Fascinating game in prospect as Tipperary hurlers prepare to entertain high-flying Galway

No wins and no goals from opening two games

John McGrath

Tipperary's John McGrath breaks away from Cork's Luke Meade during last weekend's national league game in Thurles

Tipperary stay goal-less and winless after two rounds of the hurling league. The draw with Limerick may have been a positive outcome – parity with Cork on Saturday seemed less satisfying.
Meanwhile, pacesetters Galway will surely bring a real acid test to the Stadium this weekend before the series takes a breather the following week.
I suppose the betting odds hinted that this would be a tight-run affair and, not for the first time, the turf accountants were accurate. They weren’t alone in their prescience. A Seamus O’Doherty WhatsApp message in advance read: “How about another draw with Cork? Put Horgan and Forde down for 10 points each.” Well, Forde hit exactly ten points and Horgan managed 1-6, which breaks down as 9 points. Prophetic indeed.
And yet, leaving Semple Stadium on Saturday evening this felt more like a missed opportunity. Okay, Forde had to salvage a draw with that monster point at the end but over the span of the game Tipperary should have done better. In particular there was that spell early in the second half when we led and might have pushed on to take the game out of Cork’s reach.
The mounting wide count – 17 in total – held us back and then Horgan’s goal coming somewhat against the trend of play resurrected the Cork effort. We might have stolen it at the end, but could just as easily have lost; Pat Horgan’s late effort hit the post after Seamus Kennedy was wide at the other end.
We had a shaky start to the game. Cork were out of the traps very lively, Alan Cadogan with an instant point before setting up Jack O’Connor for a goal chance, which he flashed wide of the left post.
Thereafter Tipperary settled once ‘Bubbles’ announced his return with a trademark point from the left wing and it soon developed into a very tactical game. Cork’s approach was clear and would remain undiluted throughout: short puckouts and then try and run it through the lines.
A combination of Tipperary workrate and Cork errors in the showery conditions meant the visitors had limited luck in their approach.
The first major break did fall to the Rebels with the opening goal. Tim O’Mahony’s initial pass was wayward but the midfielder was there for the follow-up once Pat Horgan returned the ball back across goal from the end line. With three Tipp backs in attendance, they should have defended instead of ball watching.
Still, Tipperary recovered from that blow, Forde the principal scorer from frees with other inputs from John McGrath and Barry Heffernan. Too often, though, our final delivery into attack was of the hit-and-hope variety. We don’t have bulky ball winners so raining high lobs upfield is futile.
Still, we had a point edge at the end of the first half, though Cork’s second goal was a heavy blow in the third quarter. It came at a time when Tipperary were starting to establish an edge. Darragh Fitzgibbon made the hard yards before offloading to Horgan, who batted in from close range. Cathal Barrett had fluffed possession in the lead-up.
It was back to parity then before Cork took a one-point edge to the second water break and thereafter we were mostly chasing a marginal lead to the very end. The second half accumulation of wides was crippling.
In the end Forde landed an incredible leveller from well north of 100 yards. It was the least we deserved.
Here’s an extraordinary statistic from the game: our full back line outscored our starting full forward line, 0-4 to 0-3. In fact, the points by Barry Heffernan (two), Brian McGrath and Cathal Barrett matched the game total of scores from play by our entire six starting forwards.
Such figures may tell you something about the modern game, but they also highlight a deficiency in Tipperary’s make- up. Remember we didn’t score from play in the second half against Limerick and have now gone two matches without a goal, so something is clearly amiss at the offensive end.
Too many of the forwards on Saturday were ineffective. Without Callanan the entire attack looks a bit toothless. On the positive side ‘Bubbles’ looked sharp on his return, John McGrath had a few promising moments and Paul Flynn had a useful input as a replacement. Forde did the business on the frees but overall that forward unit has to deliver more. After all the end game in all field sports is scoring.
The credits are much more plentiful at the defensive end, albeit both Cork goals seemed preventable on Saturday.
We’re all anxiously watching for breakthrough talent from Liam Cahill’s underage academy, and in that regard Brian McGrath has emerged as the leading contender to make the grade. After two games now he’s bedding in nicely on that full back line, showing attitude and temperament at the higher level, which is welcome news.
This shouldn’t be a surprise when we remember that his finest hour with Liam Cahill was as full back in the 2018 All-Ireland U21 final, where he was outstanding.
Barry Heffernan was a standout defender on Saturday also, as was Cathal Barrett, while Ronan, Paudie and Seamus all pitched in with solid displays. No great issue there but midfield was a bit iffier and the attack needs addressing.
Galway’s arrival to the Stadium this Saturday should be the highlight of this opening phase of the hurling league. As the form team, the table toppers, they bring the ultimate test to Tipperary. By any reckoning the Tribesmen are also one of the championship front runners so this promises to be a fascinating fixture.
As the ad says, past performance is no indicator of future returns, which is a pity because our past record against the westerners is very healthy. The counties have met in 73 previous league games, with Tipperary’s record showing 46 wins, 21 losses and 6 draws. Since the turn of the century they’ve played 20 times, with Tipp holding an eleven-six lead; there were three draws. Galway’s last win in Thurles was way back in 2006.
The bookies give Galway a very marginal edge for this one – 5/6 versus 6/5. A victory here would leave Tipperary sitting pretty ahead of the final games against Westmeath and Waterford. A defeat wouldn’t be fatal but, depending on its nature, would leave us wounded at a crucial point in the evolving season.
Meanwhile the prophets of doom had a field day last weekend. The end is nigh; hurling as we know it is finished; Armageddon is upon us. Over-reaction, hyperbole, melodrama, were all part of the text after a weekend of high free-counts and stop-start games. It was all good for the headline writers, but of little value otherwise.
Time surely for people to chill out and replace the hysteria with some calm reflection on developments. Dermot Crowe had a very balanced perspective on it all in the Sunday Independent but too many others are happy to chime with the populist narrative.
What are people really giving out about here? Is it that referees are (finally) blowing for obvious fouls, something that’s long been a bone of contention? We’ve long complained about the abuse of the rule on steps and the handpass, yet when referees tried to enforce the rules at the weekend they faced a barrage of criticism. The use of the free hand and the loose hurley have been an unchecked blight on the game for some time now, yet there’s this outrage when referees take a stand.
Of course, some of the referees got their calls wrong at times but that’s hardly an argument for ignoring the rules and adopting this let-it-flow mantra.
Limerick felt worst offended but, surely, they must recognise that their style leaves them particularly vulnerable to any tightening of the strictures. Eamonn Sweeney in Monday’s Indo made a salient point about Limerick’s free count: “Few of the frees were disputable but many were avoidable”. And there’s the rub for Limerick. Stop fouling and there’s no issue.
Jackie Tyrrell on The Sunday Game chipped in with his tuppence worth on the weekend controversies, playing yet again to this let-it-flow gallery. His condemnation of the refereeing in Salthill was delivered without a single clip of supporting video.
The programme’s segment on the Tipp/Cork game was entirely dedicated to Cork. Was Joanne even aware that the game ended level?
P.S. Please note the following dispatch from the Tipperary Supporters Club: “The new Tipperary Supporters Club App, called Clubzap, has just been launched, including a dedicated members area providing news and views from the Tipperary senior hurling camp and currently featuring an in-depth interview with Niall O’Meara. Paddy Stapleton will give his insights and answer questions from members every week. For details on how to join the Tipperary Supporters Club visit the website https://tippsupportersclub.
All members will automatically be included in our draw for a members prize of €1,000, together with €1,000 for your nominated Tipperary GAA Club.”

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