All’s well that ends well, might best sum up our response to a high-scoring Munster semi-final extravaganza. Clare certainly rattled our cage in that opening phase with their whirlwind start. Eventually the plot followed predicted lines but the game carries enough footnotes for Tipperary to keep the management busy as they prepare for a Munster final clash with Waterford in three weeks.
Meanwhile the minors step into the limelight this Friday evening when a highly-rated Clare side come to the Stadium.
If we expected an easy passage to the Munster final we were disabused of the nation very rapidly. Clare sprung from the traps with catapult force, Conor McGrath ‘skinning’ John O’Keeffe for an instant goal. It set the tone for the opening fifteen minutes, an uncomfortable phase for Tipp fans who became increasingly restless. This wasn’t how the tie was scripted. And if O’Keeffe, in an unaccustomed corner back role, was the immediate focus of our concern, the general malaise was far more widespread. It was a bright and bouncy opening from Clare against a flat and fizz-less Tipperary.
At 1-3 to nil and again 1-5 to 0-2 we were in Clare’s slipstream playing follow-the-leader. No Tipperary line was comfortable. Apart from one solo effort from Callanan the forwards were winning nothing, midfield was being overshadowed and our defence was under stress against Clare’s forward mobility. So much for those pre-match odds, we thought.
And yet in one blistering spell midway through the opening half this game turned on its head. A raking clearance from Padraic Maher saw Clare goalie, Brennan, unwisely off his line and there was Eoin Kelly to flash the breaking ball into the empty net from virtually the end line. Three minutes later the Clare defence is caught ball watching and ‘Bonner’ Maher has the freedom of the park to run in and plant goal number two. A minute later and it’s ditto from leggy Lar Corbett. Three rapid-fire strikes, sucker punches really for Clare, and Tipperary had turned that early deficit into a two point lead.
This was more like what we expected. Yet in the cold light of hindsight we have to accept Clare’s generous role in those goals. Their defence looked naïve and they won’t thank the goalie either this week as they analyse just how easily they squandered a dream start.
Tipp were let off the hook but to Clare’s credit the three-goal lodgement didn’t break their resolve. We’d switched corners in defence and could be grateful for a colossal display from Padraic Maher who even managed to show the forwards the way with a mighty point from distance – he repeated the deed in the second half. But still we were uncomfortable in defence. David Young was booked for grounding an opponent and Conor McGrath kept the Clare score board ticking. Approaching half time Cathal McInerney caught one behind John O’Keeffe and Cummins showed all his old wiles to get in the way of the shot.
The first half had seen more swings and roundabouts than a fairground but at the end of it all we carried a three point edge to the dressing room. The right flank of our starting defence didn’t reappear for the second half, Stephen Lillis replacing David Young and Paddy Stapleton on for John O’Keeffe. It was a decisive response by the management to the evidence of the opening half.
On resuming Clare cut the lead once more but then came a flurry of points from Tipperary in a spell that for me effectively ‘nailed’ this contest for the All Ireland champions. It began with a Kelly free followed by Gearoid Ryan, Callanan and then two of the sweetest scores of the day from Noel McGrath and again Seamus Callanan. Pa Bourke was in for John O’Brien and he added another to take Tipp into a comfort zone. Tipp had hit six without reply to go eight up and effectively there was never going to be a way back for Clare.
It might even have been healthier if Noel McGrath wasn’t called back for that ‘penalty’, which Kelly rattled off the crossbar. There was a fleeting chance for Corbett too but the defence got back to cover and against all that a James McInerney free for Clare went whizzing over the crossbar. These were the highlight actions of the half but through it all one felt that Tipperary had weathered the early blitz and this contest was heading towards an inevitable outcome. In the end Callanan’s goal embellished it all after Corbett hit the base of the post. Tipp by nine at the end was a far cry from the early crisis we faced and from it all there were negatives and positives for the favourites to digest.
Positively we can point to the recovery route which showed patience as well as forward flair to run in such a huge score. The attack remains our ace card. Even on a day when Kelly was untypically subdued you had Callanan sustaining recent impressions with a personal tally of 1-5. Patrick Maher was again widely praised as a grafter and supplier as well as finisher on that goal. Corbett was always menacing, Noel McGrath upped his display in the second half and Pa Bourke again showed fine form on being introduced.
Elsewhere the hero was undeniably Padraic Maher at left wing back with another towering performance. O’Mahony was strong too as was Curran at full and Cahill in the corner. Shane McGrath did best at midfield, even if we could never dominate in that zone.
There are unavoidable negatives too, however. Against Cork and Clare our attack compensated for defensive shortcomings but against stronger opponents that won’t suffice. Put simply we’re conceding too much and by now it’s looking more likely by the game that when Brendan Maher returns it will be at half back. At this level one weakness in defence can expose those around you so I suspect we’ll eventually be back to last year’s full line and with Brendan Maher replacing Declan Fanning on the half line. Thereafter the problem centres on cover in the event of injury. Conor O’Brien was once again much talked about on Sunday evening but the management seem to be steadfast on that score. I hope that decision won’t return to haunt them by season’s end.
