Westside column – March 24th 2012

A point-prolific display from Tipperary hits Waterford for ten. In summery conditions and against a dismal Deise the home side put on a master class in point shooting. Another valuable league win then sets the side up nicely for next weekend’s trip to Croke Park where an altogether stiffer challenge will be anticipated.

Elsewhere troubled times for the football fraternity as John Evans opts out and that relegation controversy just runs and runs. Last ThursdayBorrisokane won their Munster appeal in the latest twist to the saga. It’s five years since we lost a league match to Waterford and that healthy recent record was never under any threat on Sunday. A stress-free day for the home fans was characterised by that huge points total. Everyone from number seven up got in on the act as did two of the replacements. The absence of a goal drew comment alright, especially with the visitors bagging two, but otherwise there wasn’t much to quibble about. Thirty one scores against seventeen is a pretty comprehensive outcome.

Despite the perfect conditions you’d have to say the game was pedestrian. Many of the Tipp points came from broken play where players could find colleagues with ease. The likes of Noel McGrath especially throve in this environment as he ghosted away from his marker and popped points with nonchalant ease. He hit six from play but I’m sure the management will have been pleased with the spread of scorers on a day when the Tipperary touch was crisp and precise against a laboured opposition.

Encouraging too is the obvious switch in tactics since the Nowlan Park game. There’s less of the hit-and-hope hurling with an emphasis now on retaining possession and placing colleagues to advantage. It’s a game plan that will draw the odd howl of disapproval from the followers as a pass goes astray or things are seen to be too elaborate but overall it’s worth persevering with given the style of player at our disposal. We came closest to a goal about midway through the opening half when Waterford goalie, Stephen O’Keeffe, did well to keep out ‘Buggy’ O’Meara’s shot. At the other end Darren Gleeson put his rear end in the way to deny Shane O’Sullivan. We were disappointed though to yield a goal before half time. When a line ball was floated in Stephen Molumphy reacted quicker than our goalie or defence to tap it home.

The game’s pattern never really altered in the second half. Tipperary continued to stroke over the points and Waterford blushes were saved somewhat by their second goal. It was a soft enough penalty award against Donagh Maher but Maurice Shanahan managed to drill it low between Darren Gleeson and Padraic Maher on the Tipp line. That strike and a few points from the same Maurice Shanahan were among the slim consolations available to the visitors. For Tipperary there was the luxury of bringing in five subs in a game that was well under control. Mind you we were lucky not to concede another goal when Paul Curran got rounded out in the corner but it was eventually scrambled clear. Padraic Maher careered up-field to hit a pair of points before he was replaced; ‘Woody’ landed two as well before handing over to Shane McGrath who also hit a brace. Even Thomas Stapleton sampled the scoring fest when he took over from Padraic Maher. It was that sort of low-intensity, free-wheeling game, the ideal scenario for a sub to arrive into.

All plaudits, however, from this one must be qualified by recognising the poverty of the Waterford effort. Under new management after the departure of Davy Fitz, Waterford seem to be struggling to get things together, though news during the week that Eoin Kelly and John Mullane are on their way back will be music to the ears of the fans down South. From a Tipperary perspective the game sets the right mood music for next Saturday’s visit to Croke Park. Darren Gleeson’s display in goal will have fuelled the debate about the number one spot, a debate that’s likely to persist. Gleeson’s ace card is his greater accuracy with the short puck-outs, though Cummins would still be regarded as the better shot-stopper. It’s an ongoing debate, although given Cummins’ proven pedigree over such a long innings I suspect the management will be very reluctant to change. The experience of a previous management in this regard will act as a discouragement too.

In defence that right flank, number five especially, still remains an open issue with nobody convincingly pinning it down. In the mix you have John O’Keeffe, Shane Maher and now Thomas Stapleton who made a bright impression when he came on last Sunday. David Young seems to be out of the reckoning at this stage and of course there is also the possibility of moving a midfielder like Brendan Maher back there. We’ve seen very little of Paddy Stapleton this spring (he was injured for last Sunday) and in his absence Donagh Maher has made his mark. It’s still all to be decided on that right flank. A slight defensive worry at the moment is Paul Curran whose form has dipped though there is the widely held view that when the stakes are at their highest the Mullinahone man rises to the challenge. Past evidence suggests he’s a big game player.

