When I was Clare manager, we played Limerick in the league semi-final in 2006 in Thurles. The game went to extra-time but it nearly seemed that both teams were more concerned with losing the match than winning it, writes Anthony Daly.
Anyway, with the second semi-final between Kilkenny and Tipperary having been pushed back by half an hour, ‘Babs’ Keating, who was Tipperary manager at the time, ambled out to watch some of our match.
At one stage, Fr Harry Bohan, who was a selector with us, called me over. ‘Babs wants a word with you,’ he said. I strolled over to the wire. ‘Hi Dalo,’ says Babs, ‘Johnny (Murtagh, the jockey and Babs’ son-in-law) says he’s going to win the 4.40.’ I couldn’t believe it. ‘Will ya go way from me,’ I said to Babs. ‘Jeez, it mightn’t look it, but I’m taking this some way
Tipperary were a bit all over the place at that time. Kilkenny drilled them in the semi-final later that afternoon. I don’t know where the players heads were at that day but, I was almost asking myself the same question again yesterday. Mick Ryan certainly wasn’t thinking about the 4.40 at Kempton but the whole afternoon for Tipperary yesterday smacked of a group that didn’t know whether they were coming or going.
Make no mistake about it, this was a big let-down. The second half was a no show from Tipp. Going into Nowlan Park is never easy but this was a chance for Tipp to finally make a statement after the serial beatings at the hands of their great rivals. And Tipp effectively rolled over. Again.
There was no bite to their play. No anger. No statement. Kilkenny just wanted it more. Again. It was the same old stuff against Kilkenny, which must be absolutely sickening for the Tipp supporters. Like, now much more as a Tipperary player — or supporter — can you really take?
There was no ferocity or intent on the line either from Tipperary. There was almost an acceptance of defeat from Tipp all afternoon. Mick is never going to do a Liam Sheedy, and go shouldering Cody like he did in a league game almost 10 years ago in Thurles, but there was almost a passiveness to everything about Tipp yesterday. When you go into the lion’s den in Nowlan Park, you have to bare your claws in some way.
Some of the decisions on the line too baffled me. After giving an exhibition last week against Limerick, and looking like he was really offering something new and different to Tipp at midfield, Ronan Maher was pushed back to centre-back. He was given a dossier with TJ Reid’s name on the front but that move certainly didn’t work out as Tipp had planned.
TJ was man of the match but, it was surely even harder for Tipp to stomach when Padraic Maher was shifted out of his favourite No. 6 position to facilitate that move. What’s more, Padraic was given plenty of trouble all afternoon by Martin Keoghan.
The fact that Keoghan was one of six starters who hasn’t played championship hurling was another endorsement of Brian Cody’s absolute greatness. This was his ninth league title, which now makes it 20 national titles. Fellas would be on about Alex Ferguson and Pep Guardiola - give me a break. Cody’s genius is unparalleled. He certainly puts everyone else in the GAA world in their place. I won a league as a manager with Dublin, which now means I have eight, and 19, less national titles than Cody as a manager. It’s just incredible what the man has achieved.
And yet, yesterday was surely as satisfying as anything else Cody has won, for any number of reasons; they took Tipp to school; they physically bossed the match in the second half; the performance was laced with all the traits and principles which Cody espouses. And, after abiding by all those principles, these young lads now know what its like to win in a Kilkenny jersey. It’s like throwing a juicy lump of fresh meat to a lion that hasn’t eaten in weeks.
Maybe Mick Ryan will be laughing at all of us in August but I’d be fairly sure that this was not part of the masterplan. Getting to the league final was probably never part of that masterplan but when you get there, and you’re facing Kilkenny in Nowlan Park, the only plan at that time is to front up and go for it. Does the fact that Tipp didn’t in the second half suggest that this group has a mental block with Kilkenny? You’d have felt that the 2016 All-Ireland final win blew that to smithereens but Tipp won’t be fully sure now that it removed some of those old mental frailties. On the three occasions they have met Kilkenny since, Tipp have failed to win any of those games.
Mick can argue that he added depth to the panel, which is what he wanted all along from this campaign, but he may be second-guessing himself now after this display. He has some big names to return up front — Seamie Callanan, ‘Bonner’ Maher and Noel McGrath — but he needs every one of them now more than ever. On yesterday’s evidence, only two of that starting attack will be expected to start in Tipp’s first championship match.
Full-back is also a major headache that just won’t go away. At this stage, it must be turning into a migraine. Walter Walsh had a massive second half but he had James Barry is all sorts of bother. James just doesn’t look fully comfortable in there. That’s really obvious from a full-back when he is conceding as many frees as James is.
Kilkenny won that battle but they won all the individual battles hands-down after the break. Even though Tipp looked on top in the first half, especially when Jason Forde scored the goal, I still felt that Kilkenny would be happier at the break. They were laying down the makers, all over the field.
Any team I’m ever involved with, I always make reference to that point. ‘The scoreboard will take care of itself,’ I’d say. ‘Even if it might not be reflected on the scoreboard, it eventually will be if ye all keep winning your individual battles.’ And that’s exactly what Kilkenny kept doing. Nobody illustrated that more than Paddy Deegan, who was outstanding throughout at corner-back.
It was a strange kind of game. The first 10 or 15 minutes was really poor stuff.
There were only a handful of scores from play in the first half but, while the quality did pick up, it was mostly through Kilkenny. Eoin Murphy’s save from ‘Bubbles’ O’Dwyer early in the second half was massive but you still felt that Kilkenny had a grip on the match by that stage, and that they had Tipp by the throat. And when that happens, there is only ever going to be one outcome.
On the way home yesterday, I was thinking that if someone had offered me a price on Kilkenny to win the league at half-time against Clare in Round 2, I’d have probably given them 20-1. I’m glad that never happened but I’m sure some bookmakers got a good skinning after yesterday’s victory. Cody and his crew have a habit of making fools out of all of us but you can’t deny the culture what Cody has created.
I don’t know why we ever doubt the man.
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