A refreshing summer without skin in the game? Let’s be real

Last Sunday, the Thurles version of Hawk-Eye was, regrettably, at it again.

A refreshing summer without skin in the game? Let’s be real

Taking several minutes to decipher both John Conlon and Seamus Callanan’s first-half attempts, Semple’s Specsavers gadget was laborious, to say the least.

At this stage, hurling crowds have an almost Pavlovian response to the sight of that crude computer-generated arc depicting the flight of the ball.

It’s a delicious sort of anticipation, but the Thurles version kept us all in a state of suspense that went way beyond the pleasurable to just plain frustrating.

It might be harsh to draw the comparison between Hawk-Eye’s woes this season and Tipperary’s, but the similarities are there.

Over the course of the four games, Tipp glitched, playing like a team in transition when there was no reason they should be.

This is a team that were champions of Ireland two years ago, and came within a whisker of Galway last year, but they were stop-start all season, looking for all the world like a team unable to make up its mind between Tá and Níl.

I say “all season” as if describing the length and breadth of a summer, but of course the whole thing happened in a mere four weeks.

The new championship format requires that we recalibrate our hurling body-clocks. Even in 2013, when Tipp played only two championship games, their season lasted until early July.

The Munster round-robin is as merciless as it is thrilling.

Momentum can carry you through — witness Limerick’s fearless, pulsing displays — or else the relentless pace can compound your troubles. You scarcely have time to realise you’re faltering before you’re at the point of no return. Just like that, it’s over.

Considering he was probably still feeling the whiplash effect of Tipp’s early exit, Michael Ryan dealt admirably with the post-match questioning.

In his genial way, he can be as guarded as a Cody or even a Gavin, but here he was blunt and straightforward.

Though Donal Moloney generously alluded to Tipp’s lack of a break, Ryan didn’t lean on this excuse.

You can’t blame the four games on the trot, he pointed out, not when your best performance comes in the fourth game.

Ryan will have learned a lot from the last few whirlwind weeks and I certainly hope he gets the opportunity to put it into practice next year.

Firstly, though, comes the inquest.

Where did it all go wrong? Were Tipp karmically doomed after the infamous phantom goal robbed Waterford of a championship win? Was the starting team against Limerick too raw? Should there not have been club games in April? Is it worth it trying to win the league anymore? Does the class of 2010 still have the legs?

All of these are worthy of investigation. For me, the most frustrating moments of Tipp’s season were when they looked overly cautious, like they were overthinking it or trying too hard to do the right, safe thing.

Paudie Maher’s naive bat straight out to the waiting Pauric Mahony in the Waterford game springs to mind, as does Cathal Barrett’s wayward clearance to Séadna Morey last Sunday, which led to Podge Collins’s equalising point on the cusp of injury-time.

Even Brendan Maher, a force at wing-back all season, gave more than one speculative crossfield ball that wound up landing straight into a Waterford player’s hand.

There were bright spots too, however. There was the ferocious workrate of Dan McCormack and Seamus Callanan, the latter still not at optimum fitness, but hooking, blocking and chasing all around him.

There was the bounce of Jake Morris and Billy McCarthy, the sort of young, promising players Tipp so desperately needs. There was the thrill of the second-half comebacks, as rousing as they were hard on the old blood pressure.

We got to watch Jason Forde’s definitive coming of age. Noel McGrath, on the road since 2009, looked like he never wanted it more, pumping his fist after every winning of a free, every slotted point.

Best of all, there was the irrepressible brilliance of John McGrath.

Then, there are the glorious things you can’t do anything about. Ian Galvin’s brash and brilliant 65th-minute goal, that will go down in legend as the 20-second six-point turnaround.

Peter Duggan’s security point from the sideline in the dying moments, that caused myself and my match companion to turn to each other simultaneously and ask: How did he do that? Jaw-dropping moments that you are privileged to witness, even as they’re pushing your own team out of the championship.

On the Sunday evening, it strikes me it’s a pity there’s no possibility of a fourth epic match-up between Tipp and Galway this summer.

Later, though, I think: Look at Batman, look at Die Hard, and Alien. The fourth episodes in franchises always tend to disappoint. Maybe it’s best to leave it as a trilogy.

In search of consolation, I tell myself that maybe it’ll be refreshing, somehow, watching the rest of the 2018 championship without skin in the game.

Pure enjoyment with none of the stress. The aforementioned 2013 season was, for me, one of the most enjoyable to watch in recent memory.

Let’s be real, though, nothing beats being in the shake-up.

“It’s going to be a long summer,” said Ryan after last Sunday’s game. “We won’t know what to do with ourselves.”

Just like that, it’s over — for Tipp, at least. That’s hurling.

Meanwhile, the summer kicks into life.

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