The Brendan Maher-James Woodlock midfield partnership is working smoothly at the moment, which leaves Shane McGrath with no fixed abode. Johnny Ryan was at wing forward on Sunday though he’s widely regarded as more suited to midfield. The attack is badly hit by injuries and in fairness to the newcomers they’d filled the void impressively. Noel McGrath was magnificent on Sunday and Brian O’Meara continues to make an impact at full. It will be interesting to see how this unit operates on Saturday against Dublin’s physicality. On the injury front I understand that Seamus Callanan and ‘Bonner’ Maher are still three or four weeks away from returning to action. Gearoid Ryan has a shoulder injury and may be fit for Saturday while Eoin Kelly seems to be still out with that hamstring problem.

This game with Dublin will be a real test of our whereabouts. We came up short in the corresponding fixture last year on a night of poor refereeing and given the metropolitans’ dire need of points I’m sure they’ll throw everything at this game. In fairness they’ve been desperately unlucky in their last two outings so they’ll feel a break is due. They certainly matched Kilkenny last Sunday in a way that we failed so that line of form will encourage them. I suspect we need to win at least one of our final two games to qualify for the semis; let’s hope it doesn’t all come down to the Cork tie onSunday week.

How quickly things can change in sport is amply illustrated by the resignation of John Evans after a fifth league defeat. In recent years football was buzzing in Tipperary with that minor All Ireland as well as a Munster U21 and promotion to division two of the league. Now suddenly things have turned sour, with the U21s already out of the championship 2012, the seniors facing relegation to division four and the manager walking away mid-season. It’s quite a mood swing in such a short time span. Football may not be my first passion but I certainly don’t take any pleasure from the present crisis. The problem with heightened expectations in any sport is that they make disappointment difficult to handle. And I’ve no doubt football expectations were cranked up ridiculously in recent times in Tipperary. Talk of winning an All Ireland by 2020, for example, was just one headline indication of people getting carried away. There’s no doubt significant progress was being made but we’re a long way from challenging for All Irelands. Now the task for the Board is to hunt down a replacement manager as quickly as possible. It won’t be easy enticing somebody in to pick up the pieces from this mess. Unless things are pulled together quickly there’s a real danger that the progress of past years could be undone.

Speaking of crises and messed up situations leads on very nicely to the relegation saga still being played out there in the background. It will be remembered that when the game between Ballybacon and Borrisokane was fixed the North team sought a delay so that they could prepare properly for such a crunch tie. This was refused and when Borrisokane didn’t play as billed they were relegated. After failing to get any satisfaction from the County Hearings Committee Borrisokane then took their case to Munster Council where they were successful last Thursday night. After ruling in Borrisokane’s favour the Munster Hearings Committee tossed the case back to the County CCC to re-fix the match and that’s where it stands at writing time.

I don’t wish to go into boring detail about the reasons behind the Munster Council decision but essentially the case hinged on an improperly constituted County CCC as well as other procedural matters and even an inaccurate date on correspondence. It all makes for embarrassing reading for Tipperary County Board. Throughout this entire controversy there has been one unfortunate constant: the mishandling and bungling of the case at County Board level. It began with the failure to stipulate there was no extra time to be played in the original Cashel v. Ballybacon game; it then continued throughout Cashel’s campaign for a re-fixture, with Munster Council eventually ruling in the club’s favour; and it has continued now with Borrisokane’s successful challenge to their relegation at Munster level. By now Munster Council must be wondering what sort of mismanagement is going on in County Tipperary.

If the Board had listened to this column months ago they would have saved themselves a lot of embarrassment and this case would now be a forgotten item. Instead people in holes kept digging. The simple solution a long time ago was to drop relegation for one year and move on, chastened but wiser. That’s still the best option even now. At this stage, and given the mishandling of the case at County level, there’s a point of fairness at stake for clubs like Ballybacon and Borrisokane who are the ultimate victims in all of this. Neither club deserves to be demoted in these circumstances so will somebody at Board level please see sense and do the obvious. And then when the whole shambles is over Tipperary County Board needs to sort itself out to avoid a similar fiasco in the future.

Leave a Reply