Westside column – January 28th 2012

For the first time in three years Tipperary get beyond the opening bout in the Waterford Crystal. A point-prolific display at Dolla against the students of LIT sends the team through to a quarter-final date with UL on Sunday week. Before that there’s a novel charity gig this coming Saturday at Nenagh against a Munster selection. It’s all part of the on-going build up to the league opener on February 26.
‘Extra time is necessary’ declared a misprint in the match programme at Dolla. Thankfully no such extension was required as Tipperary were pretty much in cruise control for the final phase with the students down to fourteen on the dismissal of John O’Keeffe and the margin heading towards double digits. O’Keeffe got his first yellow for pulling down Brendan Maher in the first half and the second was punishment for a mistimed pull on Adrian Ryan midway through the second spell. It rendered the remainder of the action quite academic though it did take Tipp some time to conclusively ‘nail’ the game.
The end margin was a far cry from the opening exchanges as LIT looked the sprightlier lot, settling in immediately and hitting an instant lead. Despite batting against the wind they had the opening two points and then Joe Canning did a smash and grab, out-fielding Paul Curran in the air and giving Darren Gleeson little chance on the shot. For both Canning and LIT, however, it was a case of flattering to deceive.
Gradually Tipperary worked their way into the game. Shane McGrath had the opening point and then Pa Bourke began what was to be a free-taking exhibition; he faultlessly landed ten out of ten in the first half. A John O’Neill goal off a ‘Buggy’ O’Meara feed was central to the Tipp revival too. O’Neill might have had an immediate second goal but was denied by goalie, Fahy. Still with Canning faltering uncharacteristically on the frees (he was eventually replaced as free-taker) and Bourke showing the Midas touch Tipperary hit the front to the tune of seven-up by the interval, 1-15 to 1-8.
A seven-point edge was comfortable but overall it had been a very loose half by Tipperary. It was very much January hurling with players standing off their markers and much of the play being shapeless. LIT persisted with these short puck-outs to their full backs and then trying to run the ball out of defence like footballers. Hurling has nothing to learn from football and tactically I couldn’t see the sense of this approach.
Cork and Donal Og have a lot to answer for. Nowadays you regularly see even at junior club level the goalie sending a short puck-out to his corner back. The poor defender then struggles to get his clearance away under pressure and maybe drives it thirty yards if he’s lucky. What’s the net benefit? There isn’t any, the goalie could have driven it further himself. Surely the aim is to transfer play to the attacking end as fast as possible without putting your own backs under strain. If the short puck-out doesn’t set up an attacking move for your forwards then surely there’s no point.
Anyway there was annoyance on the Tipp side too on Sunday because we were very lax in closing down these puck-outs. Players were ambling around after a score and you could sense Tommy Dunne’s annoyance at one stage such was the laxity.
Given the wind we faced for the second half we might have expected a stronger effort from LIT. However, they didn’t really make inroads in the third quarter and once centre back John O’Keeffe was dismissed there was an inevitability about the outcome even if it took Tipperary some time to deliver. Joe Canning frees became LIT’s main score-source in that second half whereas Tipp had a healthier spread of scorers. In the last five minutes the home team really clinched the issue. Timmy Hammersley came on and whipped in our second goal while Brian O’Meara’s work rate eventually yielded a pair of points. In the final six or seven minutes we outscored LIT by 1-5 to 0-2.
So in the end it was a very comfortable eleven-point gap. I often wonder just how instructive the management find these games. I suspect rather than anything dramatic emerging it’s more a case of building evidence brick by brick. The more often you see players the more you learn about them.
After their early unease the defence firmed up and conceded very little thereafter. Newly appointed captain, Paul Curran, settled to the task after that goal and Canning got little scope subsequently. The presence of Michael Cahill and Padraic Maher (there were five Mahers on the team) certainly added strength to the rearguard. After a slow start John Coghlan settled in at centre back and Donagh Maher continues to create a strong impression playing corner behind his brother Shane this time. Brendan Maher is moving well at midfield and hopefully will stay injury-free this year; he has the potential to be a huge player in 2012. Darren Gleeson is getting a lot of exposure in goal and did nothing wrong this time.
