Productive weekend for Tipperary hurlers as strong finish secures win over Galway

Final game against Waterford will be a crunch clash, says Westside

Liam Sheedy and Padraic Maher

Padraic Maher and Liam Sheedy show their satisfaction with Tipperary’s win over Galway

On a weekend when the hysteria around the state of hurling subsided somewhat, Tipperary had its most productive outing. A strong finish was enough to see off Galway and leave the Premier well placed, as the series now pauses briefly.
When the action resumes on the weekend after next Tipperary travel to engage Westmeath, victims of a seven-goal blitz from Cork last Sunday. The final game will be at Walsh Park in Waterford and will likely be a crunch one in deciding finishing positions.
A fan-free early Saturday afternoon league fixture in the Stadium had a strange feel to it and that may well have contributed to the tone of events. In truth it wasn’t the most scintillating of contests – too many errors and wides for that – but it was still an interesting exchange between counties well accustomed to close-run affairs in the past.
I sense observers are expecting too much from these early league fixtures. In a normal year all counties would have five months of competitive action behind them at this stage; the league would be over, with all focus trained on the championship opener.
Instead, we have teams trying to fast track preparations, effectively squeezing five months into five weeks and the consequences are clear for all to see. The match sharpness simply isn’t there, so you have two of the game’s heavyweights playing in perfect conditions on Saturday and yet sharing thirty wides between them.
Injuries are another consequence of the truncated preparations, with players pushing physical boundaries in the short time available. The news that Bonner Maher ruptured his Achilles tendon on Thursday was devastating for one who was exemplary in his rehabilitation from a cruciate injury in 2019.
Such wicked bad luck would surely test the resilience of any normal human but Bonner seems to operate on a different plane, so don’t write off his career just yet.
I suspect one aspect of Saturday’s game that will please Liam Sheedy most was the strong finish, which effectively decided the outcome. We haven’t a great record in these types of climactic finishes; too often we’ve fallen the wrong side of tight calls, especially against Galway.
This time it was different. Heading into the home straight we were still nursing a marginal lead but Galway were clinging to our coat tails and threatening to deliver a late push. The red card for Jarlath Mannion has been cited by some as the tipping point. I’m not so sure. Galway do most of the damage from outfield so being a man short inside was hardly so crucial.
Instead, it was surely the bench bounce that carried Tipperary home in those final moments. The impact of Michael Breen – scorer of two crucial late points – as well as Brendan Maher and Niall O’Meara gave the home team the edge in the final quarter.
It’s a point that shouldn’t be lost. Most games are won in the final phase of play so holding something in reserve to inject that extra impetus for the final furlong can be critical. It’s a role that Seamus Flanagan and Pa Ryan have played for Limerick in past years.
The two first-half goals were welcome items and hugely significant in the overall context of this game. Noel McGrath conjured the first with that overhead handpass to Forde and the compliment was repaid later in the half when the partnership delivered in reverse.
The finishes were well struck, though, I suspect Galway folk might feel that their goalie should have done better. It all depends on your perspective. At the other end Barry Hogan kept out a dangerous shot from Kevin Cooney.
Those goals would eventually take Tipperary seven-up in the first half but nine wides in that period prevented an even wider margin. The defence was doing very well, Galway getting little from play. Caddell was very noticeable at midfield and the likes of Bubbles, Noel McGrath and Jason Forde were carrying the forward threat.
And yet by half-time the lead was pared back to just two points and the teams were level two minutes after resuming. Tipp’s scoring dried up but the wides didn’t. By contrast Joe Canning led Galway’s recovery from play and frees. They hit seven unanswered points in a barren spell for Tipperary.
However, in the third quarter it was Galway’s turn to repeatedly miss the town posts, as their wides total started to match Tipperary’s. Briefly Galway snuck into the lead off a Brian Concannon point. There was a noticeable increase in the urgency of the visitors at this juncture, Conor Whelan, for example, becoming more visible.
As the second half progressed both managers started to empty their benches. It was that type of occasion where players tired and fresh legs were required for the final push.
