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Another victory for unbeaten Tipperary would lay down championship marker

Tipperary head to Walsh Park to take on Waterford

Mark Kehoe

Mark Kehoe scores Tipperary’s fourth goal during last weekend's game against Westmeath in Mullingar. Picture: Sportsfile

As anticipated Tipperary cruised through the Westmeath fixture to set up an inviting date with Waterford this coming Sunday, where our league fate is now in our own hands following Cork’s defeat to Limerick.
I didn’t travel to Mullingar so I had to rely on TG4’s coverage of events. Tipperary started slowly enough but once they got moving the gap was always widening and it became an issue of what the final margin would be.
It didn’t quite stretch into the thirty-something zone, as achieved by Galway and Cork, but 23 was more than sufficient. There’s no point in utterly humiliating a team that’s clearly out of its depth in this company.
I was mildly surprised in advance at the team selection. I anticipated more experimentation but I guess with the championship looming close and so few games to prepare it made sense to get game-time into key players. Callanan’s return was a major bonus.
We were slow enough out of the blocks in the first quarter. Two instant points by Michael Breen and Seamie Callanan set the tone immediately but by the first water break we were still only three points up.
The second quarter, however, saw Tipperary press the button. John McGrath’s goal was a great ensemble move, starting with Brian Hogan and ending with an ice-cool finish by the Loughmore man.
The stream of points too remained steady, as the locals struggled for a response and by half time to gap was out to eleven.
In all of this there was quite an energetic input by the Tipp lads, showing strong workrate and an eagerness to take nothing for granted.
Brendan Maher was standing out in defence, Cadell in top gear at midfield and it was encouraging to see John McGrath in better form in attack. Brother Noel, too, was orchestrating matters as of old.
The pattern didn’t deviate much in the second half. Tipperary stayed in the ascendant. Forde’s penalty goal endorsed the trend. The Examiner felt the decision was “unduly harsh.” Really? A player is bearing down on goal inside the twenty-metre line and is unceremoniously brought down from behind.
It’s exactly why the new rule was introduced and then we have this “unduly harsh” guff.
Encouragingly the bench bounce again came into play for Tipperary as the likes of Jake Morris, Alan Flynn and Mark Kehoe all made significant impacts on their arrival. The panel seems to be in decent form, though all of this has to be read in the context of second-rate opposition.
One minor blemish was the second half red card collected by Robert Byrne. It was a silly act that deserves little sympathy. He collected a yellow card against Galway for some over-robust fouling. It’s an instinct that needs controlling if he’s to thrive at this level.
In other results Cork’s defeat by Limerick means that Tipperary will now win the group if they beat Waterford in the final match. Galway could finish level on points with Tipperary if they defeat Cork in their last game but Tipperary would top the pile on the head-to-head rule.
Kilkenny have won the other group but there will only be a final if the two meet in the championship, which would then double as a league decider. Otherwise, we’ll have joint league winners.
Our league record against Waterford is very strong. From 47 past meetings Tipperary have won 35, with the Deise taking 9 and there were 3 draws. The most recent league clash between the counties at Walsh Park was back in 2017 when Tipperary prevailed by 1-18 to 0-15. Last year Tipp won at the Stadium, 0-24 to 2-16.
Waterford can’t win the series so in that sense they’re playing for pride and team places. However, the Liam Cahill connection will surely add some spice to the contest and avoiding defeat on home ground will be a major incentive.
There is also the little matter of a potential Munster semi-final clash between the sides in early July should Waterford overcome Clare in the first round.
Waterford are playing well but conceding a lot. A win here for Tipperary would really set the mood music for the upcoming championship. Let’s go for it.
On a more general topic, rumours of the demise of hurling have been greatly exaggerated. The prophets of doom have had their say but gradually things are returning to a more even keel.
I liked the comments of Galway manager, Shane O’Neill, after their weekend win over Waterford. His remarks can be paraphrased as follows: the game is in a good state … there was an over-reaction about frees … it’s all going to wash itself out.
Sensible, balanced and accurate reflections on the game’s whereabouts after all the fuss of past weeks.
Among the criticisms of hurling in recent weeks are the charges that there are too few goals, too many points and games are becoming free-taking competitions. Well in Tipperary’s group A last week the three games delivered 13 goals and the average points scored per team was just over 24.
Want more stats? Only 1-6 of Tipperary’s total of 4-27 against Westmeath came from a combination of frees, a penalty and a 65.
Of Galway’s 4-28 total against Waterford only 4 points came from frees and one from a sideline cut - all the rest were from open play. Similarly, Waterford’s total of 3-23 included just 6 points from frees and a 65.
Limerick hit the highest points total in group A with 33 white flags against Cork but only 11 of them came from frees and a 65. Cork’s 2-19 included just 12 points from a combination of frees and 65s.
Still think these are free-taking competitions?
Okay, people will argue that the above is just a snapshot of one (untypical?) weekend but even if the number of scores from frees on other weekends is greater then who is to blame?
The pundits love to target the rule makers and the referees but the blame should really be directed at those who do the fouling. The problem is that those who foul have been getting away with it for so long they now can’t understand why they’re being pulled up.

Above: Paddy Cadell has been in good form for Tipperary this season

It was with great sadness that I heard last week of the passing of John O’Connell, Killenaule. Forever known as Donie’s brother, he was a man of genuine substance in his own right.
For years I knew John from a distance, as the balladeer who entertained us at many a session. More recently he introduced himself as a fan of this column and we often met at matches where he was lively company, well informed and ever-friendly.
The hills of Killenaule are lonelier this week for his passing. Peaceful rest to his gentle soul and our heartfelt sympathy to the grieving family.
Finally, by the time this column appears on Wednesday news will have already circulated about the latest twist in the west Tipp transfer saga.
Remember the DRA sent the case back to Tipperary to be reheard again by a new committee and that meeting took place last night (Tuesday).
The case will this time be heard by the Kerry County CCC. It’s an interesting choice of committee by the Tipperary County Board. Will this be the end game? Don’t hold your breath.
P.S. Carrick Swans’ secretary, Sean O’Shea, informed me last week that the players’ loss of wages has been reinstated by Croke Park as part of the injury fund. It was the culmination of a campaign in which Sean was a leading light. We might disagree on the divisional tie but Sean was on the money on this issue. Well done.

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