Tipperary ease through the gears of control against sub-standard Offaly

Tipp’s awakening from their early season slumber continued on Sunday, when they enjoyed a comfortable win over joint bottom of the table Offaly in front of an attendance of 2,510 at a bright and breezy MacDonagh Park in Nenagh.

Playing their first game of the campaign in daylight after three successive matches under floodlights, Tipp have given themselves an outside chance of qualifying for the National Hurling League Final with this, their second win in just over a week.

They had simply too much in the tank for an Offaly side that battled gamely in the opening half but whose challenge withered completely on the turnover, when they scored just 2 points and failed to register a score in the last half an hour.

Tipp’s half time lead of 4 points (1-9 to 0-8) was an accurate reflection of a solid performance against the difficult, crossfield wind. For much of the second half they merely went through the motions as they eased towards the finishing line.

Even Eoin Kelly’s early departure failed to disrupt their rhythm. Just days before he travelled to the White House to meet American President Barack Obama on St. Patrick’s Day, the captain left the field after only 4 minutes with a finger injury.

Loughmore’s Eddie Connolly, who made a promising debut at corner back, was also forced to depart injured, when he was concussed and replaced at half time following a high challenge by James Mulrooney in additional time, a foul that earned the Offaly substitute a yellow card.

The game also marked the return of last season’s Hurler of the Year. Making his first appearance of the campaign following a foot injury, Lar Corbett replaced Paul Kelly at half time and a few times threatened to make one of those trademark bursts towards goal, but the ball never ran kindly for him.

For the second successive match Pa Bourke finished as top scorer. The Thurles Sarsfields player looks as if he’s finally ready to nail down a regular starting berth in the team and four of his seven points came from play, as he continued his rich vein of form. Apart from the scores his distribution was equally impressive.

Brendan Maher was his team’s best player. In the absence of Shane McGrath the Borris-Ileigh player willingly took up the mantle of responsibility in midfield and an all-action display was rewarded with four points from play.

His centrefield partner, Gearoid Ryan was always busy and he scored the game’s only goal in the 21st minute. The move was started by Eddie Connolly in defence and his clearance was ferried by Patrick Maher onto Ryan, who finished with aplomb from close range.

The “Bonnar” was at his best in the first half with a typically wholehearted and gutsy performance, although his lack of finishing power remains a concern.

Benny Dunne, who finished with four points, can also be satisfied with his day’s work, although Noel McGrath was much quieter than he was when scoring 7 points from play against Waterford the previous week.

Shane Bourke of JK Brackens accepted the chance presented by Eoin Kelly’s premature departure with open arms and finished with 3 points, all from play.

The defence deserves great praise for restricting Offaly to just 6 points from play. The full back line of Eddie Connolly, Paul Curran and Michael Cahill stood its ground well against the wind in the first half.

John O’Keeffe had another capable outing at wing back, even managing a point, the last of the game, while Paddy Stapleton stepped into the breach at centre back and was a more than capable replacement for Conor O’Mahony or Padraic Maher. The latter was selected to play but was forced to cry off when his grandmother died.

Tipp were sluggish in the early stages of the second half, when Offaly suggested they might make a game of it. Brian Carroll converted an early free and then Daniel Currams scored in the 6th minute but that was their last score of a contest that became increasingly one-sided.

Benny Dunne and Shane Bourke had their side’s opening points of the second half and after that there was only one team in it. Pa Bourke, Gearoid Ryan and Shane Bourke again, all from play, pushed them further in front with a string of points.

David Kenny and Rory Hanniffy were a very strong spine in Offfaly’s defence and were it not for them their team would have shipped an even heavier defeat. Nonetheless they were still powerless to stop Tipp from piling on the pressure and the points. Brendan Maher whipped a lovely effort over the bar before Shane Bourke and Pa Bourke (from a free) also found the target.

Michael Cordial and Conor Mahon went for the same ball and fluffed the chance of a consolation goal for Offaly near the end before Benny Dunne, Pa Bourke and John O’Keeffe rubbed more salt into their wounds with late scores.

Even though they were up against a team that’s struggling, Tipp’s tally included an impressive haul of 1-17 from play, as they continued their recovery from those early season defeats to Kilkenny and Dublin.

They will be looking to maintain the momentum in their remaining games against Cork and Galway (both away) and at home to Wexford.

On a tight pitch and backed by the wind, Offaly were well in contention in the first half, with their captain, Joe Bergin and Michael Cordial to the fore. Bergin, whose high fielding was a feature of his game, gave them the lead in the first minute, although scores from Pa Bourke (from a free and from play) and Benny Dunne gave Tipp a lead they never surrendered.

Tipp were ahead by 0-5 to 0-3 when Pa Bourke, for some reason, went for goal from a 21 metre free in the 16th minute when Paul Kelly was fouled. His fierce drive was stopped by goalie James Dempsey but they didn’t have to wait long for a goal, which came 5 minutes later when Gearoid Ryan’s effort put them 6 clear (1-7 to 0-4).

Points from Michael Cordial and a ’65 and a free from Brian Carroll helped trim the deficit to four and that was the way it stood at the interval. In additional time Brendan Maher fought his way clear superbly before scoring, an effort that was cancelled out by Michael Cordial’s point as a keenly-fought half drew to a close.

Tipperary – Brendan Cummins, Eddie Connolly, Paul Curran, Michael Cahill, Paddy Stapleton, David Young, John O’Keeffe (0-1), Gearoid Ryan (1-1), Brendan Maher (0-4), Benny Dunne (0-4), Noel McGrath, Patrick Maher , Paul Kelly, Eoin Kelly (captain) and Pa Bourke (0-7 including 3 frees).

Substitutes – Shane Bourke (0-3) for Eoin Kelly (4 minutes), John Coghlan for Eddie Connolly (half time), James Woodlock for David Young (half time), Lar Corbett for Paul Kelly (half time) and Sean Carey for Noel McGrath (63 minutes).

Offaly – James Dempsey, Michael Verney, David Kenny, Stephen Egan, Michael Cordial (0-2), Rory Hanniffy, Derek Morkan, Conor Mahon, Dylan Hayden, Joe Bergin (captain 0-2), Daniel Currams (0-1), David Franks, Brian Carroll (0-4 including 3 frees and 1 ’65), Colin Egan (0-1) and Odhran Kealey.

Substitutes – James Mulrooney for Odhran Kealey (29 minutes), Cathal Parlon for Colin Egan (51 minutes), Kevin Connolly for Michael Cordial (67 minutes), Shane Kelly for Conor Mahon (69 minutes) and Stephen Wynne for Dylan Hayden (70 minutes).

Referee – James McGrath (Westmeath).