Early on this year there was a major outcry in Tipperary when Lar Corbett left the panel — some were nearly in tears over it.
If those people are still in tears today it’s because of Lar’s return.
Lar did nothing yesterday; he was there but he was marked absent, did a lot of running around but not a yard of it was effective.
He kept tracking Tommy Walsh, trying to get Tommy to play on him when it was obvious that Brian Cody had already decided — the man who was going to mark Lar Corbett was the same man who had put Lar in his pocket in last year’s All-Ireland final, Jackie Tyrrell. This was another 70 minutes that Lar spent in the same pocket — and never even got a peek out of it.
What hurt the really true Tipperary hurling followers yesterday was that Tipperary backed down, a Tipperary team that when the challenge was really put to them had no belly for the battle, no bottle.
They got opportunity when totally against the run of play they went in at half-time a point up, having been five points down. In the second half they got five points; two from 65s, two from a sub — John O’Neill — and one from John O’Brien. What does that tell you about a team that’s supposedly the second-best team in the country, against their greatest rivals, their greatest enemies really. Certainly there was no love lost in Croke Park yesterday.
Now, what did Kilkenny score in that same 35 minutes when that battle was there to be won? 3-15 to 0-5 that was the scoreline in the second half.
A question now is who was running the show for Tipperary? Was Lar Corbett making his own decisions or was he following instructions? If it’s the former then he should have been in the stands because no player should dictate to that extent. If it was the latter, then the finger is pointed firmly at the management but either way he should have been taken off.
The bigger question though is the question of honour. If you’re given any jersey, but especially if you’re given that famous blue-and-gold of Tipperary, you honour it.
Many great men have done so over the decades in many a big game in Croke Park and elsewhere — yesterday wasn’t one of those days.
Contrast that with the team that beat Tipperary. This is the greatest manager who ever managed a hurling team, this is the greatest hurling team that ever played. Why? Because they honour the jersey. They played yesterday like this was their first ever All-Ireland semi-final, like they had only this one opportunity to make an All-Ireland final — how many All-Ireland semi-finals is it, since Brian Cody took charge?
I think it’s 14. How do they keep that going? Take two players as an example. Aidan Fogarty got 2-6 in the All-Ireland final of 2006, got man of the match, yet has been on and off the starting 15 ever since.
Did you ever hear a word from him about being unhappy or upset? No. Has he ever walked away from the team? No.
Another man who starred yesterday, TJ Reid, another who has been on the team, off the team, but another from whom we have never heard a squeak of complaint. Why? The honour of the jersey.
It all comes back to one man of course, Brian Cody, he’s the one who sets that standard and no-one is allowed to lower it. Ever.
Even when something happens on the field. Michael Rice got injured yesterday, there were no hysterics from Michael — it looked a questionable pull to me but there was no appealing to the referee or to anyone else, Michael just walked off, Cillian Buckley came on, did the business.
Contrast that to how many Tipperary players were appealing to umpires, linesmen, the referee himself.
Kilkenny play a man’s game, Tipperary used to, but not yesterday. You do not play a soft game against Kilkenny. Play like a man and they’ll respect you. Play any other way and they’ll eat you up and spit you out. Or they might just put you in their pocket and save you for later.
I want to talk about the genius of Henry Shefflin. Twice in the first half against Limerick he saved Kilkenny with two great goals. Yesterday the layoff for TJ Reid’s first half goal was absolutely brilliant. This is Kilkenny always. They get even a sniff of an opening for goal and they’re in.
Now they have one more day — an all-Leinster All-Ireland final. The only thing is this team from Connacht will put it up to them. And I can’t wait.
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