Westside column 5 October 2012

 

In a week when the new Tipperary senior manager was unveiled the minors provided a timely boost with a resounding All Ireland success. The county’s nineteenth title in the grade was delivered with emphasis, a devastating opening half proving too hot for the double-seeking Dubs and laying the platform for an emphatic win. It’s a welcome tonic after all the senior angst of recent times.
Meanwhile on the home front it’s semi-final Sunday in the race for Dan Breen. Sarsfields will be heavily backed to dispose of Annacarty while Drom and Loughmore looks like a tighter issue with the ‘Raggies’ slight favourites.
 
After all the agony of the senior debacle it’s nice to end the season with the ecstasy of a minor All Ireland. The under-eighteens have lifted spirits with a win that was stress-free after a fluent opening quarter left the Dubs floundering. Eleven-up at the break, the margin varied little throughout the second half as the county claimed its first minor success in five years.
The team that learns most from a drawn encounter usually wins the re-match, so Willie Maher and his cabinet will take huge credit for sending out a revamped and revitalised side for this re-fixture. The reshaping of the team from midfield up was hugely important. Dylan Fitzell brought height and heft to centre forward from where he played a pivotal role in the outcome. Stephen Cahill re-energised midfield and Jack Shelly brought a stronger presence to full forward.
But perhaps even more important than the re-jigging of personnel was the altered mindset from the drawn tie. Three weeks ago we played like a side that expected to win whereas this time there was a work ethic and overall drive in the team that must have taken the Dubs by surprise.
Certainly that opening half blew the metropolitans aside. The brace of goals were the highlight items from that crucial spell. Mark McCarthy – what a swagger he showed all season – raced in for the first, whipping it in from a sharp angle; then Tadgh Gallagher sprinted away from the cover to plant the second. With the impeccable free-taking of John McGrath chipping in a steady stream of points the lead stretched out to eleven by the interval.
Ultimately there was no way back for the Dubs from that deficit. With the Tipp defence in stubborn mood we held our ground firmly in the second half, even stretching the lead further until Dublin hit a consolation goal in the final quarter.
Tadgh Gallagher won the TV man-of-the-match award; you could have made a case also for Mark McCarthy or John McGrath, the latter hitting two sublime points from play as well as being faultless from frees.  Dylan Fitzell would have his backers too for the individual award, his sledgehammer of a shoulder on a defender in the second half highlighting his physical input to the win.
But perhaps the day was more about the collective than the individual. As a unit the team put aside the timidity of the drawn tie and rolled up its sleeves for the hard graft on this occasion. It’s a win that will sit comfortably beside any of its predecessors, one that these lads can cherish for the rest of their lives. For Kilsheelan’s Bill Maher there’s the deserved distinction of joining an elite band of winning minor captains. As a football winner last year he’s also one of several panellists who join another distinct club, that of dual-code All Ireland minor winners.
It also raises the profile of Willie Maher as a potential future senior manager. He certainly managed this crew with great poise and when it mattered most got the best out of them. Hopefully it’s just the start of a great managerial career.
 
For the moment, however, we have a new senior manager. The official announcement of Eamon O’Shea’s appointment came on Tuesday last but by then it was old news because the word was ‘out’, even published, well before that. After all the rumours and speculation it was a relief to have a decision and a man in place even if the supporting cast has still to be lined up to complete the management team.
The announcement of O’Shea’s appointment was greeted with a mixture of relief and delight. His critical role in the Liam Sheedy cabinet has been well documented and widely praised. At times, I suspect, it has been over-stated at the expense of Sheedy himself. While O’Shea was a key cog in the machine I’ve no doubt that Sheedy as the overall gaffer was the guiding hand in that management set up.
Encouragingly O’Shea seems to be very popular with the players. His appointment could well be the move that staves off some retirements because I’ve no doubt a few players were holding fire awaiting the appointment of a new man before making a final decision. We may still have some withdrawals but I suspect O’Shea’s return will encourage a few of the more senior players to stay around for another season.
While O’Shea enjoys a huge reputation based on that 2010 All Ireland win, this time management represents an entirely different challenge for him. As coach under Sheedy he was very much the background presence, working with the players but avoiding the mics and cameras. The manager is more out front requiring a lot of savvy when dealing with those pesky media people. He is the puppeteer pulling all the strings and as others have found it’s a challenging role. The job description is entirely different to that of coach and only time will tell how well O’Shea adapts to such a role.
It’s a courageous decision to return because the history of returnees is not good.  Most who’ve been there and achieved the ultimate tend to live off the credits; going back risks failure because many are remembered for their last game only.
Besides the new manager takes over a troubled set up. The shadow of August 19 is still lurking in the background and tales of ill-discipline among a small section of the panel needs addressing too. As coach you can coax and cajole but the buck stops with a manager who has to make the hard decisions.
Anyway I don’t want to overstate the difficulties because he comes in with a huge wave of goodwill and the hopes of an entire county willing him on to success.
 
