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25 May 2022

Worrying indications that Tipperary underage hurling is slipping behind

Thurles CBS well beaten in Harty Cup semi-final

Jack Leamy

Jack Leamy was one of Thurles CBS’ better players during their heavy defeat by Ardscoil Rís in the Harty Cup semi-final

Tipperary’s interest in the Harty Cup vanished in double-quick time at Nenagh on Saturday last, as Thurles CBS were swatted aside in a blistering opening by Ardscoil Rís of Limerick. It was just about as rapid a demolition job as I’ve seen in a Harty semi-final.
Seldom has a game of this magnitude been over so quickly. At the first water break the scoreboard read 3-5 to nil and we could have headed for the exits at that stage. Thereafter it was just a case of damage limitation for CBS.
Sometimes the pre-match body language can be revealing. Ardscoil bounced onto the pitch looking pumped up and ready for action. By contrast CBS sauntered out, looking leggy and flat. Almost immediately the game reflected the contrasting demeanours.
That opening fifteen minutes or so made for painful watching. Big, powerful and skilful, Ardscoil were immediately on top in all departments. With their sweeper, Cian Scully, dominating around half back, Thurles couldn’t get the ball upfield. Instead it was one-way traffic, the CBS defence was under severe stress and soon the scores began to roll.
The Tipp lads were lucky not to concede an immediate penalty as corner forward, David Kennedy, looked menacing. Five minutes in a penalty did come and centre forward, Niall O’Farrell, rattled it off the back stanchion for the opening goal. Kennedy soon dodged the defence for a second major and Shane O’Brien added the third.
The points were flowing too and the water break must have come as a relief to Thurles, who were facing utter annihilation. When you’re being so completely overpowered there’s not a lot the mentors can do by way of remediation, other than urging a redoubling of efforts in a fight for pride if nothing else.
CBS finally gave their followers something to acknowledge on the restart when at last they got their side of the scoreboard moving. Jack Leamy, one of their best on a really challenging day, executed a fine fetch-and-score for their opening flag. He added two frees and a 65 in this spell, with a Bill Flanagan point sandwiched between those scores.
It was something by way of retort, though all the time Ardscoil kept the machine ticking over. Shane O’Brien had his second goal and, coupled with a string of smartly manoeuvred points, it pushed the interval lead out to eighteen.
That’s where the margin stayed, with Thurles matching their opponents in the final quarter. Joe Egan had a well-taken goal by way of meagre consolation but this was a day that won’t be recalled in the glorious history of CBS.
On a punishing day Thurles lost defender, Edward Meagher of Loughmore, to injury in the first half; when it rains it pours. In fairness some individuals stood above the rest, which wasn’t easy on a day like this. Joe Caesar of Holycross did an amount of hurling from centre back. Jack Leamy, Golden Kilfeacle, was the pick of the attack, where Moycarkey’s Joe Egan also did well. Thereafter it was mostly a struggle.
Ardscoil’s Shane O’Brien, Kilmallock, was the standout performer for the Limerick side, scoring 2-6 from play. It’s certainly a name to watch. One of his points in the second half did the rounds on Twitter, accompanied by plenty of oohs and aahs. He showed strength, balance and skill as he held off the opponent, controlled the ball on the hurley with a few touches and then a great turn and swivel before dispatching a top-quality score.
Looking at the clip afterwards I was puzzled by the referee having his hand raised for a free; did I miss something?
Speaking of reactions to events, isn’t the modern trend characterised by ridiculous exaggeration? Every game seems to be extraordinary and brilliant and outstanding and whatever superlative you favour yourself. There’s no attempt at a nuanced differentiation between variations in quality. And it’s not just the twitterati, it has seeped into mainstream media too.
One tweeter had that Shane O’Brien score labelled the greatest point ever scored. Oh please, get off the sauce!
One doesn’t wish to overreact to one result, or indeed one Harty campaign but, nonetheless, there are worrying indications from a variety of sources that Tipperary underage hurling is slipping behind other counties. Last year’s county minor display against Waterford was a shock for many. Being beaten wasn’t the issue, it was the poverty of the effort that worried people.
The form of our schools in a competition like the Harty Cup is often taken as a barometer of the health of underage hurling generally in the county. This year Thurles was the pick of the Tipperary schools and to see them so outgunned in the semi-final doesn’t bode well. One is struck especially by the lack of physical development at a time when S & C is becoming such a central part of the game.
Elsewhere at the weekend we had two cracking All-Ireland club semi-finals to enjoy on TG4, where the expected results materialised, though perhaps not in the manner we anticipated. Slaughtneil certainly gave Ballygunner enough trouble before bowing out at Parnell Park and what about the late dramatics in Thurles, where TJ Reid stole the show so spectacularly.
I’ve no doubt the Ballyhale win was grand theft on a major scale. Judged over the span of this game the Kilkenny champions didn’t deserve to win. St. Thomas’ were the better side in general play, they controlled most of the game and a bit more economy at finishing chances would have seen them safely through.
However, it’s a measure of the experience and guile of this Ballyhale side, and especially of players like Reid and Fennelly, that they could be second best for so long and still mastermind a great escape at the end.
It all hinged on the two goals. The penalty decision will be debated, though probably without any consensus of view. Did Colin Fennelly barge or was he pulled down or was there an element of both? I think it’s one of those marginals that could go either way. Fennelly is a straight-line runner in possession so the suspicion of barging is always there. It was certainly a critical call by the referee.
The issue for me on the last- minute free is whether Ballyhale players should have been allowed stand in front of goal, and thereby hinder the defenders in their effort to stop the shot. If the shot was straight in front of the posts they certainly would have been ordered outside the twenty metre line, yet when Fennelly struck that free he was on the very edge of the D. I’ve certainly seen referees clear the line to goal on frees like that one in the past, so I wonder what the precise ruling is in these cases.
Either way Ballyhale got the crucial breaks on those two goals and are now one game away from a record three in-a-row, albeit there was a missed year in the sequence due to Covid.
Ballygunner’s win was far more conclusive at the end, though they had to weather quite a stubborn resistance from Slaughtneil along the way. Once again the goals were key, Ballygunner’s greater facility in that department proving decisive.
Mind you if the Waterford champs had taken their chances, especially in the second half, the game would have been well out of sight long before the end. Strange to see Pauric Mahony’s radar going on the blink but I suppose it’s better that it happened here than in the final. It was a day when Billy O’Keeffe certainly made his mark, scoring 2-3, and in many ways it’s the anticipated and ideal final showdown now with Ballyhale.
One aspect worth commenting upon came late in the game when Ballygunner were defending their lead and Slaughtneil were striving desperately to retrieve ground. Twice Ballygunner’s defence committed cynical fouls inside their twenty-metre line in order to prevent goal chances. If it was an inter-county game these would have been penalties, so why not in a club match?
I know there are some differences between club and county - the 35-minute halves at inter-county for example – but in a key playing rule like the cynical foul one, it makes no sense to have this difference. Are club players regarded as a separate breed not infected by cynicism? It’s an anomaly surely that has to be corrected because every weekend at club level we see cynicism blighting the game.
Finally, at local level word has emerged that Carrick Davins player, Conor Whelan, has submitted a transfer request to move to Mullinahone. He’s been playing with the Kickhams club in recent years under a so-called gentleman’s agreement and now wants to formally switch allegiance. Davins, I hear, are understandably irate. It will be interesting to see how the mechanics of this transfer operate after the County Board moved recently to tighten the parish rule following the well-publicised case in west Tipperary last year.

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