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New additions help to turn All Ireland
intermediate final in Tipp’s direction

In a bleak hurling year for the county any morsel of comfort is welcome.

In a bleak hurling year for the county any morsel of comfort is welcome.

The intermediate grade may lack glamour but any All Ireland win takes the bare look off the trophy cabinet.

Back-to-back All Irelands will sit neatly on the sporting CV of Michael Ryan and his colleagues Michael Ferncombe, Eamonn O’Dwyer and Sean O’Meara.

And to beat Kilkenny in successive finals adds an extra pinch of flavouring to the deed.

Of course it will come with an asterisk attached. Tipperary operates under different rules in this grade being allowed select from senior clubs whereas Kilkenny, like Cork, are confined to intermediate and junior sides.

On the face of it that seems an extraordinary anomaly though you could make a case for Tipp on the basis that we have so many senior sides. I suspect many of the Kilkenny intermediate teams, for example, would be quite comfortable against several of our thirty-two senior formations.

And then having to find an entirely new team this year was a limiting factor too for the management. Still I expect the rules will be revisited in this one.

I suspect the management read the signs in the Munster final and decided that the team needed some reinforcing if the national title was to be retained.

In came John O’Keeffe, Brian Fox and Niall O’Meara to bolster the effort. In the reshuffle Fox and Willie Ryan created a new midfield partnership with O’Neill slotting in at five and O’Meara at twelve.

I doubt if the Munster final side would have brought the cup out of Kilkenny; O’Meara and Fox were especially influential.

Before a very modest attendance Tipperary had the better of the first half but didn’t really make it count. A succession of bad wides was one reason; not availing of a few fleeting goal chances was another.

Still we were doing the bulk of the best hurling. Niall O’Meara was our most daring attacker at this stage before taking a blow to the head but our forwards in general seemed to be drifting too far from goal to offer any real threat.

Brian Fox was the busiest at midfield while in defence Tom Treacy was emerging as the star performer doing a Mickey Cahill impersonation.

Eventually our dominance was underlined when Ruairi Gleeson planted a deserved goal but with cruel timing Kilkenny got their retaliation in before half time, full forward Jonjo Farrell beating Darragh Egan for a cancelling score. A one point interval lead was slim reward for our first half hurling.

However, the scenario brightened considerably early in the second half.

First Timmy Hammersley sent a proverbial ‘screamer’ inches over the crossbar and then Ruairi Gleeson out-fielded his marker before dispatching his second goal, a really fine individual effort.

When Niall O’Meara followed with a point we were six-up and in control.

We could never relax, though, as Kilkenny kept up the effort and their second goal after a goalmouth scramble came three minutes from the end to set up a nervous climax to the game.

The lead dwindled to a dodgy two points before Ruairi Gleeson made it a safer three and even then we had to live on our nerves in the final moments as the locals came searching for the leveller.

In the end the better team prevailed. If Tom Treacy was the star of the defence, Padraig Heffernan also played a sound game beside David Young with Sean O’Brien solid in the right corner.

Brian Fox did a lot of hurling at midfield even if his distribution was at times wayward. Niall O’Meara added thrust to an attack where Ruairi Gleeson’s contribution of 2-1 was a match-winning one. Timmy Hammersley was steady on the second half frees as well as hitting a few from play; Joey McLoughney made a significant contribution when introduced.

Overall then it was a welcome outcome from Michael Ryan’s crew. It won’t have anyone raving about future senior talent though if Eamon O’Shea is casting a very wide net he might be curious about players like Tom Treacy and Padraig Heffernan and Brian Fox and Niall O’Meara and Ruairi Gleeson.

Meanwhile a hurling season of unpredictable character reaches its climax with a novel pairing. Clare and Cork offer fascinating potential in this all-Munster decider. The bookies offer marginal favouritism to the rebels but most agree that this is one which will be decided by the vagaries of the day.

It’s been a season of odd outcomes with neither provincial winner surviving the course. Trying to read form lines has sent many a pundit astray – and presumably enriched the bookies.

My own take on events saw Clare as an up and coming work-in-progress though perhaps not finished enough to complete the job just yet. Young, talented and enthusiastic but also a little raw at the edges, their play needed development and refinement.

That analysis, however, was rendered redundant by their tour de force against Limerick. Here was a Clare side not in transit but at its destination, a side matured beyond its age. Replicate that on Sunday and the Banner will surely rule.

Of course we might wonder about how much Limerick facilitated their visa to the final just as we’ll ponder on the might-have-beens of Cork’s win over Dublin. What if Ryan O’Dwyer hadn’t been sent off? What if Declan Hannon had brought his radar to Croker? Etc. Etc.

In the end it all comes down to the imponderables of next Sunday. So many games have been decided this year by quirks of fate such as a sending off, a refereeing error, an injury, a missed chance or chances. Who will the gods smile on this time? In a year of fallen favourites and toppled presumptions Clare deserve to establish a new order but wouldn’t it be typical of traditional Cork to upset the party? Either way it will surely be fascinating.

On the home front that double-header at Holycross on Saturday will hardly be so intriguing but should draw the crowds nonetheless. Borrisoleigh will expect to get past Swans and Clonoulty are fancied to oust Toomevara. Perhaps, though I’m not convinced after what we saw in the West. You can back Toome’ at 16/1 to win the county but you’ll only get 7/1 on Clonoulty. Indeed.

P.S. Yer man wants to know what I thought of the football last Sunday. Brilliant. Fantastic spectacle. What a change from the diseased game that had become so prevalent. More of this and I might even become a convert!

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