WESTSIDE COLUMN 6 JULY 2012

On a week when our minors made it through to the Munster final the club scene was hectic in all divisions with a wide variety of matches on offer. The South has a final pairing ready after Mullinahone swamped Ballingarry and the Swans slipped through late against Killenaule. A draw in the Mid between Drom and Loughmore won’t help fixture schedules; Sarsfields and Bracken’s play in the second semi midweek. Cappawhite are through in the West to face Clonoulty in one semi; either Kickhams or Eire Og will have qualified to face Cashel in the other by the time this appears.
Elsewhere the build up to the Munster final continues with Waterford unsuccessful in a move last week to have the game switched to Thurles. We may be locked into a hone-and-away arrangement with Cork but I suspect the Tipp public is on Waterford’s side on this issue.
With so many Tipperary teams progressing in the championship you can see a real fixture log-jam coming down the tracks. Last weekend was a rare window of opportunity for the clubs so there was no scarcity of action. Next week we close up shop ahead of the Munster final.
I got to Cloneen on Friday last to see Mullinahone and Ballingarry in the first of the South semis. It was my first time in the neatly laid out venue and I wonder was it a maiden trip for Declan Ryan too as he kept a watching brief on county panellists Kelly and the Currans. Kelly, the old master, was certainly the man of the moment shooting 1-11 (1-3 from play) to blow Ballingarry away in a game that drifted woefully one-sided in the second half.
Funny how some things never change: Mullinahone have a long-standing reputation for issuing team lists that bear little relation to the actual line-out. My thanks to Monty Moloney for supplying the true formation.
Other features don’t change much either such as Eoin Kelly’s deadly efficiency. Here we were twenty minutes into a nip-and-tuck game when the old maestro gets booked – rather harshly I thought. Then a booming free arrives from the Mullinahone defence; Kelly plucks it from a forest of sticks, gets shepherded away towards the end line but somehow manages to roll those wrists around a shot that squeezes in through a chink of an angle. Only Kelly could have conjured that one.
It was the early tipping point in this game. Ballingarry were blowing a lot of bad wides and Mullinahone now got a grip on things. Another little cameo from Kelly: out around midfield this time he seemed to be going nowhere with the ball but then suddenly a little wriggle, swivel and swing and the ball is sailing between the sticks. On their own such scores made the trip worthwhile.
By half time Mullinahone had slipped six clear and it was all downhill thereafter for Ballingarry. Early on resuming Cathal Horan policed their second goal home off a supply from Sean Curran. The points kept coming, Eoin Kelly kept feeding Paul and eventually the brother lashed one home from the left corner. It had all gone embarrassingly askew now for Ballingarry who did manage a late consolation from Ian Ivors, I think, one of their best triers on the night.
Ballingarry were without Donal Shelley and Daniel Fitzgerald since that controversial game with Killenaule. No sign of Liam Cahill either and they certainly needed all hands on deck to have any chance in this one. Individually they had some strong displays from the likes of Dickie Norton at full back. Ian Ivors was industrious too and Sean Cahill, Adrian Cleere and Philip Ivors; Ciaran Shelley had a very prominent spell early on. James Logue in goal did the routine stuff very capably but hadn’t much chance on the ones that beat him – he’d probably be rated number three in the county pecking order. Overall though they simply hadn’t the firepower of Mullinahone.
The reigning champions certainly look like the one South side which could make an impact outside the divisional border. They’ve a nice mix in the side from the Kelly\Curran line of experience to the younger wannabes such has Jack Shelley and Cathal Horan. I thought AJ Cronin was outstanding at full back in front of an alert goalie in Alan Walsh. Paul Curran was solid rather than spectacular at centre back and then Eoin Kelly was inevitably the main man up front. Add in the other Curran brothers and the likes of Phil O’Shea and others so that it all adds up to a decent formation. Paul Kelly, despite the forced feeding from Eoin, looked a long way off his better days. If they could get him back at full tilt he’d be a major addition, though some would see his best contribution coming from wing back.
I didn’t see the second semi down South and obviously missed the more dramatic game where Swans appear to have pulled off a late theft against Killenaule. It will be an interesting final with Mullinahone fancied though you can never be sure with these divisional games where local factors come into play.
By any reckoning the Mid has three of the top county contenders and two of them were on view in the semi-final clash of Drom and Loughmore at Templetuohy on Sunday last. Quite an eventful game it turned out to be with stalemate the outcome after extra time in a fascinating tie. A late pressure free from Johnny Ryan gave Drom a deserved draw after a game of see-saw fortune that featured a major comeback by Loughmore in the second half of the initial hour.
