Once again the bookies got it right. Tipperary and Kilkenny cruised to a league final showdown on Sunday week after routine wins over disappointing opponents.
The league semis were a letdown: the Dubs crashed to an embarrassing extent while Galway too buckled after a promising start.
So, it’s back to the future and another instalment of the Tipp/Kilkenny rivalry at Nowlan Park on the May bank holiday weekend.
In the meantime the divisions will advance their championships with important fixtures planned for this coming weekend.
It’s great to be back in a national final and anticipating another joust at the ‘cats’ following Galway’s intervention last season as their closest rivals. Our passage was never in doubt once Shane Bourke bagged that opening goal. Kilkenny too made light of the task once Galway’s lively opening proved to be a false dawn.
It’s been a strange old league with its ups and downs but here we are in the final after a stress-free semi. A fifteen-point, score-a-man margin, was far beyond advance expectations.
We anticipated a stiff examination but none materialised. In that sense it was poor preparation for what we’ll face Noreside in a fortnight.
The story of the game is very easily told. After an opening Dublin point, a Noel McGrath free dropped short where Shane Bourke fielded and finished from close range.
Points followed from McGrath and Callanan before ‘Bonner’ Maher acrobatically finished our second as he was being tripped. With less than ten minutes gone and Tipp leading by 2-3 to 0-1 it was effectively game over.
The rest was, to an extent, embellishment with O’Shea ensuring there was no slackness just as he did against Clare in the previous round. Callanan’s rasping ‘penalty’ near half time underlined our supremacy. Earlier he’d brought a fine stop from Dublin goalie, Alan Nolan, so all the vital signs were showing Tipp in flying form.
The second half brought little deviation from the pattern. Two fine saves by Cummins book-marked a half where Tipperary continued to pop the points and were rewarded with a last-minute own-goal as luckless Dublin ‘keeper, Nolan, turned the ball into his own net with Mikey Heffernan offering nearby distraction.
We could enjoy the luxury of withdrawing players like Corbett, Cahill, Paudie Maher and Shane McGrath as it all petered out to a one-sided conclusion.
All credits carry a health warning: Dublin were pathetic. Still Tipperary could only concentrate on their own game and it that regard the team was crisp and efficient in everything it did.
Jason Forde got the TG4 man-of-the-match prize. They like new faces for the cameras and Jason is one of that fresh-faced breed.
He certainly left his mark on this encounter with four superb points. Others would have seen Padraic Maher as the most influential player and if you made a case for Seamus Callanan or Noel McGrath I wouldn’t argue either. In any case these judgments are very subjective.
The decision to name Padraic Maher at full back, where he won an All star in ’09, was a strange one. Going into the game everyone seemed to know that O’Mahony would police the edge of the ‘square’ so the jersey allocation was odd. Switching O’Mahony to number three, however, was something we expected to see earlier in the campaign.
Paul Curran has had a fine league series but one suspects the management is looking ahead to summer days, hopefully in Croke Park, where full back cover may be needed.
Overall our defence on Sunday played soundly with Paddy Stapleton getting back to his best at corner and Maher colossal at centre – can we really afford to play him on the wing in future? Cummins in goal had a few excellent saves on the credit side of the ledger but debit items would include a few misplaced deliveries.
Noel McGrath’s anticipation and striking was a treat to watch. He’s had a few nondescript games so this was a welcome return to prominence though the debate about his optimal position will be ongoing.
Ideally I’d like to see Brendan Maher at centre field with Noel in attack but I’m sure O’Shea and company are searching for the best balance in the line up.
Perhaps the most encouraging aspect of the display was the attacking flair shown and the options it offers the management for future games.
Jason Forde’s profile has been elevated but there was much to admire about the form of Callanan and Bourke too. ‘Bonner’ Maher will be remembered for that goal, though his touch is still in need of sharpening.
Lar Corbett was quieter this time as Liam Rushe tried to keep him on a leash – at times literally. On present trends Pa Bourke will struggle to make the first fifteen.
