Tipp strong in defence, on top at midfield and hungry in attack - a good day overall

Tipperary’s impressive recent record against Galway continues. A terrific display at Pearse Stadium swept aside the locals as the visitors bagged a valuable brace of points.

Tipperary’s impressive recent record against Galway continues. A terrific display at Pearse Stadium swept aside the locals as the visitors bagged a valuable brace of points.

The win marks another important staging post on the team’s recovery from the Cork nightmare. We now share top spot in the table with Clare, though with just two points separating top and bottom there’s no room for slackness.

Next up is the penultimate round and a visit to Walsh Park in Waterford where we’ll hope the upward trend in form remains. The Deise lost to Kilkenny on Monday but are still well positioned in the table.

A commentator on Monday noted that most of this Galway side have no memory of ever beating Tipperary in league or championship. Call it a hex or jinx or whatever, but we certainly seem to have something over them.

Their last win over Tipperary was in ’07 and a quick glance at the match programme for that game shows that just a handful of the Galway players have survived, most notably Damien Hayes, Iarla Tannian, Niall Healy and David Collins.

Mind you the Tipperary line out that March day six years ago was also quite different to the formation we sent into action last Monday. Only Paul Curran, Conor O’Mahony and Shane McGrath were common to both starting line-outs – all of them incidentally in the same positions then as now.

Anyway the story of Monday’s game is easily told. Tipperary got away to a flier boosted by Brendan Maher’s sideline ‘cut’ which deceived the local goalie.

It was a lucky one but served to underline Tipperary’s positive approach where we were strong in defence, winning midfield and moving smartly in attack. Gradually the lead stretched out with only minimal response from the Tribesmen. And then Corbett set up Shane Bourke for our second ‘green’ and suddenly Galway were in real trouble.

They did respond and got one back through a Canning bullet from a twenty metre free. Mind you if Brendan Maher’s goal had a slice of good luck, Canning’s came from a dubious enough award by the referee so justice can at times be even-handed. Anyway we went to the break seven-up after a very satisfactory half and after surviving one goalmouth scare before the interval.

There was bound to be some ‘kick’ from the locals and it came in the third quarter. With Canning upping his game and a general improvement throughout the Galway side they began to chip away at the lead, which eventually came back to just three points. A Galway goal at this stage, and they came close on an occasion or two, would have really thrown down the challenge to Tipperary.

However, encouragingly, Tipp reacted to events admirably. John O’Dwyer pitched in with a few more points and then the Killenaule man finished off our third goal to really turn the screw on Galway. Thereafter the local challenge wilted entirely, Corbett’s solo through for a tap-in fourth goal really embellishing the occasion.

In the end it was a comprehensive outcome, almost as decisive as two years ago when Shane Bourke went to town. This time it was another newcomer who grabbed the headlines as John O’Dwyer was made the television man-of-the-match. His 1-6 contribution was rich pickings indeed and on different days now he’s shown real potential since his promotion to the panel.

While the Killenaule man won the individual prize there’s no doubt Lar Corbett was the central orchestrator in that attack, ranging all over the place, setting up scores and landing 1-1 himself. This is a new-look Lar, much more focused and leading by example.

Others too played their parts. Shane Bourke contributed a handsome 1-2 to the effort while Callanan was impressive on the frees. The substitutes also played significant parts in killing off Galway in the final quarter especially Brian O’Meara.

I thought midfield played a crucial role in Galway’s defeat. Brendan Maher was again impressive and we must hope that the shoulder injury is not serious. Beside him James Woodlock had one of his best days, even pitching in with three points – not bad for a player never noted for his scoring ability.

The defence too rose to the occasion against a Galway side overly dependent on Joe Canning. Cahill was excellent and Padraig Maher’s move to centre in the second half again seemed to firm up matters with Donagh Maher doing well when replacing Conor O’Mahony.

Goalie Gleeson made one crucial stop in the second half though he gave us a few heart-flutters in the first period when juggling with the ball.

Overall the management must be quite pleased with the manner in which things have turned around since that horror show in Cork. There’s a renewed energy and focus about the side which has reignited the campaign and hopefully we can now look forward to qualification for the knock-outs instead of relegation.

