The All-Ireland final turning point? Try 22 minutes and 28 seconds into the first half

The All-Ireland final turning point? Try 22 minutes and 28 seconds into the first half
Niall O’Meara drives home the opening goal for Tipperary in the All-Ireland SHC final against Kilkenny, as Tipp’s challenge caught fire. Picture: Inpho/Tommy Dickson

Tipperary’s character and adaptability

In the aftermath of their 2014 All-Ireland final loss to Kilkenny, Eamon O’Shea defiantly declared that “This team (Tipp) will always have hope, they have great character, and the nucleus of this team will go on in the future and win All-Irelands.”

The year previously — having lost to the Cats in an All-Ireland Qualifier in Nowlan Park — he had defended his players and described them as “men of honour”. As telling and informative as the entrenched defence of his men was the adaptability of those players on that night in Nowlan Park to different positions.

Paddy Stapleton played most of the game at full-back with Noel McGrath ending up in an unfamiliar wing-back role. Noel McGrath’s tour de force in the middle of the field on Sunday reminded me of his graceful performance in the Dean Ryan Cup final of 2007 where he put our own school, De La Salle, to the sword in Ardfinnan.

Ever before the term quarter-back was being applied to his style of play in those days with Our Lady’s, Templemore saw him emerge as a player of guile, class, and substance.

I have met him over the years and his humility remains a standout trait. In fact, such honourable traits were very much in evidence within the context of Tipperary’s overall behaviour over the weekend. The leadership of the school of 2010 merged perfectly with the youthful influx of the All-Ireland U21 winning team of last year. All the key principles were steered brilliantly by Liam Sheedy and company.

Brian Hogan’s understated influence

Brian Hogan’s influence on the final has been surprisingly understated. Most of the talking points around Hogan’s involvement have either centred on the “HawkEye” point or the moving link with his dad Ken who was Tipperary goalkeeper 30 years ago when they defeated Antrim. (Ken’s modesty in reflecting on Brian’s role was a joy to behold on Monday in the Burlington where we recorded our Examiner Championship podcast).

Brian’s role deserves a deeper dive and more credit. During the first half, Brian had a 67% retention rate on his puckout.

Retaining all six that he went short with compared with only 4 of the 9 long ones probably fed into the Kilkenny dominance on the breaking ball in the first 22 minutes. John Donnelly’s relentless work rate and the depth of the Kilkenny half-forward line was crucial to these numbers also.

However, it was the use of Ronan Maher that was most interesting, from Hogan’s viewpoint. Seeing that Colin Fennelly had retreated some 10 yards off the Thurles Sarsfields’ player, Hogan then used him regularly to launch and set up attacks from his brilliant left-hand side. The versatility of Hogan’s approach was evident when we saw him using Barry Heffernan also.

Nicky Quaid was rightly lauded last year for his 78% retention rate on the Limerick puckout but Hogan’s full time retention rate of 74% was equally impressive, given his variation of approach.

Although the extra man is undoubtedly a factor when you compare Hogan’s percentage to Eoin Murphy’s 33%, you begin to realise the significance of the Lorrha man’s contribution.

Murphy’s insistence on going long was surprising

In Kilkenny’s first game of the Leinster championship Darren Brennan, who was making his debut, played into the defensive set-up of the Dublin forwards by going long. At half-time, adjustments were made and Brennan began to find his man with accurate deliveries.

TJ Reid in his post-match interview that day remarked that it “was their plan to go short from the start”. This absence and reluctance to work the ball at pace through the lines when Kilkenny were reduced to 14 men last Sunday was baffling.

The irony is that when they had 15 men (during the first 20 minutes in particular) they were keeping the ball beautifully with short, crisp deliveries and hand passes supplementing some excellent crossfield balls.

At the heart of the Kilkenny performance for this prominent spell — and indeed their best performer on the day — was John Donnelly.

