Tommy Walsh has likened the new championship format to Game of Thrones. Brendan Cummins described it “rats-in-a-barrel” stuff. One episode in and already the worst is being feared. Taking Walsh’s analogy, Tipperary and Clare are, spoiler alert, Ned Starks in the making.
The man walking down the street in Thurles yesterday morning, as Cummins imagined, has all but written off his team.
Neither played at home on Sunday (all four victors in the provinces this past weekend were the home side) and are just a quarter of the way through their campaigns but the die might as well be cast given some of the commentary of their defeats. As new as this is, the old knock-out mentality is a difficult one to shrug off.
That Tipperary kept themselves in conclave after losing to Limerick didn’t help matters but the impact of that setback and, to a lesser extent, the one Clare were subjected to by Cork has many of their followers fearing the worst.
Further defeats this weekend wouldn’t end their campaigns but it’s effectively “Save Our Season” time for both. So what do they have to do?
It’s nothing new for Tipperary to find themselves defeated in their opening Munster SHC game having lost a Division 1 final.
You can go all the way back to 2003 when they came out the wrong side of a thrilling league final to Kilkenny only to immediately follow it up with another defeat against Clare in Munster.
It happened again in 2013 and ‘14 with defeats to Kilkenny and Limerick on both occasions.
Tipperary are notoriously slow-starters in Munster and Michael Ryan would have been wary of this opener given the amount of club games in recent weeks. It appeared he configured his team against Limerick with the gauntlet of these four games in 21 days in mind but he must now go all-in to ensure Tipperary are up and running.
The team to face Cork should have a distinctly familiar look to it — only eight of the 2016 All-Ireland winning team began against Limerick.
Pádraic Maher has been operating at centre-back in the hope he wouldn’t be avoided as he was last year. But his switch to there from the wing has meant the captain is now targeted in possession.
The player he is, he will run to a fire where a player in the centre requires more discipline. It will have been noted just how well his brother Ronan performed in the second half on Sunday when he exchanged spots with Pádraic to take up the No.6 role.
It was our belief Tipperary would have come out on top on Sunday had they enjoyed parity in puck-outs but they didn’t appear to be enough reason to their strategy and they suffered as they did against Kilkenny in the league decider.
Ryan has tried to add a directness to Tipperary’s approach and it was a great foil to their short stick-passing play in 2016 but there doesn’t seem to be enough of it now.
And the lack of movement from the attack, which has managed just 2-5 and 1-5 from play in its last two outings (2-1 of from Forde) is alarming.
They could do with a refresher course from Eamon O’Shea but they remain, alongside Galway, the best attack group in the country.
For a full-back line that looked so short of options on Sunday, Cathal Barrett’s fitness is imperative also.
In Saturday’s Irish Examiner, Seánie McMahon told it like it is: “We’re five years waiting for a performance in the championship. Have we ever come close to the 2013 All-Ireland final replay?”
That wait has been extended by a least another week but, after the game in Páirc Uí Chaoimh, former county manager and selector Tony Considine said:
Opportunities for short-term success?
The starting team that lost on Sunday was the same 15 that began the extra-time Division 1 quarter-final defeat to Limerick.
Clare don’t have a deep well to draw from, not when they’ve lost so many players in recent times, but it does appear that some inertia has set in. The jinkery and imagination of Podge Collins, who was an unused substitute, is missed and while Tony Kelly is a far better version of himself this year than he was last season, some of his team-mates aren’t on his wavelength.
The good news is that Clare enjoy Cusack Park more than most teams do their home venues but for all their fine work laying off ball and all-round honesty not enough is coming in the way of scores from inside men Conor McGrath and Shane O’Donnell. Rather than giving support, they should be receiving it.
Kearns has cause but no comfort
We can’t — and don’t — speak for Liam Kearns but it sure felt as if he was waiting for last Saturday to air his grievances about the Munster Council’s decision to fix their game against Cork for this Saturday evening.
Of course, Kearns had spoken on the matter before but now that the game is a reality he felt he had to air his grievances again only with more feeling.
“It’s an absolute disgrace,” Kearns said. “I don’t know how they came up with the decision and that’s being straight and honest.
“A year’s planning and at the stroke of a pen they put it all into jeopardy.”
On The Sunday Game, Ciarán Whelan noted that this would not have been done to Cork and Kerry.
It certainly wouldn’t.
Six and seven-day turnarounds in provincial football were supposed to be a thing of the past.
The Munster Council say that consensus couldn’t be found but then they had a say too; it wasn’t just about Cork and Tipperary finding common ground.
At the same time, Tipperary could have been more open to the June Bank Holiday idea from the outset but then that didn’t appear to suit Cork either.
There is no conspiracy here — it’s not as if Tipperary don’t have influence in the Munster Council and there is a concerted effort to set things up for the most lucrative provincial final between Cork and Kerry in Páirc Uí Chaoimh.
But try telling Kearns that.
He has his cause and he’s not going to give it up.
“We’ll be here in six days’ time and Cork had better turn up ready to play because we’ll be here to play.”
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Ground hurling far from dead
Fergal Whiteley’s beauty against Kilkenny last Sunday week evoked memories of the great ground-stroke goals. John Fenton obviously tops the charts and Seanie O’Leary would feature prominently.
Noel Lane’s mightn’t have been the prettiest but they were essential, nevertheless. If you want aesthetic and execution, you wouldn’t go far wrong with Dan Shanahan’s second goal against Cork in the 2007 All-Ireland quarter-final replay.
But it’s obvious at this stage that the ground stroke is not as much a Dodo as we were led to believe. That same opening weekend in Leinster, Brian Concannon and Joe Bergin, he of Offaly, the purveyors of the supposed dying art, swooped for ground goals.
If Whiteley’s one wasn’t enough from Dublin, Rian McBride chose to finish his goal against Wexford on Sunday in similar fashion. Dan McCormack’s finish for Tipperary’s first goal in Limerick was instinctive and clinical after John McGrath’s effort ricocheted off the post.
In Cork, Tony Kelly swung low and true to beat Anthony Nash while Seamus Harnedy’s goal, although it was more of a half-volley, was bordering on a ground effort.
Many of them are reactionary but the adeptness of the players in finishing such opportunities illustrates that the skill isn’t being ignored.
It also shows there is still a place for the ground-stroke in the game, even if the need for control of possession further out the field and the heightened confidence players have with ball in hand means the days of a quick flash of the hurley breaking a defensive line or taking a back-line by surprise might be gone.
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