Westside column – February 18th 2012

Another brisk work-out and another win for Tipperary as the build up to the league opener on February 26 gathers pace. Extra time was needed to see off Cork in the Crystal semi-final at Templemore. Clare demolished Waterford in the other semi but the final fixture will have to be delayed because the inter-provincials take precedence next Sunday.
Elsewhere the fall-out from Lar’s withdrawal continues to rumble on. Rumbling along too is that protracted relegation issue; Borrisokane weren’t ready for action last week so presumably their game with Ballybacon will now be re-fixed.
Tipperary’s pre-season itinerary has thrown up a smooth six wins out of six. The visit of Cork was undoubtedly the most prestigious of the six games, a fact reflected in the management’s choice of fifteen. Nine of the All Ireland side went into action against a more experimental Cork formation. Undoubtedly it was a statement of intent by Declan Ryan and colleagues, so there was general satisfaction afterwards with the outcome, though a squandering of chances made it more laboured than might have been the case.

There’s no doubt Tipperary’s programme of preparation is well ahead of last year. That fact was underlined in the second period of extra time when the home side pulled away from a visibly tiring Cork. A string of points off the sticks of Sean Curran (two), James Woodlock, Pa Bourke and an Eoin Kelly free took the team six-up. A late Cork goal briefly halted the trend before Johnny Ryan sealed the day with a final point.
It was a strong finish to a game that Tipperary should have taken more comfortably. Pa Bourke alone had enough chances to send Cork reeling but he just seems to lack that killer instinct, delaying an instant, too slow to pull the trigger. Twice in the first half he was denied and again at the start of the second when goalie, Martin Coleman, made a good save. He wasn’t alone of course. Shane McGrath fluffed a great chance also in the first half when he appeared to lose his footing at a critical moment and in extra time Gearoid Ryan too was denied by a despairing block from a defender. Interestingly ‘Buggy’ O’Meara was the creator of at least three of those chances and the full forward should have had a ‘penalty’ also when wrestled to the ground early in the second half of normal time. Inexplicably he had a free awarded against him.

Had Tipperary taken their chances they could have bagged four or five goals and this game would have been over long before extra time was required. Still it is only February and you can’t expect clinical hurling at this time of season.
From a Tipperary perspective there were many positives from the game. The form of Brian O’Meara was the undoubted highlight. He scored five points from play including the one that sent the tie to extra time; he orchestrated a hatful of chances for others and generally tormented the Cork defence. For the second week he was Tipperary’s main man in attack.
Others too will have enhanced their reputations. Adrian Ryan continues to show steady potential, clipping over three points on this occasion. Likewise Johnny Ryan had a profitable day at midfield. These guys are certainly justifying their promotion to the panel.

Otherwise I thought Tipperary had a very solid half back line where Conor O’Mahony stepped up on recent impressions, Padraic Maher was powerful as usual and Shane Maher too showed good form. That trio gave the team a very solid anchor so that Brendan Cummins’s line was mostly unthreatened, which was just as well because the ‘keeper seemed a bit rusty. He’s had very little game time so far this year. David Young came on at midfield to very good effect as did James Woodlock. Sean Curran took his chances well when introduced.

A major worry for Tipperary was the sight of Patrick Maher being carried off after going over on a knee. One immediately had fears of ligament damage but the late word on that injury appears to be more encouraging. Shane McGrath was also injured but again it doesn’t appear to be serious.
Overall I suspect the management will be quite happy with the team’s form albeit against an under strength Cork formation. The rebels did play Sean Og O’Hailpin for the first time since his return. They had a new centre back in Ross Cashman, one to watch out for, and a promising teenager in Darren Sweetman at midfield. They had a few of the old reliables on board including John Gardner, Pa Cronin, Cathal Naughton and Niall McCarthy. Ben O’Connor came in as a sub. We should be seeing a lot of them this year with a league game in Thurles and a possible Munster championship semi-final down South if we can cope with Limerick in the first round.
I had assumed the final of this competition would be played next week and it appears others made the same assumption before it was realised that the inter-provincials are billed for next Sunday at Nowlan Park. When the Crystal final now happens has yet to be decided with some mention of the weekend of March 3/4 as a possible date. Not being finished before the league starts diminishes this final because once the league kicks off it will be the priority for all sides. Incidentally whenever it happens the Crystal final will be staged at Sixmilebridge.

