Westside Column 13 March 2020



A dismal league campaign by Tipperary finally blew out at windy Salthill. A second-half storm from Galway left Tipperary marooned.

What follows now is a nine-week period of introspection as the evidence of the league series is digested and, hopefully, something more potent assembled ahead of the championship opener on May 10.

It’s just as well that the team is away in sunny Spain for this week where they can shake off the disappointment and refocus for the job ahead – not to mention avoiding the harsher assessments of this latest defeat.

Let’s put this league series in context. It’s the worst league from a Tipperary side since 1998, the year Ger Browne was born. Twenty-two years ago Tipperary failed to make the knock-outs of the league after playing five rounds and winning just one. Ironically, in view of subsequent history, that sole victory was against Kilkenny; otherwise we lost to Waterford, Cork and Wexford and could only draw with Laois.

This is the first occasion we’ve failed to progress beyond the regulation rounds since some form of knock-out was introduced in 2012. For the present generation of hurlers then it’s the poorest league outcome of their careers.

All of which, of course, will be easily forgotten if summer success follows in the championship. Maintaining MacCarthy on the sideboard is the primary focus of the year but for the moment, at least, the omens aren’t promising.

Similar to the first round against Limerick, we built an initial lead but buckled badly when wind-aided pressure was applied in the second half. Afterwards Liam Sheedy was honest in his assessment: it was a wipe-out once Galway got the wind and the crowd at their backs; no line of the Tipperary team was exempt.

Our interval position of seven-up was flattering. Galway were working harder and they dominated a lot of the play but got hit for three goals. John McGrath’s first came as early as the second minute when he latched onto an Alan Flynn clearance, turned his man and rifled home. The second again showed a poacher’s instinct as he pounced on the breakdown and finished from close quarters and near the end line.

For their part Galway were heavily reliant on an exhibition of free-taking into the wind by Evan Nyland. Galway’s shooter availed of a very lopsided free count of 12/3 in the first half which did much to keep Galway in this contest. Someone must have spoken to the official at half time because matters were more balanced for the second period. Still an overall free count of 21/12 is difficult to understand.

What’s frustrating about refereeing trends is the stark difference between league and championship. I’ve no doubt that in summer most of last Sunday’s frees would not be blown so the officials seem to vascilate from one extreme to another:  ignoring blatant fouls (championship) or blowing for the most incidental of contacts (league).

Finding the middle ground seems to be beyond many of the officials so Willie Barrett and his committee have a major problem on their hands.

Anyway, entering the final five minutes of the first half at Pearse Stadium Tipperary led by just two points and seemed to be in serious difficulty given the strength of the wind backing.  However, a flurry of scores in those final moments saw the visitors outscore the hosts 1-3 to 0-1 and suddenly the interval scoreboard took on an entirely different complexion.

Tipperary’s third goal was an item of beauty, Callanan off-loading to Darcy who in turn found Forde who had slipped inside the cover. The finish was textbook, low and bouncing to the right of the goalie, who had earlier denied John McGrath of his hat-trick. From a Galway perspective they’ll feel that the back-tracking Padraig Mannion should have intercepted the final pass to Forde.

Seven-up, one felt, was a minimal requirement at half time given the elements – very soon on the restart it was obvious that it was entirely inadequate. Brian Concannon soon fed Conor Whelan for the first of his finishes.  Johnny Coen followed with an immediate point and it was instantly clear that Galway was on a different level now. They’d been industrious in the first half but now they doubled down on their efforts and soon Tipperary was struggling all over.

The trajectory of this game was very evident from some distance out in the second half. Galway simply took over, they had more energy, they out-worked Tipperary and with every score their momentum went up another notch. We simply had no response, the team beaten all over, which will be a worry for the management.

