WESTSIDE COLUMN APRIL 3

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For the second week in succession Tipperary get caught by a late leveller. Pat Horgan spoiled the Tipperary party at the end of a contest that enthralled the followers and will have whetted appetites for what’s yet to come. There will be more tangible rewards at stake when the sides reassemble in a few weeks for the league semi-final.
Elsewhere Nenagh CBS pulled off an extraordinary All Ireland colleges’ win with last Saturday’s victory over their Kilkenny counterparts. It compensates somewhat for the Harty defeat and earns them a treasured place in colleges’ hurling history.
Over ten thousand fans clicked through the turnstiles at Semple Stadium on Sunday last and were rewarded with a game of high spectacle and high scores as Tipp and Cork slugged it out for what could potentially be one of several head-to-heads between the pair this season (this was their second clash having already met in the Waterford Crystal). Being caught once again by a leveller tends to niggle a little, but a more generous reflection on events will draw plenty of positives from the game.
The clash has drawn widespread praise for its pace and lavish spectacle as the sides shared out a score-total of 2-46 in a match played in summery conditions. (Interestingly Tipperary have now hit a total of seventy five points in their last three league games, which averages at twenty-five per match). It was certainly flashy and free-flowing with some classy scores taken by both sides but the intensity levels were very much league standard.
An interesting facet of the game was the fact that both sides played it tactically, trying to retain possession and place opponents rather than opting for the long delivery. It’s often a high risk strategy because the fans get edgy when a pass goes astray or there’s seen to be over-elaboration. In the main, however, Tipperary have adapted well to this approach in recent matches though inevitably there will be times when is just doesn’t pay off.
The first half was very much a tit-for-tat affair with a decent spread of scorers on both sides. Darren Sweetnam’s three flags from midfield for Cork were highly significant as were those from Pat Horgan. On the Tipp side our half forward line was delivering but little traffic was finding its way to the full line. Like other days scores were coming from outfield with our wing backs even getting in on the act.
The goal drought has been a nagging issue with Tipperary in recent games and we had a great chance to end the barren spell near half time. Padraic Maher made a typical foray into attack and when he was eventually dispossessed Brian O’Meara latched onto the breakdown to go through one-on-one with Cusack in the Cork goal. Cusack’s advance closed down the target and O’Meara’s attempted bat went straight to the goalie. It was a missed chance and Cork finished the half strongest going two-up when Cummins misplaced a puck-out to Par Horgan who gratefully returned it over the keeper’s head.
But if Cork finished the first half strongest it was Tipperary who grabbed the initiative on resuming. John O’Brien planted an immediate point and then came Pa Bourke’s surge through the middle, the trip and the twenty-metre free which he sent sizzling to the net. From two-down at half time we eventually went to four-up. Shane McGrath was in for Gearoid Ryan and impacting well; an off-colour Brendan Maher was now at wing forward and would eventually be replaced.
But JBM is building a promising looking Cork side and it was inevitable that they’d hit back. The critical score was their goal, worked in along the end line and spooned out to Conor Lehane who beat Cummins with the shot to the roof of the net. By now we had an engrossing game with the initiative swaying this way and that. Eoin Kelly was in for ‘Buggy’ O’Meara and announced his arrival with a trademark point.
Tipp recovered well from the Cork goal with Noel McGrath popping points with typical economy. John O’Brien was fetching from the air with great frequency and Shane Bourke was emerging as one of our best in attack. Pa Bourke too was having one of his best days despite one ridiculous refereeing call against him.
But if Tipperary were doing nicely Cork had their aces too. Increasingly Cathal Naughton was sprinting away from opponents and causing grief to our defence – he did most to rescue Cork in the final phase. Gardner came in and landed an instant point. Pat Horgan was a constant threat too.
In a hectic climax to events we might have leaked another goal or two. Naughton sent one screaming across the face of the goal and out wide. Michael Cahill made one spectacular block and Paul Curran bravely did the same sometime later. It was edge of the seat stuff with the verdict on a knife edge. Another John O’Brien fetch, a pass to Shane Bourke and the lead point in the final minute sent the Tipp fans wild. One minute of extra time was announced but a minute and a half was played when a final Cork attack saw Horgan outfield Shane McGrath before hitting the leveller. It’s fashionable to claim the result was fair but, damn it, why can’t we close out games that are within our grasp?
