For seniors and minors alike Munster Final day brings a reprise of 2015 – only the venue has changed. How about repeat results?
Maybe it’s my skewed perception but it feels like a very low-key championship season thus far for Tipperary.
We’ve been moving along nicely alright, but avoiding the rave reviews; the headline stories are being sourced elsewhere.
Our win over Cork shone the spotlight Leeside. The demise of Cork hurling has been one of the summer stories, the exits of their U21s and minors in the past week adding to the narrative.
Mind you their seniors might still ruffle a few feathers so don’t do a Mark Twain on their demise just yet; I expect them to beat Wexford on Saturday.
Then our win over Limerick came with another asterisk attached: we did the business while a man short but had a mere two points to spare at the end. It was adequate rather than spectacular and again the conversation afterwards was dominated by Limerick’s inadequacies.
Their subsequent stumble past Westmeath won’t have eased the pressure on T.J. Ryan and they’ll be outsiders against Clare on Saturday, though you always half expect that Limerick might one day hit a big one.
So it’s been a muted campaign so far for Tipperary, which, I suspect, is exactly what Michael Ryan would wish for. Too often in the past we’ve dazzled only to dim alarmingly the next day out; Kilkenny mightn’t like being labeled functional but I’ll take the tag any day.
Last year’s final win over Waterford is an obvious reference point for previews of Sunday’s re-match. We had five points to spare at the end of a goal-less game but that final margin tended to belie the evenness throughout the match. It took a lot of patience and persistence from Tipperary to see it out, a few points at the end easing tension.
Since then the Deise slipped one over on us in the league game last March through that late Austin Gleeson winner so there’s been precious little between the counties in recent times.
Waterford might have lost their league title to Clare but the championship rematch delivered a different script and they’ll see a win on Sunday as the next step in their development.
Interestingly both sides are likely to show significant changes in the starting line-outs since last year. We had Michael Breen listed at number four twelve month ago; the Woodlock/McGrath midfield was still in place; Brendan Maher was toiling away at number eleven; and Noel McGrath was still in recovery. What a difference a year makes.
Waterford too of course will be different. Pauric Mahony is back after that horrific leg break and others like Shane Bennett and Patrick Curran will ensure a new focus in their attack.
Against that they won’t have to bother about ‘Bubbles’ this time – he scored three points from play a year ago – but John McGrath brings a new challenge which wasn’t there last time.
So you can balance and counter-balance all these variables but I suppose ultimately the perception is that it will be nervously close once again. The bookies are offering 8/1 on a draw and it mightn’t be a bad bet though it hasn’t happened in any of our previous ten Munster final clashes from which Tipperary hold an eight-two advantage.
Apart from a replacement for ‘Bubbles’ it’s expected that Tipperary are likely to be otherwise unchanged from the team that dismissed Limerick.
Niall O’Meara and Jason Forde are top of the queue to take over from the Killenaule man with O’Meara perhaps slightly ahead on present form. Many people expected Jason Forde to really stamp his mark on the team this year but his season so far has been a little disappointing.
Kieran Bergin is said to be impressing in training though he’s probably seen as a midfield/half back option.
Waterford put a lot of emphasis last year on curbing Seamie Callanan and they were successful to the extent that he failed to score from play though obviously when one man draws the markers it leaves more scope for others to prosper.
‘Bubbles’ is going to be a big loss this time though that is countered by the emergence of John McGrath as a major player, Noel McGrath’s resurgence and ‘Bonner’ who is said to be moving well in training. Incidentally it’s expected that Callanan will be fully recovered from that injury that kept him out of Drom’s Mid win over Sarsfields last week.
Waterford’s so-called ‘system’ draws a lot of comment, much of it I think over-played. Of course they employ a sweeper but perhaps the more significant aspect of their game is the mobility and work rate of players throughout the field.
They’re mostly young – ‘Brick’ and Kevin Moran excepted – fit, talented and confident and will feel well capable of toppling Tipperary.
Austin Gleeson is very much a free spirit in the team likely to pop up anywhere and I suspect not amenable to any rigid system.
It’s funny when a Kilkenny forward turns up in his own goalmouth to defend it’s regarded as work rate; the same happens with a Waterford player and it’s a ‘system’.
From a Tipperary perspective we’re familiar with the Waterford method and have coped with it in the past. The players will know that savage work rate will be required from all but in any case that has been a mantra of the management this year.
The bookies give Tipperary the nod on odds of 4/6 with Waterford on 13/8. That probably reflects past evidence, but as a well-known advertisement used to say, past performance is no guarantee of future return.
I think Tipperary’s line out on Sunday, even without ‘Bubbles’, is probably stronger than last year’s, but Waterford too I feel are better. It should be a tight one then so hopefully the swings and roundabouts fall our way on the day.
Early arrival at the Gaelic Grounds is encouraged to support the minors in their bid to retain the Munster crown. Their visa to the final was earned in a spectacular second half showing against Cork last week, so they should be in upbeat mood for another tilt with Limerick.
I missed the win over Cork being confined to twitter updates with all the accompanying frustration that goes with second hand information.
It sounded bleak as the Cork lead stretched out to six points in the second half, so the late surge to victory was a remarkable story from these teenagers.
Coming out of Walsh Park after their first round defeat not too many would have held out hope for Liam Cahill and his crew so it’s been a commendable turnaround having to pull off away wins in Ennis and Cork to get to this final stage.
The management has shown both courage and resolve, despite some predictable sniping from the sidelines. They’ve kept the panel fluid, reshaping the side trying to find the best mix and so far it’s paid off in a very tight Munster series.
The good news from this is that irrespective of Sunday’s outcome the panel will now be hurling deep into summer, which is what you need with a development squad like minors. Good luck to them.
Elsewhere the Kilkenny bandwagon just keeps on rolling. It was more of the same in their Leinster final with Galway, the initial resistance from the Tribesmen wilting in the second half heat.
Nothing changes. Kilkenny have the formula down to a fine art and are now just two games away from another three-in-a-row. It’s remarkable but also depressing.
Galway’s great white hope, Joe Canning, was impeccable on the frees but where was he for the rest of the game?
As the years slip by his reputation diminishes. Galway needs him in a lead role if the cycle of defeat is to be broken but it’s just not happening. Having removed their manager last year nothing seems to have changed in Galway.