There are times when following Tipperary hurling can test one’s loyalty – and then there are days when the faith is restored. Sunday was a day of restoration. Kilkenny crossed the border from Urlingford in feisty form but this time they met a home team in defiant mood. The victory was sweet, the altered mindset even sweeter.
Meanwhile there’s little time to relish the outcome because next weekend brings a trip to Salthill and a clash with a Galway side that tripped up at Ennis. Points are precious in this tight and tough group so every game will have an edge to it.
Ah yes, this was more to prescription – just what the doctor ordered. Gone was the torpor of the Cork game and in its place came a more belligerent mood entirely.
Kilkenny being the opposition no doubt helped but so surely did the hurt from the Cork match where words like humiliation and embarrassment were doing the rounds. ‘Tipp are soft’ declared another columnist and I’m sure all of this stung the players and they duly delivered the only response that matters.
On a day of icy coldness we shivered up in the stands but there was plenty of heat-generation on-field. The play may have been frantic and error-strewn at times but there were also little pockets of real quality. Given the conditions one could only admire the endeavours of both teams who drove into the collision with real passion.
From Tipperary’s perspective this was a badly needed tonic. The fans were getting restless, disillusionment was starting to spread, so a mood-changer was sorely needed. In particular we needed evidence that Tipperary were prepared to bully-up to Kilkenny and take ‘em on in a physical sense.
That little flare-up following Tommy Walsh’s peevish lunge at Kelly before half time epitomised where we were mentally. Kelly reacted furiously as did other Tipp players and the message was clear: give it and you’ll get in back with interest.
Kelly’s enthusiasm for the game is extraordinary. Here is a player in his thirties who has done it all, has nothing left to prove and yet on a day in March when you wouldn’t put the cat out, he’s in the thick of it all, taking a heavy knock to the head, chasing possession with the enthusiasm of a teenager and rolling back the years as he pirouetted to post that point. And wee Tommy couldn’t resist the temptation to have a go!
It was a day when Tipperary came up with several redeeming performances. Those stripy Kilkenny jerseys must feature in Lar Corbett’s nightmares and so, I suspect, he’ll have taken particular pleasure in his display on Sunday. The goal was a gem showing opportunism and timing to get in that flick to beat Herity.
And if Lar has nightmares about Kilkenny I’m sure the Noreside custodian will be troubled by visions of Corbett too – remember our goal last August? Cody’s number one is a fine shot-stopper but less comfortable when having to advance to smother a threat.
Anyway Corbett didn’t just score the goal of the match; right to the end he was industry personified. This time there was none of the phoney tactical stuff but instead an endless appetite for hard graft.
And in the grafting department John O’Brien wasn’t shy either. For the moment Johnno’s touch has deserted him but his work rate was huge on Sunday.
Noel McGrath too put himself about. I assume he was working on instruction when tracking back to his own goal area and over the span of the game he clocked up huge mileage and shifted an amount of ball. His sending off was a ludicrous decision.
For me one of the most pleasing displays on Sunday was that of Brendan Maher. With Shane McGrath out of action he assumed leadership of the team and certainly led from the front. Okay a share of passes went awry but he was so heavily involved throughout and there’s a real edge to this player too who’s not shy about putting in the heavy tackle. Maybe this will be the season when the potential will finally blossom.
The defence takes a major share of the credit for the win. Apart from being stranded for the goal they otherwise closed off all avenues of approach so that Darren Gleeson hadn’t a blockable shot to face. That incident near the end where they smothered out Eoin Larkin exemplified the resistance. Curran was excellent, as was Michael Cahill and where would you leave Conor O’Brien? At home was the answer two years ago when he was discarded, but already this season he’s proven his worth, playing with supreme confidence, a trait so crucial in a defender.
Padraig Maher had a wobbly start to the game but really grew into it as the script unfolded, especially when moved to centre on the departure of O’Mahony. He seems destined to fill that number six jersey.
