No player likes watching the action from a sideline, but when your legs don’t carry you as they once did, it’s a perspective that can offer a revealing insight into a football match.
It was from such a vantage point I watched Kerry stretch their legs yesterday, their life made occasionally uncomfortable by a Tipperary side short on experience, raw power, and telepathic understanding among quality forwards.
The upside for yesterday’s underdogs is they will take a lot more from this Munster final experience than Kerry will. If Tipperary training isn’t a notch or three above what it has been these next few weeks, then something is seriously wrong.
From ground level, it’s thrilling to see the seamless interchanges and diagonal movement of the Kerry forwards — Paul Geaney, Donnchadh Walsh, and Stephen O’Brien slotting into dangerous areas, their runs late and fast and virtually untrackable.
Also starkly evident was the difference in conditioning and raw power between the two sides. Tipperary might have intended to play on the front foot — their start certainly indicated as much — but they were dispossessed, checked and turned backwards so often, that it became more and more difficult to get any momentum going forward.
In the absence of something truly extraordinary, Kerry were going to win this Munster final. Getting over the line, getting James O’Donoghue some game-time, and coming through without having any injury worries were the first three boxes that needed ticking for the Kingdom. They achieved the first two.
Tipp got two goals and cut through the Kerry defence a couple more times in the second half. After Clare kicked 17 points against Kerry, the Munster champions worked on their defensive shape and man-v-man tackling, but there looks plenty to do yet. Their training will have real focus over the next month. Because maybe Tipp and the Banner have shone a light on weaknesses for better teams to expose.
As a Tipperary man, I’d have loved a Munster trophy coming back from Killarney last night, but here’s the key thing — the last 12 qualifier is now a bigger game for Tipperary than yesterday’s carnival in Killarney. Sounds mad? Consider this: Tipp win their qualifier, and it’s the last eight of the All-Ireland at Croke Park. Now that’s tangible progress.
We are still a bit off, and while the euphoria of beating Cork was super, Kerry was another step up and Tipp showed they are not ready for that level yet. Liam Kearns needs everyone good enough at his disposal to compete with the Kerrys. I hate saying that, I always want to see Tipperary pitch themselves against the best, but unless we come up with a formula to get our best lads on the pitch, we will struggle at this level. The intensity of the occasion, and the experience of fire-fighting against that level of opposition is a big big step for the younger Tipperary players.
Win the next match and it copperfastens a year of learning and progress. It would mean we took something from Waterford, from Cork and from Kerry and applied it to get to the last eight. That is progress you can properly quantify.
Kearns has three weeks to prepare, so there is the latitude to regroup. Win in three weeks and players and management will cap a good campaign and have stocked up on valuable experience, which is the one thing a lot of these ex-minors and Under 21s are missing.
I hope they will prepare with much the same group. I would be against changing things now or drafting anyone back in who left of their own accord. Drive on now with what they have and reassess next year. It would cause more damage than good to draft certain fellas back in now. It would have a negative effect on the lads that have busted their asses to get Tipperary this far.
Defensively, 3-17 is a big score to concede, but a ground level perspective again allows one to appreciate the pressure the Tipp defence was under. Kudos to Colm O’Shaughnessy and the ever willing Bill Maher for their positivity with the ball and defiance when chasing it. Tipp won eight of their 10 first-half kickouts, so primary possession was not a problem.
However, Kerry’s ability to dislodge the ball, and the static nature of Tipperary’s attack meant that progressing swiftly up the field was rarely a viable option.
In defence of Michael Quinlivan, it was obvious he was not at his mobile best up top, and it emerged afterwards that he come into the game unwell. None of the long, direct balls into him yielded anything, so in that context, 2-10 is a respectable total.
But let’s not revert to the patronising pats on the back — Tipp have no interest in that. They will look at things like losing the ball in contact and how to avoid a repeat. Is that strength and conditioning, or naivety? Or just the difference between the top table and the rest?
The last round of qualifiers will tell us that and more. How far Tipp have travelled, how much they have learned? And how much they want to progress up the ranking to where the real education starts...
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