It might have taken a while but Tipperary found their scoring touch in the final quarter of an hour to dismiss the challenge of hosts Kerry in last Sunday’s Waterford Crystal Cup quarter-final in Tralee.
Six-time All Star Eoin Kelly led the way in the scoring stakes as Eamon O’Shea’s charges set up a semi-final clash with University of Limerick next Sunday in Nenagh.
A pre-match downpour on a bitterly cold afternoon resulted in dreadful conditions at Austin Stack Park and Tipp made heavy weather of this quarter-final tie before advancing to the last four of the competition.
Perhaps a heavy recent training schedule was a factor as Tipp struggled to get to grips with the game, particularly in the opening half.
The Tipp squad stayed in Kerry for the weekend and as well as training, an internal training match was played on the Saturday afternoon. Tipp were lethargic for the opening half, and much of the second, and Kerry were unfortunate to find themselves 0-3 to 0-9 behind at half-time.
But Tipp had that little bit of extra craft and scoring class and there was a welcome return to form for Kelly, on his first competitive outing of the year. The Mullinahone man scored 1-8 – including 1-4 from play – on an afternoon when 357 hardy souls braved the elements.
With Tipp struggling, O’Shea had to call for the cavalry as Pádraic Maher and Noel McGrath came off the bench to help make the game safe.
Four points from Kerry after half-time, including three from free-taker Shane Nolan, reduced the deficit to just two. Tipp finally managed their first score of the second half in the 51st minute and it was a decisive strike as Michael Cahill, who played exceptionally well at midfield, scored a fine goal.
Patrick ‘Bonner’ Maher and McGrath combined to set up Cahill and the Thurles Sarsfields man drilled a low shot past Kerry netminder Tadhg Flynn.
Mikey Boyle responded with a point for Kerry but that 54th minute score was the final contribution of the afternoon from the Kingdom, before Tipp hit 1-7 without reply down the home straight.
Kelly capped his display with Tipp’s second goal in the final minute before substitutes Colin O’Riordan and Ronan Maher tagged on injury-time points.
From the start, Kerry operated with a ‘sweeper’ system as Daniel Collins dropped deep to provide extra cover in defence. Paul McGrath drifted out from corner forward to play as a third midfielder for the hosts and that left Brendan Maher as the spare man at the back for Tipperary.
Captain Maher would hurl a world of ball for Tipp and there were also impressive displays from the aforementioned Cahill, Shane McGrath and Conor O’Mahony, who has looked assured at full-back.
O’Shea is obviously intent on trying out as many combinations as possible during the early stages of the season and the positioning of Cahill at midfield was interesting.
Kerry, managed by Kildangan’s Eamon Kelly, were two points ahead early on before Tipp rallied to level twice at 0-2 and 0-3 apiece. Tipp hit the front for the first time in the 22nd minute when Kelly pointed a free and the visitors would lead from there until the finish.
Tipp selector Michael Ryan revealed that Shane Bourke picked up a hamstring strain in last Saturday’s internal match and that corner back Paddy Stapleton is a doubt for the start of the National Hurling League next month.
Stapleton pulled a hamstring in training last Wednesday night, according to Ryan, and it also emerged that ‘Bonner’ Maher strained a hamstring against Kerry, which led to his second half substitution.
KERRY: Tadhg Flynn; Dougie Fitzell, Thomas Casey, Keith Orpen; Sean Weir, Jason Leahy, Brendan O’Leary; Philip Lucid (0-1), Daniel Collins; Mikey Boyle (0-1), Shane Nolan (0-5f), Conor O’Brien; Pa Joe Connolly, Padraig Boyle (0-1), Paul McGrath.
Subs: Darren Dineen for Casey (inj, 29), Ricky Heffernan for McGrath (35+1), Paudie O’Connor for O’Brien (48), Kieran Dineen for Heffernan (50), Brian O’Leary for Lucid (65).
TIPPERARY: Darragh Egan (Kildangan); Cathal Barrett (Holycross-Ballycahill), Conor O’Mahony (Newport), Jack Peters (Kilruane MacDonaghs); Shane McGrath (Ballinahinch), Brendan Maher (Borrisoleigh), Conor O’Brien (Éire Óg Annacarty-Donohill); Michael Cahill (Sarsfields) (1-2), James Woodlock (Drom & Inch); Denis Maher (Sarsfields) (0-1), David Collins (Drom & Inch) (0-2), Patrick Maher (Lorrha & Dorrha); Eoin Kelly (Mullinahone) (1-8, 0-4f), Paddy Murphy (Nenagh Éire Óg), Conor Kenny (Borrisoleigh). Subs: Noel McGrath (Loughmore-Castleiney) (0-1) for Murphy (h.t.), Pádraic Maher (Sarsfields) for Woodlock (48), Ronan Maher (Sarsfields) (0-1) for Patrick Maher (52), Colin O’Riordan (JK Brackens) (0-1) for Collins (69).