The form of established players such as Padraig Maher, Brendan Maher, Mickey Cahill and Lar Corbett is one important element in our recovery as is the ongoing appetite and enthusiasm of players like Brendan Cummins, Eoin Kelly and John O’Brien. The other facet which is contributing to the effort is the form of some of the wannabes who are chasing first-fifteen places.

I’m thinking particularly of players like Donagh Maher, Shane Bourke, John O’Dwyer and Jason Forde. Every team needs replenishment so these guys can play an important role in the summer.

While our table position has improved dramatically, this group is still finely balanced. With just two points separating top and bottom one round of games could totally alter positions so it’s likely to go right to the last set of fixtures to decide the final shake-up. And don’t dismiss Kilkenny; after their win over Waterford on Monday they’re very much in the hunt for a knock-out position.

Of more pressing concern for Tipperary is Sunday’s trip to Walsh Park in Waterford. Most commentators were dismissive of Waterford when previewing this league but they’ve defied expectations thus far. Their opening victory over Clare at Ennis looks even more creditable now after the latter’s big win over Cork at the weekend. The Deise themselves drew with Cork and were toe-to-toe with Kilkenny for most of the trip last Monday before eventually losing out. They’ve clearly put in a lot of early season preparation so Tipp face another testing afternoon on Sunday.

Somewhat similar to Galway we’ve a very healthy recent record against Waterford. In fact when you look at our last ten league meetings with the Deise, stretching back to 1999, there’s just one defeat on the card. That was in 2007 when Waterford beat us by a single point in a quarter-final while on their way to winning out the league. There were also drawn ties in 2010 and 2004 but otherwise we were masters in the remaining seven fixtures.

In last year’s league meeting between the counties Tipperary went on a point-scoring spree at the Stadium. We had no goal but thirty-one points against Waterford’s 2-15. The previous year we were five point winners.

So, past record against our southern neighbours is healthy, but Sunday is a new challenge. Team selection will again be interesting as an indicator of management thinking. Perhaps the defence will remain the same as last week as Conor O’Mahony works his way back to full health. Darren Gleeson has now had two outings in goal so maybe Brendan Cummins will see action as part of the rotation.

The fitness of Brendan Maher will be a concern. We remember how that leg injury in 2011 set him back so hopefully there won’t be another spell convalescing. If he was unavailable then Shane McGrath is the obvious option at midfield. Eoin Kelly missed Sunday’s game, which was indeed fortunate for John O’Dwyer who grabbed his opportunity spectacularly. There are obvious options in attack with nine or ten players vying for the six positions. Interesting to see what mix the management goes with this time.

Overall we travel to Waterford on Sunday in much sunnier mood than seemed possible just a few weeks ago. Incidentally in the betting markets we’re now favourites to win out the league. We’re listed at odds of 13/8 with Kilkenny on 5/2. You can back Cork at 20/1; who would have thought that just a few weeks ago as we trudged wearily from Christy Ring’s Park. I haven’t seen odds for next Sunday’s game though I assume we’ll be favourites. Still, like politics, a week can be a long time in hurling, so Waterford could have something to say about those figures on Sunday. You’ll get 12/1 on the Deise winning the league.

Finally Galway may be licking wounds this week after a thrashing in the league but their champion clubs continue a most impressive tradition of All Ireland success. St. Thomas’s became the seventh Galway club to win the top prize after their narrow success over thirteen-man Kilcormac on Sunday last.

There was a Tipperary connection with the win through Dinny Cahill who coached the side and won widespread praise for his efforts. There was also a Tipp connection with Kilcormac in Trevor Fletcher, ex-Roscrea and Tipp minor, who started in place of the injured Daniel Currams. He scored 1-1 and had the distinction of being their only scorer from open play before being substituted in the second half.

The Offaly champions were woefully unlucky. As well as losing their full forward they had two players sent off in very questionable circumstances. The straight red card seemed very harsh for a slap on the elbow, something that often happens in games but generally results in no more than a yellow card. The other incident involved a second yellow and herein lies a particular annoyance for this columnist.

The doling out of yellow cards in the first half of the club final was ridiculous, though very much in keeping with what has been happening in the league. I don’t know what instructions referees have been given but it has resulted in a yellow rash in recent weeks. Brian Gavin at Pearse Stadium on Monday was an exception; his use of the yellow card was sensible, unlike many of his colleagues in recent times.