Westside Column 6 June 2014

 

I’m afraid there’s no way to sugar-coat this: we choked yet again.

In golf they talk about the chokers, the guys who should have won a lot more, put themselves in the position to do so, but then somehow froze at the crunch. Greg Norman had a reputation in this regard, whether deserved or not is debatable.

Unfortunately the present Tipperary hurling generation is in danger of becoming the Greg Norman of the sport. In the league final and again on Sunday we put ourselves into a winning position but on each occasion failed to close out the deal.

It’s frustrating and must leave Eamon O’Shea agonising over what ingredient is missing when we keep blowing winnable games.

Since the start of the season O’Shea singled out this match as his central focus. It was the gateway-game that led into a summer of glamorous activity including a Munster final and, at worst, an All Ireland quarter-final. Getting it right then was essential and we had the added benefit of last year’s experience to leave us forewarned and, hopefully, forearmed.

Yet one had an uneasy feeling from the start on Sunday that we were not exactly in the groove. Despite knowing in advance what Limerick would bring to the occasion there was a casualness in our approach that somehow didn’t fit with the demands of the day.

Paudie Maher will be hard on himself over the first goal. What should have been a routine catch was spilled and the follow up brought the foul which Dowling penalised. Yet despite that setback and while playing below form we were still level at the break. ‘Bonner’s goal was the main item in our recovery. He wormed his way towards goal and somehow managed to swing the stick despite the smothering presence of defenders.

People were still resuming their seats for the restart when we hit the front with our second goal. Kieran Bergin was the creator and Gearoid Ryan the finisher. Maybe this would be the spark for Tipperary to kick on, up the intensity and bully their way to a Munster final.

Not a bit of it. Instead Limerick were the ones to find the response. Agonisingly we were in a seemingly winning position several times during that second half but on each occasion we allowed Limerick back.

Oh the agony of the might-have-beens! ‘Bonner’ races through and has Callanan free on his right but doesn’t see him and runs into a cul de sac. Corbett fresh-airs the break and Limerick swing downfield for a rallying point. Another run by ‘Bonner’ might have opened the defence but this time he passes too quickly to Callanan and a point results. Our option taking is letting us down though ‘Bonner’ remains our constant threat.

Against that, however, Limerick too had their moments of regret. The disallowed goal was simply a bad call by the referee and would have been a very hot topic if the result went against Limerick. They delivered their quota of aimless wides too so these must be balanced against our regrets at the other end.

In the event it all came down to one of those toss-up finishes where anything could happen. Dowling’s second goal set up the late dramatics. Over-eagerness by our defenders let the ball break for Kevin Downes. The full forward cut through the defence before laying off to Dowling who turned back onto his favoured left side and somehow found the rigging through a crowded goal area.

A nail-biting finish then and it’s here we coughed up the winning scores. Tomas Ryan latched onto a break for the lead point and Seamus Hickey closed it out with the final flag. Tipp were left bemoaning those soft lobs into Nicky Quaid’s paw as well as a sequence of bad wides. In a game of inches every miss counted.

There’s no point in glossing this outcome for anything but the shattering defeat that it was. It steers us into the minefield of the qualifiers where we depend on a lottery to decide our opponents and where we play them. How different things might have been.

Our defence emerges from the experience reasonably well. Some have criticised Brendan Maher for the latitude enjoyed by Donal O’Grady on two rallying second half points but surely the centre back was playing according to instructions by sitting deep and it was the job of midfield or half forwards to track back and pick up the attacker. Having our centre back play that sweeper role was needed because of the goals we were leaking in the league but such a ploy requires an outfield player to track the loose man. Clare have perfected this method; we clearly haven’t.

Otherwise the defence looked secure: Barrett again excellent, Barry doing well on the wing, Paudie Maher coming into his own in the second half and Mickey Cahill being sorely missed during those final climactic moments. Could Gleeson have done better on the goals? Maybe, but they would have been top of the range saves.

Midfield, however, was a problem area throughout the game. It was here that James Ryan ruled supreme, involved in so much of the action and contributing hugely to the outcome. Woodlock’s loss was major on a day when his high-energy athleticism would have been invaluable. This is a zone the management will have to revisit ahead of the qualifiers.

The attack too had its difficulties. Here ‘Bonner’ was the star of the show but ultimately this area promised more than it delivered. Gearoid Ryan’s work rate was huge; if others had copied we’d now be looking ahead to a Munster final. John O’Dwyer chipped in with four points from play and Niall O’Meara had individual items of merit for a debutant though I felt he could have been withdrawn sooner after taking an off-the-ball blow to the head, an incident that seemed to escape everybody’s attention.

I was disappointed with Noel McGrath’s input. We were back to the odd little cameo here and there but nothing of sustained impact; a bad wide in each of the halves were other negatives on his account.

Seamus Callanan delivered a few scores from play and was involved in a few others though most pundits gave Richie McCarthy the clear edge in that battle. Frustratingly Callanan was either blocked or hooked five times by my count, and I may have missed one or two. That’s unacceptable at this level. One little cameo late in the game illustrates the point. Callanan won possession ahead of McCarthy and got a step on him as the defender stumbled. But instead of heading in for goal Callanan stood flat-footed and wound up for a big strike. It gave enough time for McCarthy to get in a hook and the danger was cleared.

Of the substitutes Denis Maher did best. He scored a point and might have been the hero if a few other efforts found the range. As regards the management there was puzzlement over the withdrawals of James Barry and John O’Dwyer as well as the tardiness in addressing the midfield issue.

On the refereeing front we got a major break on that disallowed goal but on the minus side a lot of soft frees kept Shane Dowling busy in the first half especially; a wrong Limerick defender was booked for a foul on ‘Bonner’; the Niall O’Meara incident was missed by all officials; and the booking of Kieran Bergin was ridiculous. Yet Ger Loughnane reckons he was excellent. Indeed.

So, we head into the qualifiers. On the issue of golfing chokers Tom Watson argues that at least the chokers get into a position to choke. It’s a slightly positive note to finish on.

 

 

 

 

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