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Heady days for Tipperary hurling with seniors and under 20s into All Ireland finals

EXCITING DAYS AHEAD

Heady days for Tipperary hurling with seniors and under 20s into All Ireland finals

Tipperary's Johnny Ryan in action against Wexford in the u-20 semi-final

Where the seniors went the U-20s followed.

What an amazing twelve days it has been for Tipperary hurling, seniors and U-20s blazing trails of glory to All-Ireland final dates. These are heady days indeed, setting the county abuzz with expectation. 

For the U-20s there was none of the dramatics of the senior semi-final. Instead a goal fest eviscerated Wexford in ruthless fashion to set up a re-match with Cork for the second year running in the All-Ireland decider.

A win was expected, but a rout wasn’t.  Wexford, after all, lost by a mere two points to Kilkenny in the Leinster final and that same Kilkenny pushed Cork hard before going out by six points in Saturday’s other semi-final. Such lines of form would indicate that Tipperary should prevail with a bit to spare, but nobody anticipated a 22-point drubbing.

Goals galore were the story of the game at Nowlan Park, the Tipperary attack in rampant mood and going for the jugular at every opportunity. There was a dead-eyed focus about the overall team effort, with players in a hurry to rack up the scores.

Hapless Wexford couldn’t cope, their defence over-run and leaking like the proverbial colander. 

From Tipperary it was all very pacy, direct and incisive. Andrew Ormond began the rout after just six minutes with further majors from Billy Seymour, Jake Morris and Ormond once again, putting four goals on the board before the break. For me Seymour’s was the highlight individual item, fetching out on the half line and barging through before finishing powerfully. It was a goal for all ages.

There was the minor item of a Wexford goal before the break but it was a mere blip in the overall direction of this game. At half time Tipperary were eight-up, looking in control all over and having the wind advantage to come on the turnover.

In these circumstances Wexford needed a bright restart but Tipperary quickly swatted aside any notions of a comeback by the Leinster runners-up. Jerome Cahill poked home an instant goal on resuming and followed with a second twelve minutes later.

This was embarrassing territory for the Leinster men, who could get no traction in any sector of the pitch. They relied heavily on the excellent free-taking of Ross Banville but never threatened Aaron Browne’s goal, as the game careered down to an inevitable outcome.

Substitute Sean Hayes got among the list of goal scorers and Billy Seymour added his second, showing great determination to get his flick in after the initial shot came back off the base of the post. In microcosm that goal summed up the difference between the sides: the Wexford defenders slow and ponderous against Seymour’s energy and drive.

Overall then it was a slick assassination job by Liam Cahill’s men. From a defence where Connolly, Cadell and O’Mara  were particularly strong through to man-of-the-match, Jerome Cahill and a free-wheeling attack where Seymour, Morris and Ormond shone, it all added up to a powerful unit. Conor Bowe was quieter this time but Johnny Ryan has made his mark and with others like Darragh Woods and Sean Hayes straining at the leash for inclusion, Liam Cahill has solid back-up material.

On a cautionary note the ease of this win needs to be kept in context. Wexford were poor -very poor in some sectors - and the Tipp management will have learnt little from the experience. Feet need to be firmly anchored because Cork brought great intensity to their semi-final win and will be manic in their determination to avoid another defeat to Tipperary. It’s all set up for what should be an amazing final.

Elsewhere, being away for the senior semi-final was unfortunate timing from my perspective. Watching in a pub in sunny Lanzarote has its pleasures, but you miss the atmosphere and emotion of being present at the event. There’s no substitute for close-up immersion in the action. 

What a game! Eoin Kelly has labelled it one of Tipperary’s greatest-ever wins and I’m certainly not going to disagree. I can’t recall a Tipperary team in Croke Park, or elsewhere, facing such unfair adversity and still, through sheer irrepressible willpower, coming through at the end. It was heroic in the true meaning of that word.

Winning tight games has not been a notable feature of Tipperary displays in the past. Too often we’ve fallen the wrong side of those marginal ones, lacking, it seemed to me, the conviction to see out a tight-rope finale. I’ve called it a psychological deficit in the past – and annoyed people in the process.