The first half hour saw Drom take a strong lead and look well set to claim the prize when they were eight-up at half time. Loughmore had an early goal when Cian Hennessy was the finishing link in a move that was begun by David Kennedy and carried on by Liam McGrath. Drom recovered from that jolt and with the wind in their backs had the better of the remainder of the half. Goals from Seamus Butler and Seamus Callanan were the major deposits to their account though by now they’d lost David Collins with what seemed to be a nasty knee-injury. Hopefully the news will be better for the county U21 when the medical people investigate the damage. A fine save by Damien Young to deny John McGrath was the closest Loughmore came to a recovery and things looked rosy for Drom at that juncture with the board reading 2-11 to 1-6.
But there are few more resilient battlers than Loughmore and there was bound to be a kick-back when they turned around and had the wind, and at times rain, to aid their efforts. The extent of the fight-back however was a worry for Drom who certainly lost their focus especially at the attacking end. Point by point Loughmore patiently chipped away at the lead, Ciaran McGrath and Noel McGrath popping three apiece. Eventually with about ten minutes still to play Cian Hennessy landed the equaliser. It was definitely ‘game on’ now.
The Drom scoring had dried up alarmingly – even Callanan missed crucial frees, and the four he did land were their only flags in this half. Without Collins the Butlers and Callanan just seemed to lose their way against a resolute Loughmore defence. A long-range Eddie Connolly point eventually put Loughmore in front and that seemed to be the cream on a remarkable fight back. But there was one last kick from Drom with Callanan winning and landing a free from about seventy yards to send the game to extra time.
In fairness to Drom they regrouped well for the extra time and had the better of the first moiety. However, a Callanan goal chance that rattled off the post, and yet another series of missed frees left the teams still deadlocked at half time of the extra period. There was just no separating these two.
Into the second spell of extra time and Loughmore seemed to have got the match-changing break. A Noel McGrath free to level the game came back off the post where it fell fortuitously to David Kennedy who kicked to the net. Two-up and with just three to play it seemed to be Loughmore’s day now but credit Drom with a gutsy finishing encore. First substitute Paul Collins hit a fine point and then the very last action of the game saw a seventy yard free for Drom. Johnny Ryan had taken over the free-taking from Callanan and he showed great nerve to drill home the leveller into the wind and rain. A fitting end you’d have to say to a game where neither really deserved to lose.
I’ve no doubt these two will be very much in the mix for county honours when the business end of the season arrives in the autumn. Drom have looked impressive all year showing the maturity that success brings. They’ll worry about letting an eight point lead slip though the manner of their recovery was reassuring – the Drom of a few years back I think would have wilted at that point. That injury to David Collins is a major blow if it turns out to be as serious as feared. I think Mike Costello is their main man in defence, a real rallying figure when he bursts out to relieve pressure. Woodlock did his usual contribution at midfield where Johnny Ryan was quieter than usual though making up for it with that late equaliser. They’ll expect steadier contributions from such as Callanan, Seamus Butler and David Butler, the latter very disappointing before improving when reintroduced for the extra time.
Loughmore too had an injury worry with John McGrath damaging a shoulder in a dive for possession with Damien Young. They won’t be too far off when push comes to shove later on. Derek Bourke is a real straight-line defender at full back – he’d prefer to go through you than around you. I think they’re unsure where to maximise Noel McGrath’s influence; he started at full forward before moving out to several other positions. His little inter-plays with the likes of Liam McGrath are a delight to watch. Good to see the old warhorse David Kennedy still with the appetite for it all, now as a born-again attacker. He scored a vital goal and had a key part in the other. John McGrath, Noel’s brother, is developing nicely too with a lively turn of pace something Noel was never noted for.
It was an intriguing contest with plenty of quality on view. During the week Sarsfields and Bracken’s play the other semi. Sars’ will be fancied but we’ve yet to see the championship favourites hit any high notes.
Waterford’s attempt to move the Munster final to Thurles instead of the site of last year’s humiliation was an interesting development last week. Unusual to have Tipperary going against Thurles but such was the consequence of this long-standing home-and-away arrangement. Perhaps it’s time we revisited that ongoing deal with the rebels. Given the state of Pairc Ui Chaoimh at present I don’t think any major games should be housed there and the historical evidence suggests that we’d be better off anywhere, though this year was an exception on several fronts. Definitely time for a rethink.
P.S. The following dispatch comes from the supporters club as the hurling season moves into high summer: With the senior, intermediate and minor teams already qualified preparations for the Munster hurling finals are in full swing and the Tipperary Supporters’ Club is asking all followers to join up again this year. Membership is €30 and includes car sticker, membership card, a gift of a smart shoulder bag and entry to draws for match tickets. Current members on 7 July will be entered into a draw for five pairs of stand tickets for the Munster senior hurling final. Membership is available on www.tippsupportersclub.com , from the Tipperary GAA shop, from local sellers or by sending a cheque/postal order to Jim Reidy, 13 Castleknock Close, Dublin 15.

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