Ultimately Tipperary’s reinforcements made the greater impact and that was the decisive difference. Both Niall O’Meara and Brendan Maher were soon on the scoresheet after joining the action. When you included Michael Breen’s brace and the final flag from Paul Flynn it meant that replacements contributed five to a five-point success. Significant surely.
Near the end Cathal Barrett and Jarlath Mannion tangled off the ball. Following consultation between the officials the Galway man was indicted for a striking action and red-carded.
By any reckoning it’s a significant win for Tipperary. No longer goal-less and win-less, the team is in decent fettle now awaiting the final two games. We’ll be expected to beat Westmeath and then the Waterford game will offer ideal preparation for the championship. What a contrast to last year’s dismal league showing, which ultimately offered a precursor to our championship fate.
The Tipperary defence emerged with copious credits on Saturday. Barrett was the individual star, back to his tigerish best and getting the TG4 gong for his efforts. Barry Heffernan has grown in stature during this league series. Seamus Kennedy offered solid stability at number six. Ronan is consistently one of the best defenders in the game and Paudie has adapted well to his new role on the full line. Overall, Robert Byrne can be pleased with his input too.
Paddy Caddell was very prominent at midfield, especially in the first half; Alan Flynn had moments too.
In attack Bubbles looked sharp and focused, which augurs well for the season ahead. Noel McGrath and Jason Forde led that offensive end. Otherwise, Dan McCormack was quieter than we’re accustomed to and John McGrath is clearly struggling with his form. Dillon Quirke will need another day to make an impact.
An interesting statistic shows that Galway got 20 frees against Tipperary’s 12. Even allowing for the fact that a few of the Galway awards were soft and that Tipperary might have had a few more it still leaves a disparity of about 18 to 14.
It’s something to work on, especially in today’s game where anything within 120 yards of the posts can be scoreable. Incidentally I thought the referees at the weekend did well despite all the background sound and fury.
Elsewhere in the league Waterford pulled off a very necessary win over Limerick in a game with a stormy finish. After losing three times to the Shannonsiders last year, this was an essential stand-up by Liam Cahill’s side. And they did it with some conviction.
For whatever reason Limerick’s game has gone a bit ragged and ratty. They’re struggling to recapture the fluency in past years and the strain is telling. They had Diarmaid Byrnes suspended for last Sunday following the Galway game and now face being without Kyle Hayes and Seamus Flanagan in their next game against Cork. Waterford’s Iarlaith Daly will be lucky to escape sanction also.
Meanwhile the brouhaha over rule changes and referees appears, like all overblown reactions, to have run out of puff. It’s amazing how something like this takes off and develops its own echo chamber.
Social media, of course, loves a fuss like this where the anonymous keyboard warriors can have a field day. It eventually runs out of steam because of a lack of substance and social media quickly moves on to something else.
Meanwhile the west Tipperary transfer saga had its DRA hearing on Thursday last but is set to drag on for some time yet before a conclusive outcome emerges.
The county board, apparently, is awaiting the written decision from the authority but the oral version it got appears to have left more confusion than clarity. The case has been sent back to the county board to be re-heard by a newly-formed county committee.
On the face of it the decision appears to be a favourable one for the players. Their case wasn’t dismissed but instead returned to the county, with an instruction that the board re-examine how the by-law was implemented. What this means in practice is not entirely clear.
The suggestion from the DRA appears to be that where relations have irretrievably broken down between players and their club then an avenue must be found to allow them play elsewhere. That sounds like force majeure, which was mentioned earlier in this regard.
Where then does this leave the parish rule? The case has major implications for the county – and indeed other counties where the parish rule also applies. Not surprisingly the county board is seeking clarification from Croke Park. We await developments.
P.S. Former Galway manager, Micheál Donoghue, was on the Sunday night sports programme and introduced a new word to the hurling vocabulary: learnings. Over in Galway they don’t take lessons from games but learnings. Or maybe it’s just a Galway-ism, like some counties’ confusion of the verb hurl with the noun hurley!

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