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31/07/2021

Controversial victory as Tipperary march on to the Munster hurling final

Fuss over referee's decision was predictable and overplayed

Dan McCormack

Dan McCormack, who is shadowed by Clare’s David Reidy, has his eyes firmly focused on the ball during Tipperary’s win in the Munster semi-final

Tipperary’s four-point Munster semi-final win over Clare will, inevitably, contain an asterisk after that controversial penalty decision very early in the second half. The Banner fumed; Brian Lohan scarcely able to contain his anger in the Damien Lawlor interview afterwards.
It’s a pity because the brouhaha takes some of the gloss off Tipperary’s winning display in what was a crucial outcome for the county. Avoiding the bear pit that is the qualifiers was essential and, as well as gaining a Munster final stab at Limerick, there’s the fall back of an All-Ireland quarter-final if things go awry on July 18.
It was a profitable outcome then for Tipperary on a day when the team collectively shook off the lethargy of their league defeat to Waterford and produced a performance that was far from complete but had elements of excellence.
Tipperary were slow starters, which was, perhaps, a reflection of the fact that Clare already had that Waterford win in the bank and were immediately up to Munster championship pace. The Banner were flying in the opening phases, with Tipperary backing off their puck-outs and allowing their passing game develop.
The opening minutes witnessed a streak of crisp points at either end, with Clare having the better of it. Ian Galvin’s goal endorsed the pattern as our defence was prised open, Paudie Maher unlucky to slip at a crucial moment. The early nod was to Clare then as we shuffled uneasily at this opening evidence.
However, the Tipp side gradually got to the tempo of things, players were working hard all over and soon the game turned. Michael Breen’s goal was superbly executed and we got to the first water break on level terms.
We won the second quarter on points but still retired one adrift following Tony Kelly’s sucker punch on the cusp of half-time. Players like Forde and Bubbles were buzzing, Jake Morris heavily involved too as well as Breen and McCormack.
We might have had another goal or two in that period, with both Morris and Callanan denied by outstanding saves from Eibhear Quilligan. These go down as brilliant saves by the goalie rather than missed chances by the forwards. Don’t underestimate the quality of the stops from shots that bounced off that hard surface.
A foul on Forde should have earned more analysis in view of later events. Jason was cutting in along the end line when dumped to the deck. If he breaks that tackle it’s a goal scoring chance, yet nobody seems to have raised the matter.
Anyway, the save from Callanan was compounded just before the break when Tony Kelly struck. From a Tipperary perspective it featured a combination of poor defending and plain bad luck. On the defending aspect you’d question why Barry Heffernan was so far off his man when the diagonal ball came in. Thereafter Heffernan got in a half block and the ball fell wickedly, forcing Barrett to advance and leaving Kelly, for once, free to finish.
Don’t underplay the quality of that finish, however. The turn and strike were so fast it was done in an eye blink. That’s the quality of the player when even a hint of a chance arises.
Still at half-time I suspect Sheedy would have been reasonably happy. We’d recovered from that slow start, might have had a few more goals and were downright unlucky to be trailing by a point. Some of our defenders had mixed displays but Cathal Barrett was managing to shackle Tony Kelly, which was a major plus.
Within two minutes of the restart the whole tone and tenor of the day had changed drastically. Jake Morris skipped away from a defender in the left corner right on the sideline. He does the same to Aidan McCarthy but is taken out with a late challenge. In truth nobody expected James Owens to indicate a penalty and a ten-minute sin binning and thus the controversy has arisen.
I’m tempted to say I told you so but I don’t think it took any particular prescience to anticipate controversies like this when the rule was introduced. There’s too much hanging on the referee’s judgement call when play is out near the sideline so these situations were bound to arise. I did suggest back in the spring that the penalty and sin binning should be automatic if the player was tripped or pulled down etc. inside the twenty-metre line. In that way there would be no debate and all the referee has to decide is whether or not the particular foul is committed.