Conor Whelan’s second goal powerfully endorsed the trend as he fetched a high one, took on both Mahers and whizzed the shot past Brian Hogan. That gave them the lead and the last fifteen minutes was hard watching from a Tipperary perspective. Cathal Mannion’s goal underlined the pattern and Nyland continued with his sharp-shooting as the advantage stretched out without a whimper of response from the All Ireland champions.

The failure to shore up our defence against the gale in the second half is an issue the management will have to face, something Liam Sheedy referenced afterwards. Leaving just two defenders one-on-one into the teeth of that gale was senseless and we paid the price.

Out-thought then, out-worked and simply out-hurled, it was a chastening experience for Tipperary. John McGrath was the hero of the first half but his anonymity in the second period underlines the fact that this is a team sport. Forwards can only function if the supply is coming from elsewhere. We had isolated inputs of note from other players but the overall fabric was too patchy and frayed allowing Galway to so easily pick holes.

The public discourse since the game has been surprisingly tolerant: sure it’s only the league and we’re not interested in that anyway … better off out of it … we’ll now drive on for the championship where everything will be honky dory and the league forgotten about. If only life – and hurling – was that simple.

It’s no different to last year and look how that turned out, is another line you hear. Actually it’s very different to last year. In 2019 we beat Clare and Cork in the league and suffered one-point defeats (unluckily?) to Wexford, Kilkenny and then Dublin in the quarter-final. Apart from a seven-point reversal to Limerick we were toe-to-toe with everyone else we met, which is vastly different to this year.

Cathal Barrett’s absence on Sunday was a huge loss. His appeal last Thursday night at Croke Park fell on deaf ears after he was reported for ‘attempting to strike’ an opponent in the Waterford match. I suspect the referee in this instance realised there was no striking action so he chose this catch-all phrase of ‘attempting to strike’, which is virtually impossible to defend oneself against. Sure a clap on the back, or a hand wave could be interpreted as an attempt to strike and who’s to say otherwise.

What annoys me here is the failure to acknowledge when a mistake is made by the referee and his officials. We all make mistakes but please accept and acknowledge them for what they are. Instead what we had was Croke Park endorsing a refereeing error. That’s not justice.

Anyway in a happier vein I was in Birr on Saturday last where Cashel CS romped home to a resounding win over Calasanctius College, Oranmore, in the All Ireland semi-final of the post-primary schools ‘B’ championship, the Paddy Buggy cup.

It was a stress-free stroll for the Cashel lads who stamped their mark on this game early on and never relented. A twenty-point margin at the end was about as emphatic as things get, though they’ll be aware that an entirely different challenge awaits in the final against St. Brendan’s of Birr.

This was another game dominated by a gale blowing towards the town posts. Cashel had first advantage and they went about their business instantly with a series of smartly worked points. They had a range of shooters in the opening quarter from Daniel Moloney to Conor O’Dwyer, Stephen Browne, James Murphy and Ben Ryan.

Then within a minute they struck for a pair of goals and the game was effectively over as a contest. A beautiful little pop pass from Ben Ryan set up Daniel Moloney for the first and Conor O’Dwyer finished the second after another Moloney effort was blocked by a defender.

Eighteen minutes into the action and the scoreboard read 2-10 to 0-2. By half time the lead was a whopping fifteen points, Daniel Moloney hitting 1-6 in that spell. Would there be a kick-back from the Galway lads in the second half? A James Murphy goal shortly after resuming put paid to that prospect and Cashel went on their merry way to eventually advance on a 4-22 to 1-11 score line, Conor O’Dwyer nabbing the fourth goal.

The final against St. Brendan’s CS, Birr, is set for March 28 at the Stadium where it will be curtain raiser to the ‘A’ final. It’s one to look forward to.

P.S. A final reflection on our league exit: it’s another financial hit for the County Board. In 2018 we contested the league final, which brought in a dividend of €205,650. Last year we bowed out at quarter-final stage, so the cheque was down to €168,168. For 2020 we can surely expect another drop in the pay-out. Losing costs money.



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