All of this forward praise comes on a day when we were without Kelly and ‘Bubbles’ and ‘Buggy’ so there are major options available in that department.
Overall then it was a silky-smooth passage to the final against a Dublin side that looks way off the standard of 2011. Anthony Daly will sweat over the summer.
With Tipp safely in the final we sat back in anticipation of a more up-tempo second semi. And it started to a lively beat with Galway buzzing and looking likely to test the mettle of the prowling ‘cats’.
Donnellan’s early goal looked like a promising omen as the Kilkenny defence was being tested on a series of raids; Damien Hayes might have made better progress on a few of them.
Then came that thundering collision between Fergal Moore and Walter Walsh and somehow thereafter the match never recovered is early rhythm.
Gradually, inexorably, Kilkenny started to impose themselves on the contest. Eoin Larkin frees and ‘65s’ were the main score-source as their advantage eventually stretched out to six by the interval.
By the end the margin would be seven but I felt it understated Kilkenny’s supremacy. Without the saves from Galway goalie, Colm Callanan, the gap could have extended well into double digits.
Galway were hugely disappointing. The central spine of their defence was in trouble against the two Richies, Power and Hogan, and then at the other end where was Joe Canning? If Joe doesn’t sparkle Galway struggle and on this occasion he was a bystander for most of the action.
Damien Hayes was withdrawn and I felt it was Cyril Donnellan alone who did most to bolster the Galway effort.
After their heroics last year there’s a danger that Galway will suffer from the second year Syndrome. The evidence here wasn’t encouraging though they can fluctuate hugely from game to game and will obviously build now for another assault on the Leinster series later in the summer.
There’s not much wavering, however, with Kilkenny. Day after day they belt out the same tune and they remain the standard to which all others must aspire. In midfielder, Lester Ryan, they appear to have unearthed a player of real quality and those Richies will bother any defence.
Richie Hogan particularly was superb on Sunday posing questions for which the Galway defence had no answer. And that was on a day when the likes of Eoin Larkin and Colin Fennelly were unusually quiet.
It’s scary to think that all of this happens at a time when they are still without Shefflin and T.J. Reid and Michael Fennelly. Goalie Eoin Murphy, I suspect, will keep Herity on the bench for the foreseeable future.
So it’s down to a final at Nowlan Park. The venue apparently is in return for Kilkenny’s visit to Semple for the ’09 decider when the game went to extra time before the visitors shaded it. Coming just a month before the championship you couldn’t ask for better preparation. It’s one to really get revved up about.
Incidentally the league structure has been in the firing line and rightly so. The six-team format seems far too tight. It does add a competitive edge to every fixture but on the downside for some teams being finished league hurling on March 31 seems ludicrous.
Potentially teams like Waterford, Offaly and Wexford could have just two competitive games this year between March 31 and late February 2014. All that effort and expense for just a few games? I’d favour an eight-team top tier, which would go some way to bridging the long gap that now exists between league and championship. And it would give two of the ‘B’ section teams a shot at the top flight.
Meanwhile on the home front club action resumes this weekend with the West putting on a hugely attractive double-decker at Golden on Sunday. Old foes, Clonoulty and Kickhams, face off in one game with Annacarty and Cappawhite disputing the second.
In one sense these teams are probably playing for position because the perception is that they’ll be the four semi-finalists come the business end of the championship. Clonoulty remain the top dogs and look well set to continue their dominance in the region where this time they chase a seventh title in a row.
After a troubled year last season Kickhams have starter brighter this time with wins over Golden and Cashel to their account thus far. They always fancy being able to put it up to Clonoulty though at this stage a win would register as a major shock.
There’s never a shortage of rivalry between Eire Og and Cappawhite either. Each has a loss and a win to their credit, the defeats being at the hands of Clonoulty, so this will be an important game in establishing the pecking order. Eire Og will be the fancy here. I’m sure there are fixtures too in the other regions so check out the lists for action nearest to you.