There is something different about Tipp this year, writes Anthony Daly.
I was walking out after the game yesterday, shooting the breeze with supporters when these two fellas approached. I’d say they were from the north.
“What did you think, Anthony.”
“I thought it was the best game of the Championship, so far, anyway,” I said.
“God, do you think so?”
The incredulity was clearly audible in the northern tone.
Yesterday was certainly no classic, but what do people want? Tipp were 1/3 favourites with the bookies. Everybody expected them to win but they had their second-best forward sent off after just 14 minutes. Their backs were to the wall, but I was enthralled by the level of defiance and resolve they showed.
To me, there is something different about Tipp this year. This was the type of match they would have lost over the last few years. They were plenty of times when you could have accused Tipp of a lack of bottle and a lack of conviction but there is an edge and a hardness about them this season that was absent in other years.
A team’s identity is often reflected through the personality of their manager and a lot of the traits shown by Mick Ryan as a player were visible in Tipp’s performance yesterday. They were aggressive and never backed down. Losing a man so early in difficult conditions was always going to ask serious questions of Tipp, but they just rolled up their sleeves and got on with the job.
The performance was another statement in a series of statements from Ryan. Patrick ‘Bonner’ Maher was dropped against Cork before returning to the team yesterday and delivering a massive display of work rate, and of winning dirty ball and forcing turnovers. Jason Forde only came on as a sub late on. Other big names are sitting on the bench too. It’s clear that the team is being picked on form and not reputations.
Tipp didn’t exactly shoot the lights out but they still hit 3-12. They scored 3-16 last year against Galway in what was considered a classic but I’d say Tipp are fed up of losing classics. This group have suffered enough heartbreak now that they don’t care how they get the job done, as long as it gets done.
There is great character in this side; the four Mahers, Cathal Barrett, Seamus Callanan, Noel McGrath. Callanan mixed the mad with the sublime but there was still far more sublime than madness on show. His flick for Michael Breen’s point was nearly worth the admission fee alone. So was Noel McGrath’s pass for Callanan’s goal.
If I was a defender playing in that match, I’d have been delighted to win a game in the manner in how it was won. You could still be pretty critical of some of Limerick’s play, especially with how they used the ball up front, but Tipp just smothered the Limerick attack.
The Tipp full-back line was brilliant. Barrett has really blossomed into one of the game’s top corner-backs. Paudie Maher was superb again. His late point capped off another excellent display.
Limerick didn’t help themselves a lot of the time. They were aimless for long periods. They had some desperate wides after half-time. Their forwards weren’t moving enough to be able to fully disrupt the Tipp defence while it took them until half-time to cop that Gavin O’Mahoney wasn’t sitting deep enough in front of Callanan to offer more protection to Dan Morrissey.
You should always have a plan for every eventuality and I don’t think Limerick had enough thought put into having a spare man. I would have let O’Mahoney play in his more natural position at wing-back and let Tom Condon or Seamus Hickey sweep in front of the full-back line. After ‘Bubbles’ was sent off, the only real out-ball Tipp had up front was Callanan and Limerick still didn’t close off those channels enough with the extra man.
Brendan Maher and Michael Breen completely dominated at midfield but it’s obvious too that Tipp have put a lot of thought into trying to get around the sweeper system. You saw how Brendan attacked the space up front whenever he could to try and engage that spare man. I know Breen’s two goals came when Tipp still had 15 men but he has turned into a monster who raids into enemy territory like a rampaging machine.
This was a big learning curve for Limerick’s young players. There will be frustration around the county today but I used the word patience here on Saturday and I’ll use it again now. There will be a time when Barry Nash and Cian Lynch will nail all those chances but you have to experience that white heat often enough to fully learn how the survive the backdrafts of a Munster championship Sunday.
‘Bubbles’ will be a huge loss for the Munster final but Tipp are in a good place and they have enough forwards in reserve to compensate. Waterford will be a different challenge, especially with the game more than likely taking place in Limerick.
I can’t see Derek McGrath handing home advantage again to Tipp for the second year in a row. He would never be forgiven if he did but I also think this Waterford team are better equipped to beat Tipp in Limerick than they would be in Thurles.
The team of Mullane, Dan, Ken and Flynn were made for Thurles on Munster finals but this team is different. So is hurling. Classics don’t come around as often anymore but sometimes you just have to stand back and admire defiance.
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