There’s no doubt the hot topic of last week was Lar Corbett and that shock announcement which took the GAA world by surprise. By now we’ve had a week to digest the news and read all the various angles on the story. Through it all I’m not sure anything very enlightening emerged. There’s been much speculating and theorising but not a lot of solid fact to back anything up. When the main man goes to ground I suppose it’s inevitable that the rumour mill goes into over-drive.

It may well be unfair to Lar but I suspect few people will believe that business commitment was the real reason for the decision. The business line has become a type of clichéd explanation for opt outs nowadays and people always suspect there are other background reasons for the move. In Lar’s case it appears to have been a mix of factors that led to his discomfort rather than one tipping point.
Whatever the real reason it is disastrous news for Tipperary hurling and one can only hope that there will be a rethink in the coming weeks and months a la D. J. Carey. Without Lar the team is diminished. His pace, flair and finishing gives the side a dimension that oppositions dread. Besides he has that talent for the big occasion which is priceless. You can see Lar being anonymous in a club game but put him into a Munster or All Ireland final and he electrifies the scene with a few dazzling moments. It really is unthinkable that we should face into the championship without him.
The management is in a very sticky situation on this one. The harsh reality is that if Lar doesn’t return it will reflect much more on the management than on the player himself. It wouldn’t have happened under Sheedy and O’Shea will become the chorus line for the critics. Losing such a prized player will be seen as a failure of management, however unfair that perception may be.
Anyway I assume there will be background moves in time to try and entice Lar back into the fold. I wish those moves well.

Meanwhile that relegation issue simply won’t go away. Ballybacon were due to play Borrisokane last weekend to finally decide who takes the drop but the North team pleaded inability to play and asked for more time to prepare. The cynic could say they’ve had about six months to prepare but in fairness to Borrisokane they’ve been the unwitting victims of this entire shambles.
Since last September the North club has been sitting on the sideline wondering how the controversy between Cashel and Ballybacon would eventually pan out. They watched as neutrals as the board room drama was played out. When Cashel won that battle they must have wondered if Ballybacon would play ball and perhaps privately hoped they wouldn’t. Then the game went ahead and now it’s their turn to face the crucial showdown.
I suspect Borrisokane hoped that something dramatic would happen along the way to save them the prospect of facing relegation. One doesn’t like promoting mutiny but if the three clubs had come together before Christmas and said they were not playing relegation I suspect there was little the board could do about it.
There’s talk of Borrisokane losing several players to emigration and generally not having much stomach for this particular battle. Like Ballybacon they played for time in refusing to play last weekend and one wonders what will happen now if, as expected the game is re-fixed. There’s talk of the match being re-set for Saturday week.
If Borrisokane refuse to play what happens then? Presumably they’re deemed the losing side and are thereby relegated. That could spark another round of board room battling.
Anyway I suspect I’m not alone in being fed up with this particular mess. It could all have been avoided by a quick decision last autumn to abandon relegation for 2011. However, for some it became a personal mission to ensure that such a scenario wouldn’t happen. And so the story drags on and on with the draws in two divisions held up as a consequence.

Finally before this appears the replay of the Harty Cup semi-final will have been played on Tuesday at Tipperary’s Sean Treacy Park. Nenagh CBS were apparently unlucky to be caught last week by the late levellers from Ard Scoil Ris so it will be interesting to see if they go one better this time. The final is fixed for February 26, an unfortunate clash with the Kilkenny league game, especially if Nenagh get through. Incidentally the Munster final of the ‘B’ grade goes on at Cahir this Saturday featuring Doon CBS against Dungarvan CBS.

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