Og were expected to push them but in the event the push didn’t survive beyond the interval as a point-strewn second half from the reigning champions was far too powerful for the Annacarty side.

It was a disappointing final, one that never seemed to develop much rhythm. You can sum up the first half as a free-taking contest between Padraic O’Dwyer and Timmy Hammersley, two excellent snipers who missed little. Then in added time before the interval Clonoulty struck a critical blow when John O’Neill escaped the clutches of Brian Fox to plant a vital goal – Darragh Mooney earlier denied him with a superb save.

That score put Clonoulty two-up after facing the lively wind in the opening half. Psychologically I suspect it did a lot of damage to Eire Og who were well out-hurled in the second period. There were no more goals from Clonoulty but the points began to flow freely, Hammersley the main shooter but O’Neill, Sean Maher and substitute Jamie Moloney getting in on the act impressively too.

Eire Og did get a goal back early in the second half when Seanie Ryan finished an Eoin Kennedy feed but the game was long over when Brian Fox steered in a second deep into added time. The champions won comfortably by eight, significantly Eire Og scoring a mere two second half points. The one sour note came with a bust up near the end which saw Ronan O’Brien and Paudie White getting red cards; they’ll each miss the next game in the county series.

There’s no doubt Clonoulty are well ahead of the rest in the West though I’m not sure they’re ready to reach greater heights outside the divisional border. Defensively they tied up Eire Og well in that second period, John O’Keeffe typically doing a lot of work at half back. At midfield Conor Hammersley came into the game strongly in the second half while in the forwards O’Neill, Hammersley and Sean Maher were key men.

Eire Og don’t have enough, especially at the forward end, to take down a team like Clonoulty, to they’ll have to be satisfied to be bridesmaids once more. The Annacarty side has drawn Borrisoleigh in the next round of the county series after the latter hammered Cappawhite midweek. It’s going to be difficult for the West men to lift it for that game.

In the other county draws Swans will face Drom\Inch, Toomevara play Kildangan and Loughmore have Roscrea. The winners of those four games then face the four divisional champions in county quarter finals.

Elsewhere Moycarkey retained the O’Riain Cup at the weekend with a second half thrashing of Boherlahan. There was only two in it at the interval but thereafter Boherlahan did a Tipperary-style collapse as Moycarkey ran riot for the second period. In the relegation final Aherlow were close enough to Upperchurch at half time but eventually fell to a heavy defeat. They slip back to intermediate after just one season in senior ranks. No need for a replay in this year’s relegation!

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