We’ll start with John McIntyre, and won’t he be surprised when he finds out. John McIntyre, once of Tipp, later of Galway, eternally of Lorrha.
We’ll start with Mr McIntyre not because he has a foot in both camps but because, understandably for the week that was in it, he popped up in the papers the other day with a couple of interesting comments.
One of them made reference to the “media obsession” with Joe Canning.
It’s a fair cop, guv. Canning Scores Wonder Goal in Leinster final: news. Canning Hits Eight Wides in All-Ireland quarter-final: news. Canning bites canine/is bitten by canine: news.
Why, he even popped up in my friend’s Word of the Day thingie the week after the Kilkenny match. (Word of the Day thingie? A daily mailout that supplies, well, a word of the day for people who wish to enlarge their vocabulary. Obviously your lettered correspondent doesn’t subscribe). ‘Proprioception’ was the word one particular morning that week. “As in Joe Canning,” my man declared.
Proprioception. A neat if polysyllabic way of describing the audacious yet utterly controlled manner in which Canning, the amazing bendy man, contorted himself to receive that long ball from Andy Smith, turn and blaze it past Eoin Murphy. If he’s ever stuck for a job there’s surely a circus somewhere needing an acrobat.
But there was a caveat. Canning managed only a point thereafter the same afternoon. An immortal goal, a mortal’s performance.
Our pal didn’t receive a Word of the Day that encapsulated Canning’s performance in the quarter-final. If you wanted to be generous, ‘imprecise’ would have been a suitable one in view of the eight wides. If you wanted to be critical, ‘self-indulgent’ might have been another.
By half-time against Cork, the Portumna man had recorded four wides. It can happen, even to the very best. But there was a strategic decision to be made there and then. Right, this clearly isn’t my day, so from now on I’ll play the percentages, pass the ball a bit more instead of taking it on myself, let the other lads do the scoring and pull my weight that way. Something along those lines.
No such decision was made and within five minutes of the restart, Canning had registered another two wides, both from improbable positions on either wing.
Not the remotest imperative existed to go for either. Would Shefflin have gone for them in similar circumstances? Absolutely not. Would Cody have stood for it if he had? Even more absolutely not.
Granted, invoking Cody and Shefflin at the drop of a hat is a reductive exercise that should be employed only in moments of acute need. In this instance, however, it’s perfectly legitimate. They’re the yardstick, stratospheric as it may be, and Joe Canning is one of the few contemporary players — the only contemporary player? — who have threatened to approach that yardstick.
Against Cork, he came nowhere near it, less because of his accuracy and more because of his decision-making.
That said, at least he was getting into the right places to drive wides. Nor was his work-rate to be faulted; after picking up a yellow card, he was momentarily in danger of picking up a second one for a foul on Aidan Walsh. The notable aspect of the latter, which James Owens correctly deemed to be accidental, was its location: deep in the Galway half. Whatever about his malfunctioning radar, Canning did not stint when it came to covering the ground.
Tomorrow’s prescription is straightforward, then. Continued work-rate. Refrigerated shot selection. Improved accuracy. He can do it and he probably will.
Maybe Galway, who enter the fray on the back of five outings this summer, have arrived at a stage where they’re less in need of Canning’s rainmaking abilities than usual. Maybe.
With Galway, there is never anything other than maybes.
Three of those performances were highly professional, the other two immensely mediocre. The zigzags in the graph notwithstanding, this volume of match practice should conduce to a measure of coherence, a level of confidence, some degree of pattern and a threshold below which the underdogs won’t fall. But that in itself won’t suffice. Mediocrity wasn’t enough to beat Kilkenny in the Leinster final and it won’t be enough to beat Tipp.
While Conor Whelan shouldn’t be expected to do a lot, he possesses the kind of frame that suggests he’ll hold his own in the physical exchanges and is therefore likelier to last the course than any products of the county’s assembly line of identikit handy little forwards from the past decade.
And if the teenager really is 5’11, as per the quarter-final programme, this leaves Galway with an attack standing 5’11, 6’0, 6’4, 6’4, 6’2 and 6’1.
That isn’t so much a forward line as a casting call of candidates to play the Schwarzenegger role in the next Terminator film.
They won’t strive for subtlety and they shouldn’t dream of trying. Straight lines to goal. Rotating forwards. Puck-outs on top of Jonathan Glynn. All hands descending on Padraic Maher when he’s in possession. This is an afternoon for booting the door in. Arnie would approve.
Talking of boots and doors, Tipperary did precisely the opposite in the Munster final. They were patient. They kept knocking, politely but insistently, until the door swung inwards. It was mature, it was poised and it was pleasing. It also demonstrated Tipp’s ability to hurl in different registers. Having wiped out Limerick at the Gaelic Grounds they saw off Waterford on very different terrain. They’re not Kilkenny but they’ve got to a place where they resemble them in many ways.
And to return to a point made here in the past: under Eamon O’Shea, Tipp have been a Croke Park team, more fluid and dangerous there in August than at Semple Stadium in June. No secret why. Sustained practice conduces to lubricate the wheels and levers of their complex attacking machinery.
Some other observations.
Ten years have passed since Niall Healy’s hat-trick against Kilkenny in an All- Ireland semi-final. He was Galway’s second sub for the forwards against Cork.
With 12 minutes remaining, Galway led by only four points. Um, how? They’ll probably post a winning total tomorrow. They’ll probably also concede a losing total. If they’re to survive, it’ll be their defence that sees them through.
Galway were opened up without difficulty for TJ Reid’s goal in the Leinster final, after which Kilkenny were content to pop their points from distance.
The Tipperary of Seamus Callanan are likelier to go for the jugular when the opportunity arises. Galway need John Hanbury to be good. They also need him to be lucky.
A slight doubt exists over how Tipp will source goals if Callanan isn’t sending the green flag flying. But they do possess a spread of point-scorers in Jason Forde, Niall O’Meara and above all John O’Dwyer, who’s edging ever closer to being their most important forward. And elsewhere Brendan Maher, Kieran Bergin and James Woodlock supply the type of ballast that Cork lacked.
This blend of ingredients should swing it for Tipperary.
We started with John McIntyre so we’ll finish with him. He reckons, having been in Croke Park last Sunday, that the MacCarthy Cup will remain on Noreside irrespective of the outcome here. Kilkenny’s experience, their relentlessness, their ability to work an eight-hour day whatever the weather.
Sounds eminently reasonable. Yet tomorrow’s winners will not be deploying two forwards next month.
They’ll be going six-on-six against a Kilkenny without Shefflin and JJ and Brian Hogan, a Kilkenny stripped of decades of corporate big- occasion memory, a Kilkenny who cannot be expected to win this All-Ireland off the bench the way they won last year’s.
Tipp and Galway may be playing for more than silver medals.