I felt sorry for O’Mahony, in at the deepest end for his first competitive game of the year and obviously some way off the pace of things. Hopefully he’ll work his way to full sharpness because he’ll be needed on other occasions.
For Adrian Ryan too this was a tough assignment and hopefully will serve as another notch on the learning curve. Likewise for John O’Dwyer who’ll forever be remembered for that header that saw the ball ricochet off his helmet en route to the net.
The management will take credit too for the substitutions that helped to reinforce the effort in the second half when we were losing at half forward and really under the cosh. Those points by Callanan and Shane Bourke were precious and I suspect both players may have to adapt to the substitute role for the future. Tomas Hamill also did a few neat things when brought in and was the victim of one of many inexplicable refereeing decisions.
Ah yes, the refereeing. Not a performance that will be used in future to illustrate good practice at a refereeing course. In fairness to the official there was no bias in the blunders which were spread evenly between the teams; I know, it’s scant praise. On the evidence of two rounds now the yellow card situation is farcical; they’re being flashed for ‘offences’ that won’t be even blown as fouls in summer. It pains me to say it but Tommy Walsh’s second yellow fits this category, though he could have seen red on the first incitement and the head-high tackle on Eoin Kelly by another defender could also have drawn the ultimate sanction. Padraig Maher’s yellow was nonsensical – was there even a foul?
So, the series goes back on track for Tipperary and with Galway falling to Clare and Waterford taking a point off Cork it really is developing into a finely poised group. I can see it all coming down to a decisive final round and don’t dismiss Kilkenny just yet.
Our neighbours are still short a core of key players such as Shefflin, Walsh, Reid, Rice, Fennelly and Tyrrell though there’s no guarantee that all will return in peak condition for the championship. On paper it sounds like a heavy drain but these things are often not as straightforward as that.
Anyway there’s no time to linger on Sunday’s outcome as Tipperary refocus now on a bank holiday Monday date with Galway at Pearse Stadium. Our recent league record against the Tribesmen is outstanding. You have to go back to 2007 for our last defeat and since then we’ve beaten them each year, even doling out the odd trimming in the process.
A year ago they came to Thurles where we took the spoils by two points in a see-saw game that really could have tilted either way. Pa Bourke was top scorer on 1-6. The year before at Pearse Stadium there was no disputing Tipp’s top performer as Shane Bourke won man of the match with a personal tally of 3-4. It was a sensational performance by Bourke though it wasn’t matched by the subsequent follow up and two years later he’s still trying to ‘nail’ a first team position. Incidentally Tipp won that game in 2011 by a whopping eighteen points. Expect no such luxury this time.
In 2010 the margin was nine in our favour at Semple Stadium while we got home by just two the previous year at Salthill. Then in ’08 we met twice, drawing at Pearse Stadium in the normal round and winning the final at Limerick by just two points.
So we travel to Salthill on the back of a winning sequence against the Tribesmen which is indeed impressive. Like ourselves they’ve already had a notable win over Kilkenny but stumbled against Clare last weekend at Ennis. Paddy Power’s online betting odds has Galway as slight favourites on 8/11 with Tipp listed at 5/4. I wonder what the odds were on Tipperary before last Sunday’s win? Incidentally if you want to back Tipperary’s U21 footballers this week against Waterford you have to do with prohibitive odds of 1/50.
It will be interesting to see the line-out for next week. I don’t know if Shane McGrath will be ready for a return at midfield where he would certainly strengthen the zone. I suspect there won’t be major changes throughout the team – certainly nothing compared to the fall-out from the Cork game which saw wholesale adjustment.
It’s a tough challenge for Tipperary to reproduce another big effort in the wake of the win over Kilkenny. Stringing two such performances together at this time of year can be difficult. For their part Galway won’t want to blink again in this one and given the competitiveness of the group home fixtures are particularly important.
Either way we travel to Pearse Stadium with slightly lighter heart than we had facing Semple Stadium last Sunday.