Westside Column 8 June 2018

WESTSIDE

 

Down, but now quite out, Tipperary clings to ever-diminishing hope in this extraordinary Munster hurling series.

Another day of high drama (not to mention controversy), another fiery fight back, but still the door closes yet another smidgeon on our championship survival. Clare might well slam that proverbial door in our faces on Sunday, but for the moment we still dare to dream of a turnaround.

It’s been a tough few weeks for Tipperary hurling. Like last year we’ve slipped into a trough but unlike then there’s, unfortunately, no fall back security like the old qualifiers. The new system is unforgiving. Without a dramatic upswing in form our season could be over by next Sunday evening.

Heading into the Gaelic Grounds last Sunday the loose talk was all about Tipperary building up their score difference. Pretty soon, however, all that guff was silenced as Waterford led us a merry dance in the early exchanges.

Here we were once again playing second fiddle to opponents, off the pace, lacking vigour, taking the wrong options. Immediately Waterford looked far more energized. Despite their losses through injury and suspension the Deise had their dander up and Tipperary was again struggling to cope.

Waterford’s forward movement particularly was bamboozling our defence with Tom Devine showing for a lot of possession, Patrick Curran looking dangerous and Pauric Mahony pulling the strings at number eleven. In their revamped formation Conor Gleeson was at number three with ‘Brick’ at wing back and Austin Gleeson at number six. Their younger recruits too, like Foran, Roche and Kearney, were showing up well.

Against all that it was more of the same sluggish uncertainty from Tipperary. The players seemed to believe the pre-match expectations and before they knew it the game was slipping away.

Waterford’s first goal came from a high delivery into our goal area. When the ball broke Devine was fastest to react, his one-handed flick beating Hogan. That strike endorsed the early trend of the match; by the tenth minute Waterford were 1-6 to 0-3 ahead.

Tipperary might have retaliated when a neat passing movement between Callanan and John McGrath set up ‘Bubbles’ but Stephen O’Keeffe came off his line to make a fine save. The second Waterford goal was disastrous from a Tipperary perspective. A high delivery from O’Keeffe was drifting wide but Paudie decided to bat it out to a grateful Mahony who returned it to Hogan’s net.

I don’t know who got their communication lines garbled there but whatever the cause this was a juvenile error. In these situations the onus is on the goalie to make the call but I don’t know if that happened and if it was ignored or unheard. The gap was now widening alarmingly.

Worryingly Forde drove a few untypical wides. There were misplaced clearances too from the likes of Brendan Maher.  In all of it the defence was under strain, there was little relief from midfield and the attack was often out-numbered and making little headway.

Our woes got a whole lot worse on the cusp of half time when Mickey Cahill was shown a second yellow in what seemed the harshest of calls by the official. Six down and now a man down the half time dressing room can’t have been a comfortable place.

It would get worse before it got better. Against Cork the previous week we retaliated immediately on the resumption of play but this time it was Waterford who continued to dominate proceedings. Eventually the lead would stretch out to eleven points and our season seemed doomed.

And yet out of such despair the team somehow found the wherewithal to resuscitate the corpse. Substitutions would play a major role. ‘Bonner’ came in for ‘Bubbles’ and Barrett replaced Noel McGrath. The new arrivals brought welcome energy to the effort. Facing imminent elimination from the championship the team somehow mustered one final phase of defiance. Brendan Maher was central to this newfound zip and drive as Tipperary players finally roared into the action.

‘Bonner’s goal reinvigorated all around, the shot driven powerfully across O’Keeffe after Forde supplied the pass. Earlier Forde unluckily rattled the crossbar from a free. Points followed as Waterford seemed to wilt somewhat in the heavy heat. The chase was on.

Unfortunately our second goal will remain the talking point after an umpire inexplicably decreed that Gleeson had carried over the line in his bid to control a Forde delivery. It was a crazy call, the roughest of justice for Waterford who in fairness were gracious afterwards in interview. If the roles were reversed I’ve no doubt I’d be railing against the injustice.