Incidentally the management has taken the pruning shears to the panel once more with Eddie Connolly, Sean Carey, Michael Heffernan and Lee Mackey all leaving the fold. Whether you agree or not there’s no denying that Declan and his aides are keeping the panel flexible - and they’re not shy at making the big calls. Thomas Stapleton, Templederry, has been recalled obviously with an eye on the defensive end. He played centre back for the intermediates against Cork and did okay without really standing out in that game. Some question his pace for the higher level. (Incidentally that intermediate defeat to Cork, which drew much criticism from Tipp fans on the day, was shown in an even poorer light last Sunday by Clare’s victory over Cork).
From a Clare perspective there was disappointment with the eventual outcome on Sunday but encouragement at the fact that an inexperienced side made such a bold stab at it against the hottest of favourites. There’s clearly a pool of promising young talent available, especially the likes of Conor McGrath and Cathal McInerney and John Conlon. More familiar names like Diarmuid McMahon and Jonathan Clancy gave great service too and on another day they’ll expect more from Darach Honan. Defensively they need to wise up and perhaps the goalie position will come under scrutiny too. Anyway they face a fascinating tilt with Galway now in the qualifiers.
For Tipperary the focus now switches to a Munster final meeting with Waterford on July 10 and the exciting possibilities in such a pairing. The game I understand has been fixed for Cork but that venue decision has not been well received in some quarters. It’s my understanding that Waterford were willing to do a deal to have the game in Thurles like ’09 but the Munster Council has obstinately set its face against any such arrangement.
I won’t make too many friends in Cork for this but I have no problem in nominating Pairc Ui Chaoimh as one of the most dilapidated venues in the country. It remains a mystery to most of us how the venue fulfils modern safety regulations. There are times when that tunnel under the stand is an horrendous place to be caught, especially when officials and Gardai try to escort teams and match officials to and from the pitch. You dread the day that a major crush will happen in that cavernous hell-hole. As for the appalling toilet facilities and knee-crippling seating and the chaotic access and egress – the list just goes on and on.
Yet in the corridors of Munster Council Cork seem to rule the roost. Given the vastly superior facilities in Thurles, the extra capacity and especially Waterford’s apparent willingness to do a deal it’s incomprehensible why this final is being sent south. I’ve no doubt we’ll probably hear more on the issue.
Elsewhere at the weekend Dublin made a major statement of their enhanced status in the hurling world with that win over pitiful Galway. Despite their league success the Dubs needed this scalp to really underline their arrival as contenders. The hurling world is always sceptical of league outcomes but this win stands on its own merits. From exiting to Antrim last year to flooring Galway twelve months later represents spectacular progress by Anthony Daly and his men.
Dublin might not have the individual brilliance of Kilkenny but as a team unit they are formidable at the moment. Daly has obviously strung together a very fit, athletic and spirited side which is hurling with such confidence that they won’t be easily dismissed. Injuries and now the probable suspension of Ryan O’Dwyer may yet be their undoing but even if they fall short against the ‘cats’ in the Leinster final there’s no denying that they’ve arrived as a force and the hurling world is richer as a consequence.
As for Galway this was as dismal a championship display as I’ve seen from the Tribesmen. Joe Canning might have been the saviour but even he caught the general malaise. Damien Hayes, their best forward last year, was taken off and only Joe Gantley showed the necessary form in attack. They simply had so little to offer throughout the field and I’m sure John McIntyre must be as frustrated as any at this stage with a county that promises so much but delivers so little. Fortunately they have one final chance to rectify the image when Clare travel to Pearse Stadium but if they exit there it will surely be the end for the management too.
Finally an important fixture this Friday at the Stadium as Clare visit for a Munster minor hurling semi-final. The Banner come with a high reputation to face a Tipperary side that tripped up against Waterford in their opening tie but resurrected the season in a play-off with Cork. We lost last year, remember, to Clare at Cusack Park, though the Banner’s subsequent near miss in the All Ireland against Kilkenny took some of the sting from that defeat. Home venue must be a help to the under-eighteens though they’ll probably be outsiders. We wish them well in a grade that we always regard highly as a fosterer of future seniors.
P.S. Sunday’s attendance of just 16,700 was miserable but perhaps not surprising given the straightened financial circumstances of many families. Fans nowadays will be selective especially when the outcome is perceived as predictable. Central Council’s decision to reduce prices is welcome but why can’t the provincials do likewise? And raising the admission charge to the All Irelands by a whopping ten euro is indefensible. At a time when everything else is dropping All Ireland prices soar. It’s cynical because they know Croke Park will be filled for those games anyway so why not ‘hammer’ the patrons.