Ger Loughnane, as he is often capable of doing, not only had issued the last rites to this Tipperary team at half-time yesterday; he had also effectively organised the wake, was preparing the funeral, and was just about to start shovelling clay on top of the Tipperary coffin.
In fairness, Ger wasn’t the only one but Tipp summoned the resolve within them to stage one of the greatest resurrections since Lazarus.
Ok, that may be a little dramatic but it really looked like the ills of this team were terminal at the break. They were lifeless last week against Limerick but an infusion of experienced blood hadn’t got their heart racing in the first half yesterday. A corpse would have had more energy but they coughed up the dirt that Cork had been kicking into their mouths in that shallow grave and dug out a massive result.
I watched the game in the RTÉ studio and a host of us couldn’t really disagree with Ger at half-time. When a team hits that wall, especially having so many guys with huge mileage on the clock, that is generally the way they go. I experienced it myself first hand with Clare in the 2000 Munster Championship against Tipp, when almost everything you try as a team just doesn’t work, when the legs just go, and when you try to stave off the inevitable, but you just can’t.
I expected more fight from Tipp in the second half, but I certainly didn’t expect them to get anything out of the game. Cork just looked on a different level, but Tipp somehow got themselves up to that level, to such an extent that the standard of their play was almost as good as what Cork produced in the first half.
Their hurling may not have been as pacy or as slick but when Tipp married those elements of their game to their savage workrate, Cork were rocked back on their heels.
Tipp’s big men really stepped up in the second half. The three Mahers — Padraic, Brendan, and Ronan — were immense while the McGrath brothers were superb, especially John. Those boys from Loughmore-Castleiney really grabbed it by the scruff of the neck. John got man-of-the-match but it could just as easily have been Noel.
Tipp could even have won the game in the end but they will be just delighted to get one point on the board. Yet they will be just as happy with the huge momentum and confidence they will expect to garner from the manner of the comeback. A hundred training sessions can’t buy that kind of feelgood factor.
Tipp are still in huge trouble in the full-back line. Cork ripped them apart with their smart angled deliveries but I couldn’t get over how naive Micky Cahill was for Shane Kingston’s goal. Those kind of problems won’t just disappear but with two games to go, Tipp will still fancy their chances against Waterford and Clare.
Cork will be disappointed that when they had the dagger lodged in Tipperary’s ribcage at half-time, that they didn’t twist it into their heart. Tipp were badly wounded. Cork could smell blood but they couldn’t make the kill. They’re the kind of lessons this team still needs to fully absorb but it’s also difficult to be that critical of Cork because it would take away from Tipp’s brilliance in the second half.
Tipp will see Waterford as a vulnerable target now next Sunday because Waterford look stripped down to the bare bones of themselves.
It was bad enough to have lost their freetaker (Pauric Mahony), along with one of the most talented players in the game (Aussie Gleeson), beforehand but then to lose their sweeper, Tadgh de Búrca, their back-up sweeper, Darragh Fives, their best man-marker, Noelie Connors, that losing Kevin Moran must have felt like it was all conspiratorial.
I’m not sure if Kevin deserved to get sent off but it was possibly down to him being the third man into an altercation, which referees are clamping down on. I’m not even sure if Kevin was the third man in because Tommy Ryan had walked away from Tony Kelly but it was still a rash error from such an experienced player.
It wasn’t exactly an edgy, bad-tempered match but there were plenty of verbals going on around the pitch all the same. That was obvious from the TV monitors but that crankiness from Waterford probably stemmed from the constant frustration that kept piling up on top of them. It couldn’t really have got any worse but to their credit, Waterford kept going. Stephen Bennett got a couple of great points. Tommy Ryan kept trying to make things happen.
Clare were impressive. Scoring 2-27 is serious shooting but they could, and should have, clocked even more scores. They looked to have the job done entering the last quarter but instead of keeping their boot pressed to Waterford’s windpipe, and burying them, they eased off. And considering how tight this group is, and how the final placings could be decided by score-difference, that could yet prove costly.
It is still a huge relief for Clare. It was a nice relief for me too to take €50 off John Mullane in that well-publicised wager we organised on RTÉ Radio a few weeks back.
It was heartening to see Clare win a big game again, and to see the crowd really get behind the team. Irrespective of the result now against Tipp in two weeks’ time, it also sets up the Clare-Limerick game in Cusack Park in three weeks time like a Fenerbahce-Galatasaray derby, where the stakes will be absolutely massive.
The Park was electric yesterday. Pearse Stadium seemed to be rocking too but I hope the money they got from Ed Sheeran was worth it because the pitch resembled Wentworth golf course. One half of the field was like a fairway; the other half was like an endless bunker. A gang of camels wouldn’t have looked out of place there.
It was a joke but Galway didn’t allow it to become a sideshow because they were clinical and efficient, especially in the second half. Defensively, Galway were strong and effective all through, and Kilkenny never really got free from their grip.
A couple of scores from play also confirmed the suspicions I had of Kilkenny after the league final, because I always thought that win was over-rated. They will still make it through to the top three but making the Leinster final will probably come down to their last match against Wexford in two weeks.
Wexford were brilliant on Saturday evening, which really sets up Saturday’s game with Galway, and which will provide the truest reflection yet of just how far Wexford have come this year. Offaly were on the floor on Saturday, and they look like dead men walking now. Dublin had a break this weekend and will be fresh and ready and primed for next weekend’s do-or-die game in Parnell Park.
I had just left Tullamore on Saturday evening when I ran into Johnny Dooley. We had just shook hands when this fella passed us. “It’s a pity we don’t have the two of ye fellas still at it,” he said.
It was probably more a pine for those golden days of Offaly because the darkness of relegation from Leinster looks to be inevitably looming now.
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