IF people had believed what I wrote on Saturday we might have had a real crowd in Croke Park yesterday for the meeting of Tipperary and Galway, the kind of crowd a game like this deserved.
I said it could be the match of the year – it was, and by some distance. And I’ll make this prediction now – it won’t be surpassed for the remainder of the championship.
The quality can best be summed up in the total of the wides recorded by the teams in the first half – two for Galway, three for Tipp, with 20 scores in that spell. That tells you all you need to know. There have been classics between these two counties before – I doubt there’s even been better than yesterday, definitely none I can remember.
I also said on Saturday that Tipp had to forget about last year’s All-Ireland final loss to Kilkenny – I think they did, and I think that after this win, it’s even further in the background. From where I was sitting (high up in the press-box, admittedly), Tipperary were again victims of another dubious call in Croke Park, this time a penalty, won and converted by Joe Canning. That could have recalled all kinds of bad memories for Liam Sheedy’s men. It brought Galway back within two points and gave them the momentum to drive on and into a two-point lead approaching the final minutes.
But – and this is why I believe they have really buried the ghosts of last year – Tipperary battled back from all of that, and won this classic.
There were a few reasons for Tipp’s win. Young Mickey Cahill at corner-back played very well in the first half especially. Brendan Maher in midfield was absolutely outstanding while Gearóid Ryan came of age with that great goal in the second half. I was also impressed by the ball winning of Padraic Maher, the crucial scores from Lar Corbett – none more so that the last – and the never say die workrate and spirit of Eoin Kelly.
The changes and the substitutions also worked a dream. The move of the game for me was just before half-time with the management bringing Shane McGrath back to midfield and Seamus Callanan coming in for David Young. That was very sharp thinking by Liam Sheedy and his sideline-men.
The shift of Maher to centre-back in the final minutes was also hugely important – I’ve said here many times, I think this will be his eventual position for Tipperary. The introduction of John O’Brien also worked, but the two final substitutions by Tipperary were pivotal. Conor O’Brien came in for a tiring Declan Fanning, who had given his all, and added fresh legs to that area. Pa Bourke came in for a tiring Maher, and boy, did he make a difference – it was Bourke’s run at the end that created the space for Corbett’s winning point. Fair dues to Pa for giving the pass, fair dues to Lar for having the coolness to take the score. I’ll have to mention also Paul Curran – he will regret the mistake for Damien Hayes’ opportunist goal but he held Joe Canning scoreless from play and had a sound game.
All in all, a great team effort by Tipperary, everyone contributing hugely – starting 15, subs, and management.
To Galway, and the big question I would ask – why didn’t Galway play like this in the Leinster final? The brand of hurling they played, the pace, the skill, the intensity – we saw very little of that a few weeks ago.
Nowhere were they more outstanding than in the two central defensive positions. They’ve been criticised in this area before but Shane Kavanagh and Tony Óg Regan were colossal yesterday, along with Ollie Canning, and David Collins when switched onto Padraic Maher. In the forwards, Eanna Ryan was a real thorn in the side of Tipperary – a pity he had to go off with an injury; Damien Hayes was his usual dangerous self and was again the pick of the inside line while Ger Farragher did well in midfield.
Fair dues also the Galway mentors, to John McIntyre, John Hardiman, Joe Connolly and John Moylan – their moves also worked, and subs Kevin Hynes (2) and Aongus Callanan (1) both got on the scoresheet with fine strikes for points. A major disappointment for Galway, however, was Joe Canning, who was held scoreless from play again.
I know he won the penalty but I think it was dubious call. He was well marked, but so was Eoin Kelly at the other end and he managed 1-1 from play, so is Henry Shefflin every time he goes out for Kilkenny, and he manages to score. That’s the level Joe is at, those are the guys he’s going to be compared to – I think it’s time the marketing stopped, and that Joe started capitalising on his undoubted talent on the field rather than off it. Another thing – he could learn a bit of cuteness from his older brother Ollie. A great display by Galway, came up just short – the least Galway can do now is reappoint this management team, and do it immediately.
A few words on the first quarter-final – a stroll in the park for Cork, but they conceded 19 points, which has to be a worry. The best forward on the park was Antrim’s Liam Watson, and you could really see the progress made by Antrim. Disappointing display by Cork, but I’m now going to pose this question – I know Kilkenny and Waterford are in the driving-seat, but what odds a Cork/Tipperary All-Ireland final?
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