Laois depart with honour but verve gone from listless Tipp

Laois depart with honour but verve gone from listless Tipp
Picture: INPHO/Gary Carr

Tipperary 2-25 - 1-18 Laois

There was only ever going to be one winner here and, right enough, it was Laois.

When it was all done and dusted, Eddie Brennan’s men took off on an impromptu lap of honour to applaud their fans who had remained behind en bloc long after the game was up and Tipp had disappeared off over the horizon.

How could Laois lose, really?

No-one expected them to even make it this far anyway, they were playing a third game in the space of 15 days and then they went and had Aaron Dunphy sent off with half an hour of hurling still to go in this All-Ireland quarter-final. 

A ten-point defeat? Grand. Honour retained, move on.

Liam Sheedy was peddling a similar line afterwards. 

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“Job done,” said the Tipp manager who was generous in his praise for Brennan and the work being done in Laois, but the longer he spoke the more his underlying feelings bubbled to the surface. 

Sheedy knows that this was nowhere near good enough.

“We set our own standards and, in terms of performance, we wouldn’t be really happy with where we got to today. The reality is all the talk during the week was if Laois weren’t really in the championship. 

"That is difficult because I know Eddie, I have seen Laois and they way they played last Sunday in Portlaoise was admirable.

“They brought a lot to that pitch today but, for us, we played second fiddle in a lot of sectors of that game and the one-to-one battles. 

There were parts to their play that we had no answer to and that’s a concern but, at the same time, we did rack up a really good score in 2-25 and probably could have had another green flag or two in that first half.

Sheedy’s remark that Tipp were ‘damned if they did and damned if they didn’t’ here was a fair summation of the skewed expectations that accompany a favourite when faced with an opponent that has thumbed its nose at convention to make it this far, but there is still no escaping the listlessness in the Munster side.

They looked flat.

The verve and momentum that swept them to four wins in the provincial group stages is gone, replaced by their struggles against Limerick in the Munster final and by an inability to really find their groove against an opponent that could have been taken for far more than the 2-25 they coughed up.

Tipp were the type of pickpocket who would make off with your wallet but slip the credit card back in your pocket.

They were five points up when Dunphy was shown to the line and yet they only extended their advantage by another five against a side that had struggled to keep pace with them for most of the first half as it was. 

Would Kilkenny have shown such mercy? Would Limerick?

Hat tip here for Laois, of course. They didn’t hit the heights going forward that they had managed against Dublin the week before, and the wide open spaces of Croke Park made it more difficult to shut space and time down for their opponents, but they did their part in keeping this respectable.

A positive start, with four points scored inside eight minutes, helped them settle and a Ross King goal on the stroke of half-time reduced the deficit to four at the break after a tough second quarter. And that was before they dug their heels on Dunphy’s exit.

There were sporadic moments of genius from Tipp. Jason Forde had already claimed the opening goal from a penalty when Noel McGrath rapped a ball long and straight to Seamus Callanan whose first touch, killing the ball on the run with the bas of his hurl, was sensational. 

And the finish low to the net wasn’t bad either.

But Tipp were off key in too many pockets and for too long. Forde landed roughly 80% of his attempts on target and Callanan hit 1-2 but neither were what you would call electric. 

Bubbles O’Dwyer and John McGrath were strangely anonymous. All told it was odd that a forward line should be so unimpressive having scored 2-25.

The backs weren’t exactly hounded. How could they be when Laois drew up to three of their forwards back into the soup around midfield – plus John Lennon from centre-field to a sweeper role? 

And yet they didn’t look exactly comfortable either. The concession of frees – a bad habit picked up in Munster – hounded them again.

Noel McGrath did his best to talk it all up. He had heard the mood music all week. The dismissive talk that would have accompanied discussion about Laois and how this was a free pass for a side the far greater ability and ambitions. 

It was a factor the Loughmore-Castleiney man was asked to address after the game.

“Everywhere you go there is people wanting to talk about the match no matter who you are going to be playing so you are going to be hearing this, that and the other. 

"You have to be experienced enough to prepare yourself right no matter who you are playing. You have to get yourself and your team right first and then you go out and play.

“I know a good few of the lads from Laois there not too far over the border, especially the lads from Rathdowney and that. 

"They are all proud hurling men. They came from good hurling clubs and good hurling parishes and they are all well able to play. 

"I have played against them in challenges for the club over the years and there was never going to be anything easy today.”

Wexford next. Hard to see anyone in Tipp taking that one for granted.

Scorers for Laois:

M Kavanagh (0-11 frees); R King (1-0); A Dunphy and J Kelly (both 0-2); J Lennon, P Purcell and W Dunphy (all 0-1).

Scorers for Tipperary:

J Forde (1-12, 1-0 penalty, 1 ‘65’, 0-8 frees); S Callanan (1-2); N McGrath (0-3); R Maher, G Browne (both 0-2); A Flynn, P Maher, J McGrath and B Heffernan (all 0-1).

LAOIS:

E Rowland; L Cleere, M Whelan, J Phelan; J Kelly, R Mullaney, P Delaney; J Lennon, P Purcell; A Dunphy, M Kavanagh, E Lyons; W Dunphy, C Dwyer, R King.

Subs:

E Killeen for Phelan (HT); S Maher for Dwyer (44); C Phelan for Lyons (58); S Bergin for W Dunphy (60); E Gaughan for Lennon (67).

TIPPERARY:

B Hogan; C Barrett, J Barry, A Flynn; B Maher, Padraic Maher, R Maher; N McGrath, G Browne; D McCormack, J O’Dwyer, N O’Meara; J Forde, S Callanan, J McGrath.

Subs:

M Breen for Flynn (48); M Kehoe for O’Dwyer (54); J Cahill for Browne (57); B Heffernan for Barry (62); J Morris for O’Meara (68); S O’Brien for Barrett (73).

Referee:

C Lyons (Cork).

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