Premier stars round off perfect week

THE future for hurling has assumed a blue and gold hue.

Six days after their seniors sacked the kings of the game in style in Croke Park, Tipperary illustrated in Semple Stadium on Saturday night the strength of their underage production lines.

In a lopsided Bord Gáis Energy All-Ireland U21HC decider, Tipperary blew Galway away in devastating fashion.

Any suggestions that the euphoria generated from the senior triumph would distract the U21 camp were quickly dispelled. Within 30 seconds Brian O’Meara had made a trademark aerial fetch before clinically finishing to the net. In the third minute a sweeping and intricate team move was rounded off by John O’Dwyer raising the second green flag and when Sean Carey lashed a low shot to the bottom corner in the 15th minute, the contest was over.

They were now 3-4 to 0-2 ahead but Galway rallied before the interval to shave the deficit to 3-7 to 0-9 but Tipperary were ruthless in the second-half and always capable of cranking up the gears.

“You get itchy when you see the two goals going in at the start because you ask ‘where do we go from here?’,” admitted Tipperary boss Ken Hogan. “But thankfully the lads kept the consistency levels up. We came in at half time disappointed because we conceded the last three points before the break. We reiterated to the lads that it was back to basics – we had to work and work hard. The players deserve huge plaudits because they drove themselves on from the word go and they finished the job.

“Our motto was ‘Team Before Me’ all along. Those guys were driven and it was a pleasure to work with them and Tommy Dunne, a tremendous coach, TJ Connolly and Willie Maher. It gave me a new life and a new sense of identity to work with these guys.”

Tipperary’s sheer array of scoring options was dazzling. By the final whistle eleven players had helped keep the scoreboard ticking over and Tipperary’s 5-22 total ensured their entire U21 scoring return from four championship games was a phenomenal 10-93. Their senior stars made key contributions with Padraic Maher and Brendan Maher anchoring a resilient defence, Michael Cahill stifling the threat of Richie Cummins in the left corner, and both Noel McGrath and Padraic Maher growing into proceedings as the game progressed.

But the most striking aspect of Tipperary’s performance was the shining displays of the less-renowned figures in their line-up. James Barry looks a great prospect at wing-back, Sean Carey’s terrific industry at half-forward yielded a 1-3 return while John O’Dwyer maintained his sublime form at corner-forward. The man-of-the-match bauble on the night went to Brian O’Meara at full-forward and the award carried plenty merit. He has not been a presence for the Tipperary seniors since their dejecting experience in Páirc Ui Chaoimh last May but at U21 level O’Meara has excelled all season. He was immense under the high ball and gave Galway full-back Paul Gordon a torrid time.

Galway were peripheral on a night of Tipperary hurling exuberance. The contentious venue selection certainly did them no favours and the lack of supporters meant Galway competed in an intimidating atmosphere. But manager Anthony Cunningham had no qualms in admitting afterwards that they collided with an exceptional team. Even if the game had been played in familiar environs like Pearse Stadium or Kenny Park, it’s hard to envisage Galway reversing the result. Tipp played at a faster pace, brought a greater physicality to bear on the close exchanges and their skilful touches in attack generated a torrent of scores.

Despite the catastrophic opening to the game, Galway did battle vigorously throughout the first-half and saw plenty of possession.

Midfield was a profitable sector for them through the efforts of the excellent Johnny Coen and Barry Daly, and they cut open the Tipperary defence to create chances. Their shooting betrayed their approach work however as they knocked nine balls wide of the posts in the opening-half. Registering a goal would have been a serious boost as well but they found Tipperary netminder James Logue in a miserly mood. He denied Joseph Cooney, Gerard Kelly and Bernard Burke from close range, and when he was beaten in the 43rd minute Kelly’s shot slapped against the crossbar. The match transpired to be a miserable experience for Galway and despite the spirited endeavour of Bernard Burke, they collapsed in the final quarter as Tipperary outscored them 1-10 to 0-2. Galway’s misery was compounded when centre forward Niall Quinn was sent off in the 52nd minute.

Scorers for Tipperary: J O’Dwyer (1f), B O’Meara (1f), S Carey, N McGrath (one goal free) 1-3 each; Patrick Maher 1-0; S Hennessy 0-3 (1‘65, 1f); M Heffernan, P Murphy 0-2 each; J O’Neill, K Morris (1f) 0-1 each.

Scorers for Galway: J Coen, D Burke (2fs), 0-2 each; B Daly, J Regan, N Quinn, G Burke, G Kelly, J Cooney, J Grealish, B Burke, 0-1 each.

Subs for Tipperary: C Coughlan for O’Gorman (44), J O’Neill for O’Dwyer (52), A Ryan for Murphy (52), J Gallagher for McGrath (55), K Morris for Heffernan (56).

Subs for Galway: J Cooney for Forde (23), B Burke for G Burke (26), J Grealish for Linnan (41), D Glennon for Cummins (44), B Flaherty for Gordon (55).

Referee: James McGrath (Westmeath).

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