The management is obviously toying with the idea of Shane McGrath as a centre forward. He hit three points on Sunday but I suspect the jury will remain undecided for a while on this one. League games against the likes of Kilkenny will be more revealing. Pa Bourke’s free-taking was a headline item on Sunday, though he did blink on two efforts at the start of the second half. John O’Neill had a very promising spell in the first half but was less influential in the second; he depends a lot on the snappy pick-up and turn, something that doesn’t always work in heavy conditions. Brian O’Meara does a lot of chasing and grafting though an end product is often lacking. In fairness he set up O’Neill for the goal and hit two sweet points near the end. Patrick Maher grafted with typical tenacity and Adrian Ryan again showed snatches of the form that has earned him notice. I’d rate Donagh Maher and Adrian Ryan the two most promising newcomers.
The announcement during the week of Paul Curran as captain for 2012 has met with general approval. He’s a popular choice. Since he arrived on the panel over a decade ago he’s built a hardy reputation for unyielding defence. Tommy Barrett named him corner back on his all-time Tipperary side and he’s been the All Star number three in 2010 and 2011. All Star statuettes put you up there with the best in the business.
I regard him as an outstanding example of a player who maximises his talents. He’s not the most skilful player on the team but I doubt if there’s anyone more combative. Ferociously competitive he tends to produce his best when the heat is hottest. Strong in the air, he relishes the physical battle and I doubt if too many forwards fancy marking him. He’s the ‘braveheart’ of Tipperary hurling who I suspect leads by deed more than word. The management has chosen well.
Padraic Maher was selected as vice-captain and again I suspect few will quibble with the choice. On key championship days he’s been a powerhouse from half back, having some of his finest moments against Kilkenny. Whether he stays at wing back or moves to centre is an issue that, I suspect, will occupy minds for some time. He’s not the tightest man-marker but his anticipation is excellent and when he shoves out that chest and barges forward it tends to lift the entire team.
Anyway with a quarter-final spot in the Waterford Crystal safely booked the next outing for the team is on Saturday at Nenagh where there’s a novel charity game against the Liam Sheedy-managed Munster inter-provincial side. The game seeks to raise funds for Breast Cancer Ireland and should attract a decent attendance.
I have no idea what precise arrangements Declan Ryan and Liam Sheedy have entered into but it seems that there will be Tipperary players on the Munster side too. In those circumstances you’d expect a lot of the Tipperary panel to see action. The combination of a worthy charity and the prospect of more exposure for the extended Tipperary panel should encourage attendance. The mild weather in another accommodating factor, one that has facilitated all counties in their early season preparations. The match in Nenagh has a 3pm start.
The issue of payment for managers has become the latest hot-potato in GAA circles with copious column inches being devoted to the pros and cons that inevitably arise. Association President, Christy Cooney, has certainly made it a highlight item as did the releasing of details from that Paraic Duffy report with its three debate options: doing nothing, stricter enforcement of present regulations and sanctioning payments.
It’s easy to be dogmatic on this issue but it really is a thorny and complex affair, one that won’t be easily resolved. By now nobody disputes the fact that present regulations are being flouted countrywide. At club level it’s accepted that team managers have been ‘earning’ on average somewhere between eighty and one hundred and fifty euro per training session. There’s regularly a separate payment for matches and in some cases bonus payments for different levels of success. Most of this money passes under that famous counter though a portion of it can legally be credited to travel and subsistence payments.
The inter-county market, one suspects, is even more lucrative, though with major variation from manager to manager. County Board accounts never reveal what managers get and the situation is complicated further by the fact that supporters’ clubs and sponsors regularly add to the pot also.
How to tackle the issue is the thorny part of the problem. A major fear among some is that if managers are officially paid a fee then it’s another creeping step towards paying players and that dreaded word professionalism. I’m not so convinced that one follows the other. We already have paid officials throughout the country and it hasn’t led to the abandonment of amateurism so what is so different about managers being paid for services rendered. In any case players already know that managers are paid so I don’t see what’s the issue in recognising officially what everyone accepts is happening unofficially.
Of the three options there really is only one of them viable. Doing nothing is a non-option, attempts at stricter enforcement of present regulations is doomed to failure so let’s be bold, accept the reality, put in place guidelines and try to bring the money from under the counter. Even then you might well have an element of illegal top-up but at least the main portion would be transparent and legal. Anyway don’t expect this one to be resolved anytime soon.
Finally the local derby in the Harty Cup last week threw up an extraordinary outcome with Thurles CBS coming from the ‘dead’ in extended added-time to snatch a draw. The replay is scheduled for the Ragg this Wednesday at 1.30 where Thurles will be expected to avail of the let-off from last week. Nenagh I’m sure will have other ideas. Should be well worth a visit if you’re free.

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