By 6pm on Sunday, the finalists in Munster and Leinster were concentrating on greater challenges while the Offaly and Limerick managers turned their thoughts to the qualifiers.
The draw proved favourable for Limerick and Clare. However, Offaly must travel to Wexford and the other first-round winners will hope to draw the winner of this tie in Round 2. The Rebels drew the toughest team, Dublin, in Round 1. The only consolation is the game is at home. A little spice is added to the fixture given the make-up of the Dublin management team with Ger Cunningham as manager and Newtownshandrum’s Patsy Morrissey as a selector.
Cork’s worst defensive display was against the Metropolitans in Croke Park in the league. It’s a certainty, or at least it should be, that the defensive lapses in evidence that night have been used as reference points for improvement. We must assume that Cork will be in a much better place next time out than they were that night at ‘headquarters’, defensively at least.
Both Kieran Kingston and Ger Cunningham would have preferred to build confidence with an easy fixture in Round 1 and then take their chances in Round 2. Fatigue and injuries take their toll in the qualifiers as the games follow on quickly. Cork v Dublin will be a tough encounter. The winners will then face into another tough game a week later whereas potential opponents Limerick or Clare will have had easy workouts.
In Leinster, Kilkenny remain hot favourites against Galway who make their third appearance in the final in four years. Kilkenny were hugely impressive when they brushed Dublin aside. On the other hand, Galway had two facile victories so it is difficult to assess their current form. Conor Cooney, one of their main attackers, received a straight red and automatically misses the final. It was reported he was sent off on the intervention of the linesman.
Usually, linesmen or umpires only intervene for off-the-ball incidents. This happened in general play in front of the referee, who must have been unsighted. I only saw a clip of the incident on TV but it seemed to me that Cooney’s flick lacked intent to cause injury and surely this should have an influence on the colour of the card.
There was no such grey area around the sending off in Thurles. It was unfortunate for John O’Dwyer that he completely lost the head when he got a knock on the hand. He misses the next game. It should be remembered he was the main forward for Tipp in their victory against Waterford last year.
I wrote last Saturday goals win games and lack of discipline can lose them. As well as the sending-off, Tipp conceded a lot of frees. It didn’t hurt them on Sunday as their ability to strike for goals kept them ahead but it may on bigger days. The fear factor of conceding goals to Tipp’s Seamus Callanan and ‘Bubbles’ Dwyer saw the introduction of Dan Morrissey and Richie English to Limerick’s full-back line. But in a three-minute spell, Tipp’s Michael Breen had struck for two from the edge of the square. Limerick’s defence coach will be disappointed at these concessions. I have mentioned the “little things” in the past and little errors cost them badly. Half-back Diarmaid Byrnes is inexperienced at this level. He attempted to bat the ball on the 45m line instead of simply blocking it, a far easier procedure when under pressure. The ball ran through and Michael Breen fastened on to it, giving a poor hand pass to Callanan.
Limerick full-back Dan Morrissey had the chance to intercept but his hurley was twisted in his grip and the ball slipped by. Poor technique is a killer at this level.
As a defence coach, when danger threatens you must clamp onto the main strikers. If needs be you can allow a little leeway for non-goal scorers. Patrick ‘Bonner’ Maher falls into this category. On Tipp’s second goal, four players were drawn onto Bonner Maher. Two would have done. Callanan was left loose. When Maher passed the ball across to Callanan 13m out Tipp had two players at the edge of the square.
Diarmaid Byrnes was the nearest player of the original four on Bonner but neither he nor any of the others made a beeline for this area. Some stopped and Byrnes merely jogged across the 13m line towards the action, effectively making no contribution.
It told all about the lack of defensive nous and organisation in the Treaty rearguard. When Callanan’s shot was saved, Seamus Hickey still had a chance to make a difference. He should have ‘boxed out’ Michael Breen by stepping into him and stopping the Tipp player’s momentum.
In championship games, you always play the percentage on 50/50 balls.The initial high ball that cost Limerick the third goal should have been batted away. Instead, Seamus Hickey went to catch it but it broke from his hand. Extra defender Gavin O’Mahony got sucked in, went for a breaking ball he was never going to win and Limerick were devoid of cover when clever passing by the McGrath brothers opened up the defence.
At the other end, Limerick’s lack of pace never threatened to open up the Tipp rearguard and they played impressively as a unit, preventing any shots at goal until injury-time.
Tipp fought hard all over the pitch showing strong determination,as they did against Cork. They look very compact in defence and at midfield. However, tactically they rely too much on Callanan up front although the form of both Noel and John McGrath are welcome additions this year.
How good are they? The Munster Final will reveal a lot. Their duel with Waterford in three weeks’ time should be intriguing.