It all came down to a frantic final few minutes of action. A mistake by Seamus Kennedy handed Jake Dillon a point to leave them two up a few minutes into added time. Tipp needed to score twice and found the openings. First it took the intervention of the referee to over-rule the umpire for a Ronan Maher point and then Jason Forde won and ‘nailed’ the leveling free.

It was dramatic stuff, a get-out-of-jail for Tipperary and a huge frustration for Waterford who must feel the planets are surely aligned against them at this stage. They’ll have Kevin Moran back for Limerick next week but still face a huge struggle to stay in the championship.

It’s a tricky scenario for Tipperary also. We need a win over Clare next week and a smile from the Gods in terms of other results. There are so many possible permutations that I wouldn’t tax the brain even considering them. A win over the Banner is the only issue that matters for now and then we’ll have to wait and see what emerges in the final round of games.

It’s extraordinary to think that only Forde and Callanan of our starting forwards survived on Sunday. The McGraths had an oddly subdued day and ‘Bubbles’ too struggled to make an impact, though the replacement of Dan McCormack was a mystery to me. All day he’d been one of our busier workers so I could see little logic in his removal near the end.

Callanan again battled hard but was often chasing scraps while Forde was heavily involved though untypically clocking up those wides. Ronan was the better of the midfield pair though McCarthy had moments of usefulness too.

At the defensive end Paudie had one of his less memorable days looking too casual at times. Brendan Maher roared into the game especially in the final quarter, an injection which earned him the TV man-of-the-match accolade. Joe O’Dwyer too had useful moments including one great first half fetch.

The full line was busy. Unlike others I didn’t think Mickey Cahill was in as much difficulty as in the Cork game despite the relentless feed that was being posted into that corner in the first half. Seamus Kennedy had a few great second half fetches but then lost one and fouled before that late giveaway hand pass. Most defenders had that mix of positives and negatives and overall I thought the full back line, including the combative Sean O’Brien, did reasonably well. It’s not our stand-out line so we have to accept our limitations.

There’s no disputing that ‘Bonner’ and Barrett were the pick of the replacements. Some of the others had little time to get involved.

It will be interesting to see what the fall-out will be in terms of team selection for the Clare game. I would expect ‘Bonner’ and Barrett to start this time. Whether to restore Barrett to defence or position him further afield will be interesting. He certainly brings animation to wherever he’s positioned and that’s precisely the type of zest we need at the moment.

‘Bonner’ too brings that element of dash to the attack; he’s a great foil to the more measured, nuanced play of the McGraths. ‘Bubbles’ could well lose out if the Lorrha man starts on Sunday.

Somehow I feel individual inputs are less important now than the collective mood of the team.  There’s a lethargy in the side which leaves us exposed to all opponents and if that can’t be shaken off then it’s difficult to see our season extending beyond Sunday.

Clare came up short against Cork in their opening game but delivered an emphatic result against Waterford on their second outing. They’ve had a two-week rest since that game so they’ll be fresh for Sunday knowing that a win is crucial to their prospects also.

We scraped past Clare last year down in Cork. They’ll feel they’re in a better place now with their expansive running game likely to cause us problems. It should be a huge occasion at the Stadium, a sort of last stand by this team. I note we’re listed as favourites once again, 4/7 against 13/8 for Clare. Betting odds have struggled to match reality in this championship so far but we’ll certainly hope the bookies have it right this time.

With our minors slipping up on Sunday last also the 2018 season is proving tough to take at all levels.  A senior win on Sunday next would certainly lift the mood. Let’s throw off the shackles and give it an almighty lash.

P.S. Reading some of the coverage of last Sunday you’d imagine that every refereeing decision possible went Tipperary’s way. That was far from the case. Most neutrals agreed that Mickey Cahill’s dismissal was harsh to the point of simply being wrong. Then you had the unpunished incident where Sean O’Brien was left sprawled after getting studs into the groin area. And what about the interference with ‘Bonner’s helmet, which, incidentally, isn’t a first by that particular Waterford player?  There were lots of bad calls on both sides. Hopefully we’ll have a game free of controversy next Sunday.

 

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