The fuss that followed that decision by James Owens was both predictable and overplayed. On balance most people would accept that the call was wrong, though in the ref’s favour it does come down to individual interpretation. What’s a goal chance? It doesn’t have to be a virtual certainty. It doesn’t even have to be highly likely. All that’s needed is a goal chance of some sort – nothing more certain than that. Defenders might be back but it’s still a goal chance.
Remember that great goal by Bubbles in the 2016 All-Ireland final? Barrett slaloms his way through tackles and plants the clearance out in the right corner near the side line. Bubbles won possession in a position similar to Jake Morris on Sunday. If Paul Murphy had taken him down would anyone have argued that he prevented a goal chance? Yet it was a goal chance as Bubbles proved when he careered in and planted it in the onion bag. So, was James Owens so wrong after all?
Predictably Jackie Tyrrell couldn’t let the incident pass without indulging some old antipathies. Perhaps it wasn’t surprising coming from one who disrespected Tipperary in his book and, like other Kilkenny pundits, lost credibility after the 2019 All-Ireland final. Would there have been the same outrage if the penalty went to Clare?
From the Banner perspective their annoyance was very understandable. We’d have bristled at such a decision going against us too, though Lohan’s introduction of the David McInerney red card last year was unfair in its implication. Incidentally McInerney wasn’t the only player sent off in 2020 as we well know in Tipperary.
When Clare analyse the game this week they’ll have to question the team’s reaction to the penalty and resultant goal. If a normal free had been awarded instead of the penalty it’s most likely Forde would have pointed, so the extra punishment amounted to two points. Teams regularly have questionable decisions called against them where scores result and it usually leads to a steeling of attitude rather than a dipping of heads.
I suspect the Callanan goal seven minutes later was far more damaging to Clare morale and here there was no input from the referee. It was a score that contained a major dollop of luck. With Callanan under pressure from the defender he mishit the shot and goalie Quilligan was taken by surprise.
Clare certainly lost their way for a ten-minute spell and Tipperary made hay with a flurry of scores.
There might have been more goals too, with Morris taking the wrong option on one attack and Forde drawing yet another fine save from the netminder. It was a day when Tipperary certainly created an abundance of goal opportunities.
Perhaps the most disappointing aspect from Tipperary’s perspective was the slackening off in the final ten minutes. We got sloppy, the radar went on the blink and the chance to fully bury the contest was lost.
To their credit Clare showed commendable character in fighting it out to the bitter end. Point by point they chipped away at the lead and if a goal came at any stage it would have been a nervy finish. They came closest when Barry Hogan pulled off a fine save and then there was the issue of a potential penalty. More fodder for Tyrrell.
It was one of those decisions that might have gone either way, so to emphatically label it a clear penalty is simply wrong. Barry Heffernan appeared to be initially fouled before he then fouled himself – six of one and half a dozen of you-know-what.
In all of this there were plusses and minuses from a Tipperary perspective. It’s a shame that the game was overshadowed by that controversial penalty but that shouldn’t cloud our judgement of the game overall.
After the league defeat to Waterford there was nervousness on the Tipperary side so it was encouraging to see an upbeat display on Sunday. The attitude was excellent, epitomised by Callanan whose workrate gave the leadership that others followed. That attack in general was humming and if we can got the appropriate ball into that sector then the sky’s the limit.
The one exception was John McGrath and therein lies a real worry. Player form can dip from game to game but, unfortunately, it’s quite a while since the Loughmore man hit top gear – arguably not since 2019. Yet we know his immense capability and there’s always hope that he can work his way back to form.
Otherwise, there was much to admire. I wouldn’t underestimate the contribution of Cathal Barrett in policing Tony Kelly, a player with the capacity to destroy any opposition. Barrett’s yellow card seemed ridiculously harsh but he’d need to be more careful in those situations.
Otherwise, the defence was solid rather than spectacular. Elsewhere Michael Breen gave one of his most complete displays, Dan McCormack was hugely influential and I loved the sheer industry of Morris, who chased down the game rather than waiting for things to happen.
Forde and Bubbles were major players too so there’s quite a bit of firepower in that attack if the ammunition is supplied from outfield.
Having a Munster final to anticipate just brightens the summer.

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