A bit of something for everyone
By Michael Moynihan
Yesterday in Páirc Uí Chaoimh was a bit like a child’s birthday party, when everyone goes home with a bit of cake at the end.
Some people get a bigger slice, of course. Tipperary got a win with 14 men and a place in the Munster final. Cork came looking for a performance, and they got it, but they were still devastated by a narrow loss.
The Munster Council, after the catastrophe of Thurles last weekend, got an attendance of 32,000 and change, good going in the current dispensation. And the hurling public got a close match to watch, which was something after the turkey shoots on Saturday night: goals disallowed, fine performances, red cards, a one-point game. A competition, in other words.
Tipperary were entitled to their celebrations at the final whistle, given they’d soldiered without the red-carded John O’Brien for the last quarter. Their experience was vital as they kept Cork at bay in the closing stages, and the man who exemplified that nous was Patrick ‘Bonner’ Maher. Maher is one of those rare players who combines a precise awareness of the limits of his skills with apparent ignorance of the limits of his physique. He won ball after ball for Tipp and laid them off simply to his colleagues; most tellingly for Tipperary’s goal, when he won the ball magnificently in the air and set in train the move that ended with a cool Noel McGrath finish to the Cork net, and even at the end he was still able to stifle Cork clearances with his persistence.
We can’t discuss that Tipp goal without mentioning the lead-up to it, however. Cork’s Conor Lehane was bearing down on goal as Tipp’s Conor O’Mahony... we hesitate to say he wore the hurley off Lehane, but that’s certainly the phrase that leaps to mind.
Referee Brian Gavin gave Lehane the advantage but the Corkman coughed up the ball, and when Tipp cleared to the middle of the field ‘Bonner’ Maher’s Teddy McCarthy impression set the goalscoring move in motion.
Gavin’s subsequent yellow card for O’Mahony only reinforced Leeside infuriation.
Cork manager Jimmy Barry-Murphy referred to the passage of play afterwards: “Certainly at that stage we wanted a free and it was definite. The player wasn’t gone away and I can’t believe he didn’t give a free.
“I’m not blaming the referee, these things happen, but in that situation, in a tight game, we’d have preferred to get our free. To be fair to the referee, some days it goes with you some days it doesn’t. Noel McGrath finished the chance clinically. I hope we learn from that and when we get those opportunities, that we take them.” It was a fair indication of Cork’s frustration. They also had a first-half goal disallowed, though that looked a less clear-cut miscarriage of justice.
For his part, Tipp manager Declan Ryan was thrilled with the win. “It’s a huge achievement to get into the Munster final. We’re just delighted to get out of Cork today. We don’t have a great record here over the years and we knew it was going to be a massive battle today. Full credit to Cork for the way they went about their business today. They are a credit to the GAA.” But he was also thinking ahead.
“We’ll think about Waterford tomorrow. We have to let this one sink in first. Waterford in a Munster final — they’ll be going all guns blazing so a lot to look forward to.”
Ryan is correct to be cautious: few teams have more incentive for revenge than Waterford, after their 21-point defeat last year.
His team is coming together like one of those Jenga puzzles, with some pieces slotting in and out interchangeably even as others become central to the entire structure. ‘Bonner’ Maher underlined his status as cornerstone of the team yesterday.
Lar Corbett, who entered the fray yesterday to Paul Galvinesque cheers and boos, seemed to play through the rustiness in his touch, and will surely start in the Munster final.
Barry-Murphy will see more positives this morning. Cork’s newcomers survived; their puck-out strategy bore fruit; Cian McCarthy might even have stolen the game late on, but he put his shot wide. If the youngsters in red take the lessons on board, more progress is inevitable.
But everything yesterday was overshadowed by Saturday night, and Kilkenny’s demolition of a Dublin team seen by everybody as credible opposition to the Cats. Those who’d been in Portlaoise for the game looked like Roy Scheider in Jaws at about the point when he says ‘we’re going to need a bigger boat’.
Because of that, in parallel with your enjoyment of yesterday, were unspoken questions: what would Kilkenny do with that overlap? What would their forwards do with that half-chance? How would their backs snuff out that attack? And the big question: is everybody else just playing to finish second?
Michael Moynihan’s column is on Page 19 in the main sports sectionHome