Tipperary hurling manager Eamon O’Shea stated after his team beat Waterford in the opening round of the National Hurling League that he had no ambitions for the league, and that his sole focus was on the championship match against Limerick on June 1.
However avoiding an ignominious relegation from the league’s top tier now appears a more pressing concern after his team lost their third successive match.
This latest setback in a campaign that worsens by the week came against Galway at Salthill’s Pearse Stadium on Sunday. An out-of-sorts side were again well off the pace and were playing catch-up from the first minute when Niall Healy pointed for Galway. They were 8 points in arrears at the break (3-8 to 0-9) and were 7 behind with 5 minutes remaining.
A late comeback saw them reduce the deficit to a goal and they pressed hard for an equaliser but were denied an unlikely draw, one that would have been scarcely deserved. It’s not unusual for a team’s form to be patchy during the league, a good game usually following a poor one, but so far all of Tipp’s performances have been below par. The raised voices in the dressing room after the game reflected the collective concern.
Tipp “won” the second half by 1-10 to 0-8 but that will be scant consolation as they lick their wounds following another defeat. At the moment the team seems bereft of confidence and is lacking in direction. They again played with no discernible game plan, especially from midfield up where too often it was just a case of hit and hope. With just one remaining game in the competition, against Dublin at Semple Stadium on Sunday, a relegation play-off is a distinct possibility.
Galway were three points ahead when their goalie Colm Callanan made a great double save from Michael Heffernan and Patrick Maher in the 5th minute, leading to a 65 that Seamus Callanan converted for their first score. While Tipp went close on that occasion Galway showed them how to find the net, scoring three goals in the opening half to grievously wound their opponents. The first, a cracking effort from Niall Healy, came in the 20th minute, followed 6 minutes later by Conor Cooney’s penalty. When Jonathan Glynn waltzed through for the third in the 31st minute Galway had established an 8-points half time lead, a solid foundation for victory that was constructed despite playing against the wind in that opening period.
Glynn had gone to town on Paddy Stapleton in the first half and it was only after Padraic Maher was switched to full back after the third goal that Galway’s main threat was curbed, although the damage had been done by that stage.
The writing was on the wall at the interval but to be fair to Tipp they salvaged some pride on the turnover. As soon as the second half started they were made to suffer more pain when Johnny Coen, Conor Cooney (from a free) and Iarla Tannian stretched the Galway advantage to 11 points. Tipp, however, hung on grimly with Shane McGrath, Seamus Callanan and Kieran Bergin scoring 7 points between them.
By now Padraic Maher’s switch from the wing to full back had stiffened a defence in which Cathal Barrett, Shane McGrath and Conor O’Mahony showed signs of improvement, while Seamus Callanan was always prominent in attack. Substitute Kieran Bergin (who replaced James Woodlock after just 23 minutes) also impressed, while Eoin Kelly was introduced late in the opening half for his first appearance of the league. However most of the starting forwards - most notably Conor Kenny, Michael Heffernan and Noel McGrath (who was called ashore at half time) - made little or no impact.
Despite having Iarla Tannian dismissed for a second yellow card offence 8 minutes from the end Galway seemed in no danger, especially as they were 3 goals clear. However 3 points from Seamus Callanan (two from frees) nudged Tipp closer and when the same player crashed a 21 metre free (brought forward after his original effort was blocked by a nearby Galway player) to the net there was just a goal in it, remarkably, with a minute remaining.
Tipp pressed hard and there’s no doubt that they gave Galway a late scare. They could have had another close range free when Denis Maher’s jersey was tugged on one of their final desperate attacks but Galway held on, and anything other than a home victory would have been a travesty.
Tipperary - Darren Gleeson, Cathal Barrett, Paddy Stapleton, Michael Cahill, Shane McGrath (0-2), Conor O’Mahony, Padraic Maher, Brendan Maher (captain), James Woodlock, Conor Kenny, John O’Dwyer (0-2), Patrick Maher, Noel McGrath (0-1), Seamus Callanan (1-11, including 1-8 frees and 1 65) and Michael Heffernan (0-1).
Substitutes - Kieran Bergin (0-2) for James Woodlock (23 minutes), Eoin Kelly for Conor Kenny (33 minutes), Denis Maher for Noel McGrath (half time), Conor O’Brien for Michael Heffernan (44 minutes) and Paddy Murphy for Michael Cahill (63 minutes).
Galway - Colm Callanan, Fergal Moore, Ronan Burke, Johnny Coen (0-1), David Collins, Iarla Tannian (0-1), Daithi Burke, David Burke (0-3 including 1 sideline), Padraig Brehony (0-3), Cathal Mannion (0-1), Gearoid McInerny, Aidan Harte, Niall Healy (1-3), Conor Cooney (1-3 including 3 frees and 1-0 penalty) and Jonathan Glynn (1-1).
Substitutes - Niall Burke for Gearoid McInerny (41 minutes), Jason Flynn for Cathal Mannion (57 minutes), Davy Glennon for Niall Healy (57 minutes) and Paul Killeen for Aidan Harte (35 minutes).
Referee - Anthony Stapleton (Laois).