Time for Tipperary to show their steel
By Enda McEvoy
It was an hour or so after the Cork/Tipp semi-final last month and we were hanging around outside the Blackrock clubhouse when a gentleman in a blue and gold jersey was heard to utter the following words.
“Hurling should thank God for Tipperary. We may not be the greatest team ever, but if it wasn’t for us, then nobody would have been challenging Kilkenny.”
Now far be it from any right-thinking person to encourage Tipperary hurling folk in their self-esteem. Let’s face it, this is not an area in which they were ever behind the door to begin with. In passing, Cork readers who’ve chafed under the black and amber yoke in recent years may care to reflect how much hotter this particular circle of hell would have been were it Tipp rather than Kilkenny who’d won five of the past six All-Irelands.
But fair’s fair: in the circumstances, yer man was perfectly entitled to say what he said. Where indeed would hurling have been these past three years but for Tipperary?
Answer: with Kilkenny in all likelihood chasing a seventh successive Liam MacCarthy Cup.
Three weeks have passed since our friend mused aloud. Three weeks and an eternity. The All-Ireland champions have been humbled, hurling exists in a new landscape and the complaints made about the Tipp/Cork game no longer matter quite as much as they did in its immediate aftermath.
Yes, it was fast and open and exciting and rather too high scoring to be true. A game in which one team hits 0-24 and still loses automatically triggers grounds for suspicion.
And no, it wasn’t an epic straight out of the mists of Munster championships past. Blood, thunder, dust rising, strong men weeping, etc.
Yes, it was an engaging game, albeit one with elements of a cheap sparkling wine about it. Nice, pleasant, lots of bubbles but no body.
And no, all told it wasn’t exactly calculated to put the heart crossways in the watching Brian Cody.
These seemed grievous sins at the time. Right now, following events at Croke Park last Sunday, they’re air and froth. We’re no longer viewing the championship through a wasp-striped prism.
It’s the hurling equivalent of that scenario beloved of British political commentators with a column to fill. Who’s next in line should the Prime Minister fall under a bus tomorrow? The Prime Minister didn’t quite fall under a bus six days ago, but you get the drift. As a result, Tipp step out in a new light against Waterford. Up to this, they were the Team Most Likely After Kilkenny. Here, in the new post-Leinster final dispensation, is where they’re required to show they’re the Team Most Likely, Kilkenny Included.
In that regard their semi-final victory ticked a sufficiency of boxes. Not a plethora but a sufficiency. They always — visibly — had a bit in hand on Cork, even after John O’Brien’s dismissal. Much of this was down to the return of Patrick Maher.
You read here months ago that Maher had superseded Lar Corbett as Tipp’s most important forward. Against Cork he demonstrated how and why. One would hate to be a centre-back playing on the Lorrha man. It must be like trying to mark Jedward.
Nor should the importance of Brian O’Meara to the Tipperary attack, and to the team’s overall balance, be overlooked. The presence of O’Meara and Maher means Tipp are unlikely to be losing the possession war in the opposition’s half of the field any time soon. What the pair of them do is very simple and irritatingly effective. Time after time, they get on the ball and, while they don’t do anything wonderful with it themselves, they usually give it to someone who might.
The sight of Brendan Maher bursting forward to hit two points against Cork was another encouraging omen, evidence Tipperary are doing something right on the training field — a marked step forward from the evidence of the Limerick game, which suggested they’d been doing nothing on the training field.
Added to the positives is Noel McGrath’s form and there’s an obvious case for asserting that, after bumbling along for months, Tipp have, almost despite themselves, turned a corner. Waterford may be facing them six weeks too late for comfort.
It won’t be the same game in terms of tone as last year’s Munster final. There, Tipp scored seven goals by way of an attacking approach that consisted of lamping the ball forward as hard, as long and as speedily as possible. Not sophisticated, but Waterford failed abjectly to deal with it.
Tomorrow they’ll be forced to cope with a more refined and measured Tipp buildup. More passes, shorter passes, Brendan Maher steaming upfield with mischief in mind and Lar Corbett as happy to engineer the assist for a colleague as to take on the sliotar himself. Trouble from all directions and all angles, plus options aplenty on the bench.
Brick Walsh will give Waterford their customary defensive ballast, with Kevin Moran alongside him supplying raking left-handed arrows for the forwards. Stephen Molumphy showed flashes of his 2007 All-Star form against Clare, but it’s unreasonable to expect Seamus Prendergast — brave and unselfish the same afternoon — to be as effective again. John Mullane will contribute his usual three points. Shane Walsh can be good for a goal; it’s time he was good for a goal in a Munster final.
The Prime Minister dragged himself out from under that bus last Sunday. While he still rules, he does so with diminished authority. The next man in line? Tipperary rather than Galway. Tomorrow they can prove why. Home