Yet here was the perfect answer to that criticism. With some of the poorest refereeing ever seen in Croke Park, the team got hit by one sucker punch after another but still refused to be bowed. That last point by Jake Morris is up there in my gallery of all-time great scores. What nerve! With the game on a knife-edge, to split the posts off his weaker side from the sideline was a phenomenal score.

It was an incredible rollercoaster of a game. The manner in which our defence was being exposed early on was a real worry. Wexford’s mobility was causing problems and we were fortunate not to concede more goals than the Conor McDonald one. Callanan’s strike early on was a quality item.

The real drama came in the second half, of course, with the sending-off of John McGrath and a deficit of five points before the great comeback. It has been compared to that of the 1991 Munster final replay in Thurles. One essential difference was the fact that we weren’t hit with such adversity all those years ago. This was a game where Tipperary had to defy all logic in order to prevail. The cancelling of Jake Morris’ goal was very hard to take but the team simply took it on the chin, got ahead, doubled the lead and simply wouldn’t be beaten.

I’ve been catching up since on TV recordings, including The Sunday Game on the night of the match. What a shambles! The hurling world had just witnessed one of the most incredible games, packed with drama and controversies, and here we had to endure a double-act rant about sweepers, systems and whatnot. Des Cahill should be hauled before the stewards for allowing such nonsense to masquerade as punditry.

For some time now Messrs McGrath, Cusack and company have been on a mission of self-justification. These guys like to pose as the great innovators, the men who have recreated hurling, and anyone who dares criticise their methods is labelled some sort of stone-age troglodyte – or a leftover from British imperialism. For once I find myself agreeing with Ger Loughnane, which makes me feel like de Valera reacting to praise in The Irish Times. 

Hurling, like all games, is continuously evolving and changing. I think of the old game as a type of hockey where players with those oddly-shaped sticks slashed away at the ball. Mackey is credited with introducing the solo run. In my lifetime the abolition of the third-man tackle sometime in the seventies was revolutionary. Protection was introduced for the goalie and much of the old-style rough and tumble was removed.

In more recent times puck-outs have changed, some going short and most targeting a colleague rather than simply driving for maximum distance. Team positions have become more flexible, players fitter and more mobile. Sweepers have become commonplace.

All of this is part of a natural process of evolution and fans will forever debate the rights or wrongs, as is their entitlement without being denigrated. Many people, for example, have decried the demise of overhead striking and ground hurling, both of which have suffered in the modern age of possession and hand-passing and running. Some changes are welcome, others more questionable. Many so-called innovations in Gaelic football, for example, can hardly be said to have improved the spectacle of the sport.

My problem with pundits like McGrath and Cusack is that they want to reduce a spontaneous sport like hurling to a type of chessboard science. I pitied Brendan Cummins on this programme, sandwiched between that pair and offering the only sensible analysis of the great game we’d just seen. Don’t get me started, however, on the failure of the programme to make even a cursory mention of the one item everyone was talking about – the refereeing.

I’ll finish with two eminently sensible quotes. First Cyril Farrell: “People talk about shapes and patterns, plays, ploys and match-ups, and while it sounds good, much of it is pure spoof”. 

And then I read former Kilkenny centre back, Brian Hogan, commenting on The Sunday Game: “I thought it was ridiculous. We had two unbelievable matches and people were waiting to get stuck into the analysis and we got what felt like a rant for ten minutes justifying sweepers. Every county is entitled to set up the way they see fit with the players they have. They (Sunday Game pundits) are almost paranoid in trying to justify their own tactics”. That’s refreshing to hear.

P.S. Not hurling related but of Tipperary interest is a Post Grad Cert in Innovation and Enterprise Development being jointly run by Trinity College and Tipperary. The course will be based in the Excel in Tipperary Town and applications are invited from people who work in SMEs and MNCs. The cost will be €300, just ten percent of the nominal fee. If interested contact John Coman, who works in Trinity College.