Tribesmen add appetite to presence

The All-Ireland senior hurling championship began yesterday in earnest. Not in Limerick, technically speaking. There were round robin games in Leinster last weekend which form the foothills for the trek to September.
Tribesmen add appetite to presence

According to the letter of the law, that’s the base camp everybody starts from when the peak is still wreathed in clouds.

But there’s a different flavour to the championship ahead because of what happened in yesterday’s league final.

Galway destroyed Tipperary in every sector of the field and enjoyed the kind of final winning margin, 16 points, that sends record-keepers scurrying to the dustier volumes they keep on the shelves.

The biggest beating ever? The largest gap at the final whistle?

It was an atypical display by a Tipperary side which has seemed fearsome at different stages of the spring but who never looked comfortable yesterday.

Manager Michael Ryan’s description - the worst performance by the team since his involvement - was exact.

If the game had the flavour of a headline to be revisited in autumn, a classic ‘written off in April, kings in September’ double-punch, it should surely also serve as a dose of adrenaline through all the pretenders to the throne to see the holders take a beating like yesterday’s.

Or a bottle of Lucozade, at least.

It wasn’t a classic. The 16,089 in attendance came out the Ennis Road hoping for a carbon copy of these teams’ last two All-Ireland semi-final meetings, both of which were one-point victories: vital, electric games with shifts in momentum which tracked like an EKG read-out.

There was a stretch in the first half yesterday, though, when both sides hit a succession of dreary wides that wouldn’t have been out of place at a pitch opening, and if the second half was an improvement, the bar had been set pretty low by the first 35 minutes.

Galway were consistent in both halves, however, if consistent is a synonym for better.

Forgetting the circus antics for a minute, last Sunday week in Kilkenny Davy Fitzgerald gave a quick, precise sketch of the Tipperary forwards movement patterns - peeling in and off, to drag defenders out of position.

No players read the breaks as well as those in blue and gold generally, but yesterday they struggled up front to get that signature move of theirs working - attackers compressing around a dropping ball like a concertina, then flying outwards from the contact, awaiting the flick to set them free.

Kudos to Galway for cutting off that option yesterday. Their half-back line worked like dogs to cut the space for Tipperary and Aidan Harte chipped in with two points. Dáithí Burke was soundness personified and ruled the square.

Tipp’s disappointments up front come with an obvious caveat, of course, as Seamus Callanan was nursing that broken thumb picked up in the semi-final last week.

For a tall man Callanan is not an obvious target for long deliveries but his irresistible form of the last couple of years creates an aura of incipient terror in opposing defenders.

That was lacking for Tipp yesterday and they suffered, hitting a miserable five points in the first half and seeing their puck-out strategy collapse, with Stephen O’Brien withdrawn before half-time.

Hard evidence? Tipp trailed 0-11 to 0-5 at the half, with only one forward scoring from play in the opening 35, but the blame doesn’t solely lie with the inside line.

Jason Flynn, Joe Canning and Joseph Cooney pressurised their opponents enough to contaminate Tipp deliveries upfield, and a Conor Whelan turnover of Seamus Kennedy early in the second half showed the work ethic was shared by all in maroon.

Within 30 seconds of the restart, long before that Whelan turnover, Jason Flynn had thundered through for a storming goal to put Galway in the driving seat.

He added an even better goal on 56 minutes, dancing past Tipperary challenges as he broke in from the left corner, and Cathal Mannion’s late cracker helped it to end 3-21 to 0-14 in Galway’s favour.

The westerners were crisp, aggressive and organised, and it will discomfit Tipp manager Michael Ryan that his side didn’t create any goal chances of note.

There are other issues to discomfit Ryan as well; asked if the game had blown the All-Ireland championship open, he responded: “I’d have said that happened on September 3rd last year, to be honest, and I referenced that in what I said post-match.

“There are no surprises here other than we had such a poor outing, we expected Galway to be full value as opposition, we know they’re quality opposition - the challenge is going to be ours in terms of having a four-week turnaround to the first week of the championship.”

Micheal Donoghue gave an honest appraisal of the proceedings, in particular the lacklustre opening half: “From where I was watching it down early on, it probably didn’t start at 100 miles an hour. I think that gave us an opportunity to get into the game.

“We were very conscious of the start, that we were still in the game after 10 or 15 minutes. I thought the lads did really well on that and then we just pushed on. I think any day you come against the All-Ireland champions and we’ve the height of respect for them.

“I think our use of the ball could have been a lot better in the first half. The message from the management was that we were still in a good place but just to keep it going.”

T

here were other snapshots of the modern game worth considering yesterday in the context of their importance for the summer ahead: in the pre-match introductions to President Michael D. Higgins, the size of both teams was immediately apparent. Galway are a proverbially big team, and Tipperary have a traditional fondness for power.

But the take-away was where that size is now distributed on the playing area. In the old dispensation presence was required in the full-back line, to throw back the aerial assault beloved of all teams, and in the full-forward line, to throw back those doing the throwing back.

Yesterday was the game in microcosm, however, with size in the half-lines. Looking down the lines of players at the red carpet, height peaked sharply after both number fours, and sloped down suddenly to the respective number thirteens. The prerequisites to survive physically in the middle third were never more apparent.

And Galway have plenty of physique for that zone. Yesterday they added appetite to presence and benefited.

The hunger of their half-forward line was the key element in turning Tipperary ball over all through, and they weren’t over-reliant on Joe Canning’s accuracy either: Flynn plundered two goals and Conor Whelan gave an exhibition of corner-forward technique with five points from play. The return of Johnny Glynn gives them yet another option, because if any county loves its Alpine half-forwards, it’s Galway.

Other implications? Readers hereabouts are well versed in art terminology, so the notion of underdrawing, or creating a reasonable advance facsimile of your masterpiece, is familiar to you.

In time yesterday in the Gaelic Grounds may come under that heading, but for which side?

Did Galway offer other counties the template for overcoming a Tipperary side most observers had pencilled in for retention of the All-Ireland?

Have Tipperary seen the pitfalls they need to avoid - as in, ensuring Seamus Callanan and Patrick ‘Bonner’ Maher are healthy when the summer gets hot and interesting?

What does yesterday mean for other counties? Dublin and Cork face Galway and Tipperary in their respective championship openers: do the former teams need to confront the league finalists in the middle third, or are they better advised to go around the killing zone between the 45s, to try the wings? Can any team maintain that kind of physical confrontation without wearing down?

Can the summer come quick enough for you?

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