One of the more delightful pageants of Irish broadcasting is the Monday hurling draw on Morning Ireland, writes Eimear Ryan.
It has it all: Build-up, tension, the in-studio glee of anchors, most of whom are big hurling fans. The teams are drawn from the portentously named Bowl One and Bowl Two — which could be USA biscuit tins for all we, the listeners, know. A lovely assistant is drafted in to pick out the all-important slips of paper — in last Monday’s case, it was Dublin hurler David Treacy.
Most importantly, there’s an official from GAA HQ to oversee the whole affair.
Sports presenter Darren Frehill is in his element. “Give it one final little swirl,” he encourages Treacy. Somehow, even when there’s only one team left in each bowl and the fixture is a foregone conclusion, the ritual always sends a tingle up my spine.
So we have our semi-final pairings: Tipp vs Galway and Cork vs Waterford, with next weekend’s rematch of the league final looking arguably the more explosive fixture. It feels like a strange thing to say after Galway dispatched Tipp so coolly in said league final — by 16 points, lest we forget. But championship is a different beast, and a more accurate rubric for predicting next weekend’s match might be their last two semi-final meetings in 2015 and 2016. On both occasions the sides were separated by a single point; Galway came out the better in 2015, Tipp in 2016.
Hard to find two teams more equally matched than that.
Of course, it’s not just because of recent championship meetings that Tipp and Galway know each other inside out. Micheál Donoghue, an old friend of Eamon O’Shea’s, served as a stats man in Tipp’s backroom in 2014 and 2015. At the beginning of the year, Donoghue even poached Lukasz Kirszenstein, Tipp’s fitness coach from 2012-2016 and the man widely credited for Tipp’s leaner, meaner physiques last year. By the look of the way players have been bouncing off Galway shoulders in the championship so far, Lukasz is bringing the same benefit to his new charges.
Galway’s route to the semi-final was clinical and efficient, dispatching Dublin, Offaly, and Wexford without ever looking under too much strain. Their panel looks strong going into the Tipp game: Joe Canning and Cathal Mannion have shaken off their injuries, while Johnny Glynn will commute from New York to line out. Galway are justifiably expected to win the All-Ireland, with Jackie Tyrrell, Ken McGrath, and Donal O’Grady all backing them in last weekend’s Sunday Game. It will be interesting to see how they’ll handle that pressure; will they thrive on it, or will they miss the breathing space that comes with being underdogs? Kilkenny gone, Tipp still finding their feet: Galway haven’t surveyed a hurling landscape like this in some time.
Certainly they’ll be full of confidence, knowing that they have it in them to dismantle Tipp as they did in the league final — but Tipp, too, will be in a good place psychologically.
After the bombshell of bowing out in the first round of Munster, they’ve had a steady, low-key build-up through the qualifiers and will reassure themselves that they’re peaking at the right time. Michael Ryan was bursting with positivity after the Clare match, with some justification; Tipp’s work-rate was much improved. They also strung together some very economical, no-nonsense passages of play, epitomised by Noel and John McGrath, who scored 0-4 and 0-6 from play respectively.
Over the course of four matches, Tipp have scored a healthy average of 25 points from play, but they’ve also managed to leak six goals. The full-back line hasn’t settled yet and with the exception of Donagh Maher, looked shaky against Clare, especially under high ball. Daragh Mooney and Tomás Hamill, both of whom made their championship debuts against Westmeath earlier this month, didn’t do much wrong, but nor did they take charge of the small square in the way you would like your goalie and full-back to do. It will be interesting to see if the more experienced Darren Gleeson and Mickey Cahill will be drafted in for Croker duty. And whatever about the wisdom of not recalling the exiled Cathal Barrett, moving All Star full-back James Barry out of his usual spot seems a very strange decision indeed.
If Tipp can solve their problems at the back, I think they have a very good chance. They’ve been building momentum for the last several weeks, whereas for Galway it’ll be five long weeks since they beat Wexford in the Leinster final. Galway will want revenge for last year’s semi-final near-miss, but Tipp were embarrassed by Galway in the league final, which is perhaps the sharper motivation. If Tipp win, I can see it being another very close affair in the semi-final trilogy with just a point or two in it. If it’s Galway’s day, however, and they power on in the way we know they can, the scoreline might not flatter Tipp.
Both managers, knowing each other well, will relish the rematch. Derek McGrath, too, will enjoy devising a plan for a second crack at Cork, especially if Tadhg de Búrca is ruled out as expected and Waterford’s approach has to be radically changed. It’s interesting that the four managers left in the championship — Donoghue, Ryan, McGrath, and Kieran Kingston — are four of the cooler heads in hurling management. It will be strange not to see Brian Cody stalking the sideline this September, and of course, Davy Fitzgerald’s absence is always felt.
Cool heads are great, but it’s always good to have a few knaves in the pack.
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