It was another day of double-delight for Tipperary as hurlers and footballers delivered with some style, the hurling outcome expected, the football less so.
Onwards and upwards they go, the footballers off to Tullamore to face Galway and the hurlers part of a double helping at the Stadium on Sunday week when Dublin visit for the quarter-finals.
The Tipperary invasion of O’Moore Park in Portlaoise on Saturday turned into something of a blue and gold celebration. The footballers set the mood with a rollicking first half before needing a late rally to resist the Laois comeback in the second. For the hurlers there was no need of any rallying in a seventeen-point outcome, though there were some choppy patches during the voyage.
The hurlers went in as 1/66 favourites though these games can be tricky affairs where the opposition is playing for pride and feeling undervalued. There’s always a temptation to ‘have a cut’, as they say, and Offaly were certainly not willing to go meekly on this occasion.
In the circumstances it was important for Tipperary to discourage their rivals early on and they certainly did that with two rapid-fire goals dispatched by Corbett and ‘Bonner’ Maher. It was as if the final quarter against Galway carried over to Portlaoise. Slick, defence-splitting movement by the forwards was the early feature with Callanan a key component beside ‘Bonner’ and Corbett.
This had the feel of a rout early on but the pattern wasn’t sustained. Offaly worked their way back into it and with Brian Carroll the chief scorer they had cut the early margin to a slim two points by the end of the first quarter. O’Shea spoke later about the spells where we seemed to switch off.
And yet by half time the lead was back out to ten points as the Faithful got punctured for two more goals, Corbett and Callanan the emphatic finishers. It had been a wavy, up-and-down sort of half from Tipperary who began and finished strongly but dipped somewhat in the middle.
There was to be another dip early in the second half. Offaly broke smartly for the restart and when a free from outfield was turned in by Colin Egan the underdogs got immediate encouragement. There were shades of one of the Galway goals as nobody defended the dropping ball. The scorer was in the ‘square’, of course, but worrying from a Tipperary perspective is the fact that we seem vulnerable to these long deliveries from outfield. The lesson won’t be lost on others who I’m sure will try dropping a free or two in around the house.
And that goal wasn’t an isolated item because Offaly now enjoyed a spell of superiority. Their half backs particularly got on top and in truth Tipp fans shuffled uneasily as the lead dwindled once more to just four points. This was all a bit too up-and-down for our liking.
True to pattern then we finished off the contest on another high. A neat stream of points steadied the ship, Kieran Bergin (inset) hitting three in this half as Tipperary once more got a firm grip on the game. Callanan, ‘Bubbles’, Corbett, wing-back replacement, Thomas Stapleton and Jason Forde all got on the score sheet with little by way of Offaly retort. The loudest cheer of the day greeted an Eoin Kelly point and in the end Callanan rounded it all off with the fifth goal. Denis Maher’s introduction for Gearoid Ryan had helped matters too.
A seventeen-point outcome sounds easy but in truth there were patches when it was anything but soft. There was an edge to some of the Offaly play and you just hoped that we’d get through relatively unscathed, which seems to have been the outcome despite a scare with Callanan at the end.
The highlight was undoubtedly the attacking display that coughed up an impressive 5-25 giving us a grand total of 8-50 from two games. It was the ensemble hurling of the forwards that was particularly pleasing. Callanan has become pivotal not just as finisher but as orchestrator combining so effectively with others such as Corbett and ‘Bonner’. There’s pace and penetration in that attack with Noel McGrath doing some delightful individual items though ‘Bubbles’ was a bit quieter this time and Gearoid Ryan had another off day, though that blow he took early on must have been a factor. No defence will fancy facing the attack on this form.
At midfield the highlight was undeniably Kieran Bergin. Being dropped for the Galway match seems to have worked wonders for the Killenaule man who has hit back in cracking style. His work rate has improved immensely and I didn’t think he had that scoring touch. Long may it last.
It’s the defence, however, that will attract concern as we head towards the final stages of this campaign. Clearly the management made a decision after the Galway game to stick with Paudie Maher at full back and perhaps their options were limited. There’s certainly no room for experimentation from here on so presumably that area will have to be assessed on the move as each game unfolds.
Conor O’Mahony’s continued absence doesn’t help matters and I feel Cathal Barrett has suffered in order to make way for Paddy Stapleton at corner back. The defence in fairness did well overall though as a unit there’s just something a bit creaky about the structure. We certainly need to work on defending against high balls into the ‘square’.
Having the quarter-final at Semple Stadium is now a definite bonus. It’s amazing how our season has suddenly brightened from the depressing darkness of the Limerick match. A Dublin side hurting from their Leinster final defeat will be dangerous but at least we’re in the last six now with everything to play for.
A player that might have nothing to play for in the coming months is Clonoulty’s Timmy Hammersley. The ex-county man was handed a six month ban by Croke Park last week for allegedly playing while under suspension.
It’s an extraordinary case that has major ramifications for both the player and his club. It all arises out of Clonoulty’s involvement in a St. Molleran’s tournament in Carrick. They played Drom/Inch in an all-Tipperary semi-final during which Timmy was sent off.
Fast forward then to the final against a Wexford club where Timmy again played. It seems the same referee was in charge of both games and his report has now resulted in the six month suspension.
There seems to be much confusion about events. Clonoulty appear to have been under the impression that no action would be taken on the sending off in the semi-final and that the player was free to play in the decider. If so it looks like a costly miscalculation on their part.
Interestingly neither the Waterford County Board nor the Munster Council seems to have taken any action. The referee’s report went to Croke Park because the final teams were from different provinces.
Was it a simple misunderstanding or sheer carelessness by the club? Expect to hear more about the case as Clonoulty now appeal the suspension. Being without Timmy Hammersley for the remainder of the divisional and county championships would be a massive blow for the West club which is currently listed as fifth favourite for the Tipp championship behind Sarsfields, Drom, Loughmore and Nenagh. It’s not the first time that tournament involvement has created difficulties for a club.