Westside column – April 21st 2012

The hurling spotlight lights up Thurles this weekend with a pair of hugely attractive league semi-finals on the Sunday menu. The appetiser will see Clare’s new-found feistiness under Davy being tested by the ‘cats’, while the main course (we hope) will be supplied by another helping of the Tipp\Cork age-old rivalry. Cork under JBM have been attracting notice lately so an injury-hit home side will face a testing afternoon.
Elsewhere (whisper it!) the relegation impasse seems to have reached end game with Ballybacon it appears reluctantly accepting their medicine. In the twisted logic of this case might an intermediate side beaten by Brendan Cummins and co now lodge an appeal on the grounds that their opponents were improperly relegated?
If a pair of league semis in Thurles in April doesn’t stir the hurling blood then go back to the premiership or whatever mercenary code takes your fancy. This is a springtime highlight for hurling fans. The newest rivalry between Tipp and Cork goes on show once again with the background memory of their high-scoring league round some weeks back whetting the appetite. And the present monarchs of the game, Kilkenny, face a grilling from an ambitious Clare side. It’s enough to provoke giddiness among the fans.
I don’t like Davy Fitzgerald’s loud-mouth sideline manner but there’s no denying he infuses his teams with some of that passion. They had no right to come back from eight-down to deny Limerick in the division 1B final but they showed commendable spunk in doing just that. Now their newfound swagger faces the ultimate challenge. On known form they’ll be expected to lose but the event should be informative.
However, our main concern hereabouts will be the second game and the renewal of our rivalry with the blood-and-bandage brigade. We’ve met twice already this spring, winning a Waterford Crystal game in extra time and then drawing in the league round a few weeks back. We also drew with them in last year’s league round at Pairc Ui Chaoimh and lost the previous year by a single point again down Leeside. It’s quite a record of closeness between the counties which might suggest more of the same on Sunday.
Our league round with the rebels three weeks ago drew widespread praise for the sheer spectacle on show. It was certainly an open, fluid sort of game with plenty of pace and space but little intensity. I recall listening to Donal O’Grady’s TG4 commentary afterwards where he likened it to an exhibition game marking the opening of a pitch.
On Sunday expect a more high-octane game. The stakes are higher this time and both counties will be aware of a possible Munster semi-final clash in June so setting down markers will be on the agenda also. Familiarity they say (whoever they are?) breeds contempt so these regular meetings of the sides are sure to add spice to the clashes.
Tipperary are injury-hit for the event. Paul Curran seems to be the latest victim after he damaged a knee down South and his absence is potentially very unsettling for the defence. John Coghlan might be considered a one-on-one replacement though he suffered against Dublin and had to be withdrawn so there may be a reluctance to gamble with him at full back now. Otherwise the management might consider drafting Padraic Maher to number three or maybe Michael Cahill with Conor O’Brien coming on at corner or wing. Paddy Stapleton is back on board though hardly with the match fitness to be thrown in here. Donagh Maher has been holding the number two jersey, though he too is struggling with a hamstring problem.
At half back one expects Thomas Stapleton to have done enough in past games to hold number five beside Conor O’Mahony and then it depends on whether or not Padraic Maher is available for number seven. One thing is for certain: Curran’s absence weakens our defensive shield considerably. Shane Maher and John O’Keeffe are other options for the half back line.
Midfield too has an injury query surrounding James Woodlock who hurt his back while hurling – not in a horse riding accident as I was wrongly informed last week. In his absence you’d expect Brendan Maher and Shane McGrath to man the midfield zone.
In attack I presume we’ll opt for a similar formation to previous league outings, perhaps even the same six as began against Cork the last day viz Gearoid Ryan, Noel McGrath and Pa Bourke on the ‘forty’ with Shane Bourke, Brian O’Meara and John O’Brien inside. Eoin Kelly seems certain to be involved at some stage though ‘Bonner’ Maher is still recuperating and while Seamus Callanan is back in action he’s hardly match fit for this game – certainly not as a starter.
I’ve forgotten the ‘culbaire’ position. How could I since you’ll hear that debate being thrashed out wherever two or three are gathered with strong advocates on both sides of the argument. With the old-style game there would be no dispute; Cummins would be unchallenged as the best shot-stopper by a distance. The new requirement to target puck-outs of varying distance brings Gleeson into consideration. Still I suspect Cummins’ known excellence throughout an outstanding career keeps him in pole position.
