Westside Column 9 February 2018

WESTSIDE

There was hurling cheer for Tipperary on two fronts at the weekend: the county’s seniors got their league campaign back on track with a satisfying win over Waterford; and Cashel Community School battled its way to a Munster final with a rousing one-point win over Bandon.

‘No panic’, said Michael Ryan after our opening defeat to Clare in the league, but inevitably there was a slight edginess among Tipperary fans ahead of Waterford’s visit for round two. And it wasn’t until the second half when that anxiety was fully allayed as Tipperary pushed on against fading visitors.

A nine-point win in the end was cushy but it was only in the final quarter that the game tilted so heavily to one side. On a bitterly cold evening both sides fumbled and blundered through multiple errors. The hurling was poor then but it’s February and teams are experimenting so I suppose we have to adjust expectations.

The crucial phase of play came about midway through the second half. Tipperary was poor in the first half but resumed in better form. We went three-up before being stung by a Waterford goal. It was a fine combination move from defence to attack which outflanked the locals; Mark O’Brien was the last link in the chain and he gave Paul Maher no chance from close range.

Then there came a critical moment. Austin Gleeson was coming out along the side line when he shipped one of those rattling challenges from Ronan Maher. A line ball was given, much to the annoyance of the Waterford management, and in the ensuing play Tipp won a penalty after Michael Breen was grounded having latched on to a John McGrath cross. Jason Forde brilliantly dispatched the penalty. Shortly afterwards Gleeson retired injured and thereafter Tipperary sailed free to a commanding win.

On the issue of the line ball I’ve no idea whether or not the ‘sliotar’ was out but it again highlights a point I’ve made here in the past. Adopt the rugby rule: if the player in possession touches the whitewash then it’s a line ball. That would be easy to adjudicate; otherwise it’s impossible to judge whether or not a small ball like a ‘sliotar’ is over the line when it’s in a player’s fist.

Anyway most reports on the game telescoped events to this passage of play as the deciding phase. Maybe. Gleeson’s loss was more critical to Waterford, I suspect, than the concession of the goal but they’ll have been worried nonetheless about their last quarter fade out.

For Tipperary it was a needed win. Two losses would have left the team at the base of the table with an obvious increase in anxiety levels. I think Saturday’s selection reflected that reality.

Cathal Barrett suffered a tightening of the groin area before the game and no chances were taken. Ronan Maher moved to midfield with Paudie Feehan coming in at number seven. The Killenaule man grabbed his good luck enthusiastically turning in a fine game. He looks strong, good in the air and well able to surge forward. What a pity his sortie up field at the start of the second half was denied by a superb save from Stephen O’Keeffe.

Others too caught the eye. Tossy Hamill for the second game running was strong at full back. In the old style ways of traditional full backs he’s well equipped, though people will always wonder about the livelier, more open play of summer.

It was a good night too for goalie, Paul Maher, who made one fine save from Stephen Bennett and looked otherwise very composed. He had little chance on the one that passed him.

Tipperary’s stand-out individuals would also include Ronan Maher, who seems to be relishing that midfield role, and Noel McGrath who once again was influential at centre forward. I liked the form of Jason Forde too who upped his play considerably from the Ennis game.

Worryingly Dan McCormack limped off early on with a knee injury. There appears to be major concern about the nature of that damage. Joe O’Dwyer too had to withdraw with a hand injury, so hopefully we’ll hear positive news on that front during the week. All this underlines the need for panel depth.

The team has a break now, the only one in the present series, before we welcome high-flying Wexford to the Stadium on Saturday week. That promises to be a really stiff examination with Davy’s side on two wins already.

Elsewhere at the weekend there was another opportunity on Saturday to cheer Tipperary hurling when Cashel Community School travelled to East Cork and pulled off a famous win over Hamilton High School, Bandon, in the Munster semi-final of the ‘B’ grade. It’s a win that sets up an enticing final with CBS Mitchelstown.

The game was played on the grounds of St. Ita’s club on the seafront outside Youghal. It’s a small junior club put on the map in recent times by Seamus Harnedy in a way that Joe Deane made Killeagh recognizable for hurling followers in the past. In fact Killeagh is just out the road from St. Ita’s and the clubs combine in some grades.

I was reminded on Saturday of Donal Og Cusack’s description of St. Ita’s and their venue: “They play on the windiest field in Ireland. They claim the pitch is beside the beach. I swear it is the beach. You could lose a corner forward at low tide”.

Thankfully no corner forward was lost on Saturday but it was heavy going. The tide wasn’t a problem but that icy gale that blew diagonally down the field made conditions very challenging. Add in a sleety second half shower when Cashel were against the elements and you get some idea of what these lads faced.

In the circumstances it took real resolve and tenacity and genuine backbone from Cashel to dig out a precious one-point win against a physically stronger Bandon team; the Cork side played Harty last year.

Mind you it didn’t look promising early on. Despite having the elements in their shoulder blades Cashel only led by three points to two after about twenty minutes. Things looked ominous at that juncture.

However, just before the break Cashel rescued the situation to give themselves a fighting chance in the second half. Mossy Skeffington got their first point from play and then the same player hit a priceless goal. It was a quality score. Ross Bonnar from out on the left wing placed a beautiful diagonal cross in front of the inrushing Skeffington and from there the forward found the rigging. Cashel were six-up at half time.

Would it be enough against these elements? Hardly – and especially not when Bandon resumed in fine style to rapidly halve the lead. Where Cashel had found that wind so tricky in the first half Bandon mastered it far better in the second.

But the one quality this Cashel side has in abundance is gritty resolve. Every ball was disputed tigerishly, there was no shirking from anyone.

And then there’s the old hoary cliché about goals winning matches. Bandon would remain goal-less and at a crucial juncture now Cashel found a second. Sometimes against the wind you get more space to run at a defence and that’s precisely what happened here. Ross Bonnar found the opening, soloed in and made no mistake. A Colm Moloney point from a free shoved the lead back out to seven and now Bandon had a real battle on their hands.

The Cork school responded with a run of six points on the trot and the game was suddenly down to a cliff-edge climax. It took real stubbornness from Cashel to halt the drift of this game but they weren’t going to buckle under any pressure. A fine save by the Bandon goalie deprived them of a third goal but another Colm Moloney free would prove the precious winner. Bandon tried hard to find a leveler but lost their cool a bit near the end, having a player sent off, and Cashel held firm for a massive win.

Cashel seem to me to have a neat mix of hurling and heart. There are some fine individuals in the team but on Saturday I’d be more inclined to highlight the collective resolve of the entire side.

The Munster final, I’m told, is scheduled for Saturday week but precise details are not yet available. Cashel will face Mitchelstown CBS, just like the Abbey CBS did two years ago. It’s one to anticipate.

Coming home on Saturday past Dungarvan I couldn’t help thinking of the late Johnny Murphy. If he was still with us I’m sure he’d have been out at Pilmore among his old friends and would have really relished his home town’s success. Gone but not forgotten.

 

P.S. It’s that time of year again when the Tipperary Supporters Club is promoting membership for 2018. All the usual benefits apply but this year there’s one new feature where members will be able to vote for the first Tipperary Senior Hurler of the Year. You can join online at www.tippsupportersclub.com, in the GAA shop in Thurles or by sending a cheque or postal order for €40 to Jim Reidy, 13 Castleknock Close, Dublin 15.

 

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