In the final round of the Allianz Hurling League with everything still finely poised, a win for Tipperary by three points or more meant they would contest a league quarter-final and condemn Dublin to a relegation play off; any other result and the opposite would be the case.
Into the final minute of the three signalled for added time and Tipperary were leading by those three points, a series of Dublin passes ended with sub Niall McMorrow standing on his own on the 45m line with plenty of time and space to slot a crucial point.
Instead, and not at all true to form, Niall sent in a low probing centre which was controlled and comfortably dealt with by Tipp full-back Conor O’Mahony. Seconds later, the final whistle sounded.
So, did Niall know Dublin needed only that point?
“I’m not certain,” said manager Anthony Daly. “I didn’t pin him to the wall inside and say, ‘Did you know the story?’
“I suppose he was just thinking of the game and got caught up in that. I think everyone knew the situation if Tipp won by three, but I suppose that’s the whole ebb and flow of the thing. It was a really good point chance but Niall had done some great work when he came on for us and set up a few things, so no blame to Niall. It’s disappointing but what can you do? It’s a mad league and I felt we hurled really well.”
That’s the point. Dublin have hurled really well in this league, did so again yesterday, and looked a much better side than their hosts for the opening 20 minutes at the end of which they led 0-9 to 0-3. Free-taker Alan McCrabbe was on fire, had five of those points, Tipp native Ryan O’Dwyer had a fine brace while All Star Danny Sutcliffe had one.
Perhaps it was over-confidence on their part, perhaps they began to feel too comfortable, but suddenly Dublin began to make mistakes and Tipperary took advantage. Six points they scored before the break, at least three of those capitalising on Dublin errors, Seamus Callanan again in fantastic form. It meant that having done all that hurling Dublin led by only a point at half-time, 0-10 to 0-9, and would face into a stiff breeze on the changeover.
Rather than looking to that late incident with Niall then as the reason Dublin now find themselves where they are, says Daly, look at what happened much earlier.
“I felt we over elaborated in our play before half-time and it cost us. We just took too much out of the ball when we should have kept it simple. We were doing things very well and we should have just stuck to that to the break and we would have had that cushion, whereas we had only the point then.”
Into the second half and again it was Dublin taking control and again looking the better side, McCrabbe, O’Dwyer and Sutcliffe again the scorers as Dublin raced into a four-point lead, 0-13 to 0-9.
Then came the only goal of the game and fittingly it was that man Callanan setting it up, his superb shot saved by Gary Maguire, even more fittingly it was Patrick ‘Bonner’ Maher with the finish — a thorn in Dublin’s side from the start.
For a Tipperary side that has been struggling to find form, this was exactly the confidence-boost they needed and suddenly it was they, and not the Dubs, looking the better side, Noel McGrath popping up with three outstanding points, John O’Dwyer also with a lovely wristy score, and now it was very much game on, Tipperary looking for those scores that would see them through.
It certainly made for an interesting final 15 minutes, the teams going for tit-for-tat on the scoreboard but Tipp edging ever-closer to their destiny.
On 57 minutes Dublin had a chance to get a point back with a 20m free from which blood-sub Paul Ryan went for goal. It was well saved by keeper Darragh Egan and cleared without cost. A chance gone astray. Not their only chance either, leaving Anthony to rue what might have been.
“We had the chance probably to be gone through but we didn’t take it. We had maybe a half a goal-chance or two and didn’t take them either so it’s just one of those ones, take it on the chin and get ready for next week.
“That’s an even bigger game than any quarter-final to be honest with you so we’ve got to prepare ourselves. Waterford have beaten us already [third round, in Walsh Park]. We’ve got to get the heads up and get ready for it.”
Scorers for Tipperary: S Callanan (0-11, 8fs), P Maher (1-0), N McGrath (0-3), J O’Dwyer (0-2), M Cahill, K Bergin, R Maher (0-1 each).
Scorers for Dublin: A McCrabbe (0-10, 8fs), R O’Dwyer, D Sutcliffe (0-3 each), M Carton (0-2), J Boland (0-1f).
TIPPERARY: D Egan; P Stapleton, C O’Mahony, C Barrett; M Cahill, B Maher (c), C O’Brien; K Bergin, S McGrath; J O’Dwyer, N McGrath, P Murphy; J Forde, S Callanan, P Maher.
Subs for Tipperary: D Maher for Murphy (35), J Barry for Cahill (inj. 38), E Kelly for P Maher (inj. 52), R Maher for S McGrath (62), M Heffernan for Forde (69).
DUBLIN: S Durkin; N Corcoran, P Kelly, C O’Callaghan; M Carton, L Rushe, S Durkin; J Boland, J McCaffrey (c); R O’Dwyer, A McCrabbe, C Keaney; D O’Callaghan, D Sutcliffe, C Cronin.
Subs for Dublin: M Schutte for Cronin (45), N McMorrow for C O’Callaghan (55), P Ryan for D O’Callaghan (62).
Blood sub: P Ryan (Keaney 56/60).
Referee: B Gavin (Offaly)
The decision by Dublin sub Niall McMorrow to drop in that final ball when he had an open point — the point which would have seen Dublin through to quarter-final and Tipperary into a relegation decider.
See above, the game-changer.
Yes, see above — yet again. McMorrow obviously thought Dublin needed to draw the game and was looking to create a goal. How costly will it be?
It became a shootout between the respective free-takers and Alan McCrabbe matched Seamus Callanan almost score for score. That Tipperary goal though, Seamus came off his shot...
Tipp subs did well, Denis Maher, James Barry and Ronan Maher particularly. Dublin defensive tactic (Colm Cronin playing almost as third midfielder) almost paid off. Almost.
Brian Gavin (Offaly) did very well.
Tipperary meet Cork in league quarter-final next week, toss for venue, Dublin in relegation decider against Waterford on April 13.