Overall it’s certainly a compromised Tipperary team and one that I suspect will be hard pressed against Cork’s new-found rhythm. On the evidence of the last day JBM is assembling a useful side. The pace of such as Conor Lehane and Cathal Naughton had us stretched at times while Pat Horgan has the potential to hit a big score. Darren Sweetnam is something of a midfield sensation playing with amazing assurance for a Leaving Cert student – they don’t do inhibition down Leeside. The attack too is strong with Cadogan finding a new influence at centre and the likes of Sean Og adding experience. Gardner didn’t start the last day; he’ll surely play some part onSunday.
It’s an intriguing one. Our last league win over Cork was at the Stadium in ’09 when we thrashed the visitors by 2-15 to 0-9. You can put your house on there not being a repeat of that margin this time. On recent evidence it looks like a tight call once again, hopefully one that goes our way.
Is this finally the end of the relegation saga? It was threatening to outdo ‘Coronation Street’ for episodic longevity as the issue ping-ponged back and forth from Borrisokane to Ballybacon and in and out of boardrooms at county and provincial level. Finally we seem to have a curtain call though one is reluctant to be definitive about anything in relation to this unholy mess.
My roguish speculation at the top of this article that an intermediate team beaten by Ballybacon might challenge the outcome is designed to further ridicule that far-fetched suggestion that a senior side would take similar action if no team was relegated. When people are defending the indefensible they tend to grasp at straws and the CCC were certainly scrabbling on this one.
My sympathy is very much with Ballybacon. They’ve been the victims of the entire shambles, one that was not of their making. Given the length of time that elapsed because of all the twists and turns it was unfair to ask any team to play such a high-stakes game inApril in order to decide a 2011 competition. We went several years with no relegation in the county and the sky didn’t fall in. Yet for some this time it became a personal prerogative to doggedly push this one through irrespective of the justice or otherwise of events. Perhaps a certain desire not to give in to this column’s suggestion was also a motivating factor with some.
Anyway they’ve had their way so the South has one less senior side. It’s a pyrrhic victory.
In last week’s column I got in mention of the sad passing of Donal O’Brien and shortly afterwards got word that the Kickhams club in West Tipperary had lost another former star with the death of John Joe McCormack. The pair were team mates in the early sixties at a time when O’Brien was in his prime and McCormack was in the twilight of a long club service.
I’ve been surprised at the lack of coverage of Donal O’Brien’s passing. His role in Tipperary’s golden era should have meant more but somehow his achievements seem to have been overlooked, especially by the national media.
That invaluable resource, the county archive, which can be accessed through the Tipperary GAA website, lists Donal O’Brien as a county minor in 1957 and ’58. Terry Moloney was minor goalie in both years as the team won All Ireland honours in ’57 and then went out in a first round to Limerick in ’58. Donal missed out on the U21 grade, the first All Ireland being in 1964 when coincidentally the goalie was another West man, Peter O’Sullivan.
Having been deputy to Terry Moloney at minor level Donal O’Brien replaced him at senior level in 1961 and enjoyed a perfect two years between the sticks on that famous Tipperary formation. Arguably he could have harvested two more All Irelands if he’d stayed around for the ’64 and ’65 wins but emigration took him to the States which became his home thereafter.
He did return to Ireland for a period in the eighties and played outfield for his club, by then a man in his forties playing on the ‘forty’, which was quite remarkable. Like many returned emigrants I think he found it hard to settle back to the pace of life in Ireland and eventually returned to New York. The premature death of his son at that stage didn’t help either.
I don’t remember him in those All Irelands but clearly he had something special to be in that famous company. Some years ago when we launched the West Tipperary history a committee selected the division’s team of the Millennium and Donal was the popular choice for number one spot.
John Joe McCormack pre-dated Donal O’Brien by about a decade. He played full back on Tipperary’s All Ireland minor win of 1947. It was a side that also contained his Kickhams club mate the late John Farrell at midfield. McCormack’s club career spanned Kickhams golden era from the late forties until the early sixties when they monopolised West Tipperary hurling. Powerfully built he eventually moved from the full back line to the full forward line.
The two were team mates in Kickhams 1960 West final win, the club’s last hurrah for thirty-seven years. Hopefully they are now reminiscing together in the great beyond. May they rest in peace.

Leave a Reply