If you engage in a rewatching of the final coverage, just pause your coverage during the parade. The camera pans ever so briefly in on the Thomastown native. His self-talk is in full flow as he constantly bellows to himself three words “work, work, work”.

It is very informative to watch it and ties in with a player simplifying his approach just before the war begins.

The 10-minute turning point

The war did not begin for Tipperary until 22 minutes and 28 seconds into the first half. Darragh Egan clearly wired to Ray Boyne and the stats team buried deep in the Hogan Stand probably provided both Tommy Dunne and Liam Sheedy with the possessions gained by both Walter Walsh and John Donnelly during the opening push.

Paraic Maher — having not tracked Donnelly deep into his own half — now took up station with Walter Walsh while Seamus Kennedy who had not quite settled was more inclined to track Donnelly. After Jason Forde’s point from a free on 23 minutes 11 secs, the Tipperary forward line now sees John McGrath at 13 with Bubbles at 11.

Murphy’s puckout is brilliantly won by Noel McGrath and his delicate offload to Brendan Maher results in the Borrisoleigh man driving forward before cleverly playing the ball in front of him knowing the foul will be committed.

If you pause your coverage on 23 minutes and 42 seconds you will get a clear vision of what has started to unfold within the Tipperary attack. Their movement patterns have begun to find their rhythm. Padraig Walsh and Paddy Deegan have been sucked 70 yards from their goal and the signs look ominous.

The next puckout is even more informative. The adaptability referenced earlier now sees John McGrath (who has operated as an auxillary wing back cover on Walter Walsh, at wing forward and at 13) is now positioned on the 40 with Bubbles taking up residence on Joey Holden in the right corner.

Paraic Maher catches the bomb over Walter’s head and Bubbles opens the space for Niall O’Meara and Jason Forde to play a little one-two before Niall skids it perfectly off the floor. Again from a coach’s perspective O’Meara’s simple ground flick back to Forde before he receives the handpass is laced with simplicity and guile.

John McGrath’s role is crucial also as it takes Padraig Walsh out of the equation and leaves him 50 yards from the edge of the D.

On 25 minutes and 42 seconds, commentator Marty Morrissey remarks that “suddenly the momentum” has turned in Tipperary’s favour: John McGrath picks up the next puckout throws a deft handpass to brother Noel before he delivers a beautiful ball for Seamie Callanan’s first decent involvement. Tipperary are now humming and Fordes deflected effort sees him convert the resultant 65.

The realignment of their defence has seen the possession counts of Walsh drop although Donnelly still wins a free and nips a beautiful point during this period. Crucially, Seamus Kennedy drives forward to score a brilliant point on 30 minutes 12 seconds. John McGrath now relocates to the corner and scores craftily from his brothers long delivery.

Then Richie Hogan is sent off. Enough has been given to column inches concerning the incident but in my opinion the game was unfolding in a manner that pointed to a Tipperary victory. Positional switches, information, tactical tweaks, variation, skill, and increased confidence saw Tipperary in full flow. And deservedly crowned All-Ireland champions.

I'm not in the race for Waterford job

I have been really impressed with the makeup of the committee put in place to pick a new Waterford manager.

All five members bring a huge level of experience and expertise to the role. Having momentarily thought about the position I have decided against putting my name forward. I wish prospective candidates well.

Staying on the management theme and I’d like to make mention of Micheál O’Donoghue, who stepped down earlier this week. Our paths first crossed in 1992 when I was lucky enough to play in an All-Ireland minor final against Galway.

My man Conor O’Donovan got the man-of-the-match award in the final but one of he stars of that Galway team was Micheál. The sequence of defeats against Micheál would continue when he led Clarinbridge to victory over De la Salle in the 2011 All-Ireland semi-final.

To complete the trilogy he guided Galway to victory over Waterford in the All-Ireland final two years ago. He often acted as a sounding board for the sharing of thoughts, emotions, or ideas. A great manager. And a great man.

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