I assume the new man will be in the Stadium on Sunday to watch our county semi-finals. Lively entertainment is promised as Eire Og joins the Mid trio in search of final places.  The opening bout between Annacarty and Sarsfields carries novelty while the Drom\Loughmore event is laced with familiarity.
With Sarsfields short odds favourites to regain the title I assume you’d get long odds on Eire Og next Sunday. The Annacarty side has been the surprise package of the championship recovering from a heavy defeat in the West final to reach the last four for the first time in decades. From a quick glance through the records I think 1967 was Eire Og’s last time to contest the county semi-final. D.J. Gleeson and company won’t thank me for recalling this one. They faced Carrick Davins but the final score shall remain a secret! In fairness this was Davins’ golden era with the likes of Mick Roche and P.J. Ryan on board. In ’67 the South side was en route to retaining the county title so at least Eire Og fell to the very best around.
Of course some members of the present Eire Og team will have happier memories of a county semi-final. The O’Brien brothers are survivors from ’04 when they teamed up with Golden to go all the way to a county showdown with Toomevara. They beat Roscrea in the semi that year before eventually bowing to Toome’ in the final. Conor O’Brien missed out because of suspension.
So we have novelty in this clash of Mid champions and West runners-up. On paper Sarsfields look unbackable but they can be a fickle lot blowing hot and cold on occasions. They were certainly on fire in the Mid final blasting Loughmore with that goal fest led by Pa Bourke’s six pack. Not conceding close in frees then will be a priority for Annacarty, especially early on when goals can kill a contest.
Sarsfields learned nothing from their quarter final with Kildangan who I thought showed them far too much respect. I don’t think Eire Og will be so accommodating. Against both Borrisoleigh and Portroe this Annacarty side showed admirable attitude and they seem to have the fitness levels to take on Sarsfields in the Stadium. Nobody will expect an Eire Og win so they’re in a perfect position to throw off the shackles and have a go, which is what I expect they’ll do.
The second semi-final is an intriguing all-Mid affair. Incredibly it will be the fourth championship meeting of the teams this year with the record showing a win apiece and a draw from the previous three games. Drom will be the fancy here but Loughmore have a strong record against them including that county final clash a few years back.
The teams met back last May in an early round of the Mid series where David Butler snuck a late winning point for Drom. They teamed up again for the divisional semi-final in early July and ended level at Templetuohy. I saw that game which was very much an up and down affair, one that went to extra time with Johnny Ryan holding his nerve to point a late levelling free for Drom at the end. That was the day that David Collins broke his ankle, an injury that has sidelined him since, his absence a major loss for Drom
The replay of that semi was staged a fortnight later and produced an extraordinary result as Loughmore hammered Drom by sixteen points. It was an incredible display by the winners who racked up 3-23 against Drom’s 0-16, though of course the subsequent final saw the wheels come off the wagon for Loughmore when being crushed by Sarsfields. Inevitably there has to be a freakish element to some of those Mid games so it’s difficult to know where the true merit of teams rests.
Still by any reckoning this is a fascinating head-to-head. I felt Drom began their season impressively, then dipped mid-year before rallying with great timing to crush Clonoulty in the quarter-final. On that Clonoulty form it would be difficult to see Loughmore surviving on Sunday but then you wonder how much of a one-day event that game was.
Loughmore have plenty of hurling class though perhaps not the hard-edged resilience of former sides. They’ll be encouraged by the three previous meetings of the sides this year and there is a theory about that suggests they have something of an Indian sign on Drom. We’ll see. For the moment reigning champions Drom deserve favouritism.
 
Finally the Kilkenny hurling dynasty just rumbles on and on. Had we not tripped them up in 2010 they’d now have seven in a row. Underdogs get one chance at champions and if it’s not taken then you rarely get a second. Galway can point to a sending off, a disallowed goal, Canning’s shot off the post and Reid’s copious steps in the lead up to Walter Walsh’s goal as hard luck breaks that just went against them on the day. That may offer them some consolation though a broader perspective on the game shows that Kilkenny were simply too strong once again. Their extending monopoly just gets scarier by the year.

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