Anyway Kilkenny’s demolition of Galway meant that we were through to the semis irrespective of the outcome at home. Still we’d have liked to claim the bragging rights over Cork in a season where our paths seem destined to cross frequently.
From a Tipperary perspective there was much to admire. Defensively it was good to see Paul Curran getting back to his finer form; it’s what we’ve come to expect when the stakes are raised. Padraic Maher was outstanding on that left wing; he may not be the tightest of markers but the volume of play he directs downfield is immense as he sweeps up ball from all over. O’Mahony and Cahill were also very effective closing off the leaks. Our right flank will be the focus of much attention as the season heads towards the championship. Both Donagh Maher and Thomas Stapleton faced quite an examination on this occasion and both survived, albeit while under intense stress at times. Brendan Cummins won’t enjoy viewing some of his first half puck-outs and appeared to revert to the more direct route in the second period.
At midfield James Woodlock was the better of the starting pair and seemed to have emptied the tank by the finish. Shane McGrath again impacted impressively when introduced. Perhaps we should become accustomed to a degree of flux in this area where stamina demands over the seventy minutes are extreme.
In attack the major plaudits go to the likes of Noel McGrath, Pa Bourke, Shane Bourke and John O’Brien. It was particularly pleasing to see Shane Bourke leave an imprint on the game. His inter-county career has been a bit stop-start thus far so it was encouraging to see his input this time. His first second half point was particularly eye-catching. Noel McGrath’s loss was critical in the final minutes and let’s hope that shoulder injury isn’t serious. He must be a nightmare to mark as he ghosts away into those positions to collect breaks or passes. Pa Bourke has many critics but let’s give credit when it’s due – this was one of his best displays.
For ‘Buggy’ O’Meara this was a particularly frustrating day coming down from the high of the Dublin game. In fairness the present game play doesn’t feature him so he’s often chasing down shadows. We need Kelly and ‘Bonner’ Maher and Callanan back in harness to give that attack a more potent formation.
What of Cork? Watch them this year. They’ve clearly found some exciting young recruits in the likes of Sweetnam and Lehane and Coughlan to compliment the more seasoned element. On this showing Cathal Naughton will be a nightmare for defences given his sprinter’s pace. Pat Horgan is a handful too and I think Cadogan is developing into a formidable centre back. All in all they’re moving with menacing purpose since Jimmy Barry took over.
A rematch with Cork now in the league semi-final isn’t ideal but we have to play the hand we’re dealt. On the positive side it should be another cracker and matches like these are invaluable preparation for the championship. With the possibility that we might meet again in the Munster semi-final these sides are going to become very familiar with each other. It’s a challenge for the management as much as the players as the teams analyse each other.
The other big event at the weekend, which I unfortunately missed, was that All Ireland colleges’ final on Saturday. It’s strange how this All Ireland series seems to play second fiddle to the Harty in terms of prestige. It’s akin to rating a divisional club title ahead of the county one – or a Munster title ahead of an All Ireland. Yet for many that’s the perception.
All of which shouldn’t bother the lads of Nenagh CBS after their stupendous achievement in bringing a first to the school at this elevated level. After losing the Harty final to the Waterford colleges it would have been understandable if they were less than passionate in their bid for an All Ireland. Yet they appear to have put aside the Harty heartache and gone for the big one with renewed zest. All of which reflects great credit on the team and mentors.
They’ve become the first ever back-door winners of the colleges All Ireland. The system was introduced about six years ago in order to avoid having a semi-final bye in the All Ireland series due to the lack of Ulster participants. It’s one that will surely feature in future quizzes to name the school that won the All Ireland colleges but never won the Harty.
Anyway it’s a great achievement, one that should boost minor hurling in Tipperary. Incidentally the Nenagh talisman all year has been Jason Forde from the Silvermines club (scorer of 2-2 on Sunday) and I understand he narrowly misses out on the minor grade this year. Donagh O’Donnell, presently with the Limerick seniors, was the team coach; he’s no stranger to Tipperary clubs. Cashel native, Tony Slattery, has been a long-time, diligent worker at the coal face with Nenagh CBS teams and this will surely rate as one of the highlights for him too. Congrats to all concerned.

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