The more things change the more they stay the same. It was another Tipp/Kilkenny epic, a reprise of the ’09 final, and another heart-wrenching near miss for the home followers. Once more we’re left more blue than golden.
A great day for hurling, for sure, with all the drama, tension and atmospherics that you’d expect; a priceless spectacle, indeed, one to be indulged in; but, damn it, another galling defeat.
These pills are becoming more difficult to swallow especially when they came laced with some dreadful decision making by officials.
First on the positive side you have to do a hats-off to management and team for a stupendous effort. They’ve really transformed the scene since those horror shows of earlier rounds. In the process they’ve put Tipperary back in the mix as we head towards championship launch.
After the brittleness of earlier rounds we now have a team made of sterner stuff. Part of that transformation comes from the return to form of the go-to players, the leaders. Brendan Maher was outstanding on Sunday. He really is the bonding agent that holds that defence intact. Then you had Paudie Maher at full and ‘Bonner’ at centre forward all standing apart. Noel McGrath too and Mickey Cahill and Conor O’Mahony were showing the way.
These were the established men back-boning the effort and then you had the newer boys on the block such as Barrett and Barry in defence as well as O’Meara and ‘Bubbles’ and Denis Maher in attack. Add in the hard grafting Woodlock and the impressive Bergin at midfield and you had a team unit and a work ethic that threw down the gauntlet to Kilkenny.
The fact that their efforts fell a point short after eighty and more minutes of hurling might be more bearable but for the bad decisions that hampered them. You probably need to be about six or seven points better than Kilkenny to beat them by one on any given day; with umpire and refereeing decisions going against you the required superiority is even greater.
I have no sympathy for the umpires. These weren’t shots that flew past them from acute angles or off deflections where they might have been unsighted. These were deliveries from outfield, from a distance, where if you take up the correct positioning there should be no difficulty in making the correct call. Yet the same umpire got two of them badly wrong as TV footage later showed. Isn’t it utterly unacceptable that players are afflicted with such poor umpiring at this level?
Those decisions cost us two points and then you had the free against Cathal Barrett which is surely a top contender for the most outrageous decision of the year. In a game of inches where margins are so tight, and against a force as formidable as Kilkenny such giveaways were simply too much.
As for the penalties the neutral consensus appears to be that the second one was correct but the first should have been a free out for barging by the forward. And yet that first award was so critical to the outcome of this game because it brought Kilkenny back into the frame just before half time after we’d done most of the best first half hurling. Why didn’t the referee consult his two umpires before making that crucial decision? Then again given the umpires’ form on those points maybe their advice wasn’t worth seeking.
There was another refereeing decision that really irked me. Early in the second half Brendan Maher flicked away an intended pass to Ritchie Hogan and inextricably a free was given and the Tipp man booked.
Against all of this there was one stand-out decision that wrongly went against Jackie Tyrrell but I’m afraid the preponderance of errors came down on the Tipp side. During the week Diarmuid Kirwan was dropped from the refereeing panel and I doubt if he got too many Tipperary votes of sympathy. If this is the standard that remains I think we’re in for a lot of controversy this summer.
A final word on the penalties: given the Anthony Nash mode of penalty taking, now ably copied by T.J. Reid, it makes dodgy refereeing decisions all the more critical. The ‘penalty’ rule has to be changed and I’m baffled by our County Board’s published opposition to change earlier in the year. Maybe they’re rethinking the issue by now.
It’s a pity all those bad decisions dominate discussion of this game because once again the counties served up a hurling thriller. Tipperary had a sluggish start but once ‘Bubbles’ tapped over that opener we settled to the job and in the second quarter hit a real purple patch. The goal was an individual highlight, John O’Dwyer’s flick in from Noel McGrath’s sideline ‘cut’ showed courage and precision.
We went six-up but before half time it had been cut to just two principally through Reid’s first penalty goal. We deserved more from the opening half but you don’t always get what you deserve in hurling and besides it should be noted that Kilkenny untypically missed some very scoreable chances in that spell.
The second half swayed to and fro as well but in the end we were lucky to get that draw that sent it to extra time. John O’Dwyer’s long-range effort came back off the post and the referee stalled his final whistle just long enough for ‘Bonner’ to set up Bergin for the equaliser.
We were left bemoaning missed chances in the added time, Noel McGrath, ‘Bonner’, Shane Bourke and ‘Bubbles’ all guilty, though the Killenaule man did land the point of the day from under the old stand. A few fluffed chances, missed passes and wrong options – especially from Shane Bourke on one raid – would add to our sense of regret.
Goalie Gleeson has, I feel, been unfairly targeted for the match-winning point. Maybe his effort to hit James Barry with the free-out was a mite risky but we had two sideline takes to defend before Hogan and Reid worked that one-two for the winner. Still it was heart-breaking after such a super effort.
Overall the team takes huge kudos from the day following a brave and luckless effort that denied us what would have been a hugely significant win. Credit the ‘cats’ with massive resilience to graft out a win in the circumstances. On a day when Shefflin was well tamed by Barrett they had stellar performances from such as Ritchie Hogan and T.J. Reid and Padraig Walsh. Eoin Larkin I felt contributed significantly also when introduced. They certainly haven’t gone away and remain the benchmark for all to match once more this year.
For Tipperary it was a day to be proud if bowed once more. Tiocfaidh ar la. The team is taking shape as Limerick prepare to visit Thurles in a few weeks time. The defence and midfield were outstanding (a save by Gleeson off Ritchie Hogan went mostly unnoticed in the second half). Callanan had a more subdued day though on reflection little enough ball fell between him and Delaney and he was faultless on the frees as well as drawing one great save from Eoin Murphy. Gearoid Ryan’s introduction was a positive addition though the in-out involvement of John O’Brien was puzzling. We’d still like more goal threat in attack but that’s, I’m sure, on the to-do list for the next few weeks.