Allianz HL Division 1 final
Today: Gaelic Grounds, 3.30pm
Referee: Colm Lyons (Cork)
He’s particularly keen on the horses and gaelic games. Likes a flutter on the draw, or on under the aggregate number of points, in football during the autumn and winter, when the pitches are heavy.
And a few years ago he spotted a chink in the bookies’ suit of mail: The market on no goals in matches involving the Cork hurlers and subsequently the Waterford hurlers.
Back then ‘No Goals’ was usually 25/1. These days it’s much lower. Our friend made hay while the sun shone, so much so that he’s now rumoured to be the proud possessor of a holiday home near Knocknaheeny.
The day before the league quarter-finals he happened along with the air of a man with something he wanted to get off his chest.
“Back Galway to win the league,” he said.
“They’re 6/1. And you can cash out if they reach the final.”
His line of logic was both obvious and impeccable. Galway had Waterford at home the following day, and even if Waterford were likely to be counter-intuitively dangerous because they were fielding a bunch of reserves and would be therefore free to have a cut, it was a match Micheál Donoghue’s men were entitled to win.
If they won that they’d be facing Cork or Limerick in the semi-final, a match they’d be entitled to win too.
If they won that they’d be in the final. At which point you could either let the bet stand or, if you reckoned Tipperary were a mile ahead of the rest, take your profit and head for the hills.
Smart guy, huh?
Maybe Tipp are a mile ahead of the rest. Half a mile, at any rate. On the contours of proceedings last Sunday Wexford were not 11 points an inferior team. Four or five points an inferior team, perhaps.
Thirteen minutes remained when Conor McDonald stood over a free to cut the gap to a point. Fourteen minutes later Tipperary led by 14 points. From nought to 2-4 in six minutes.
If Wexford didn’t know it beforehand they know it now. This is what All-Ireland champions do to the unwary.
Particularly All-Ireland champions with two McGraths in the full-forward line. Wexford also know now that All-Ireland champions punish poor first touches.
Hence the opening goal by McGrath the Younger after James Breen’s flabby attempt to kill the ball.
Hence the winners’ second goal by McGrath the Elder after Shaun Murphy’s first touch failed him and his subsequent handpass put Breen under pressure. Even then Breen might have caught Noel McGrath had he played to the whistle instead of appealing for a free.
Small mistakes that go unpunished in the Division 1B muck in February and March do not go unpunished in league semi-finals on dry sod in April. Careless touches cost goals.
While Noel McGrath remains an ornament to the sport John’s ceiling is higher. Like Barabbas he’s a brigand. If McGrath the Even Younger turns out to be an amalgam of the two then God help every other county.
The Steven O’Brien project will continue.
Apart from a meaty early shoulder charge he failed to get to the pitch of things at Nowlan Park.
It mattered little given that Michael Breen, physically O’Brien’s alter ego, came on at half-time and proceeded to hit four points from centre-forward. Swings and roundabouts — and options.
On top of that, Tipperary are a better team for Brendan Maher’s return. He emerged from the same mould as Liam Doyle and Derek Lyng and Stephen Molumphy. You can’t always see what they do but you know the engine runs more smoothly for their presence.
One small quibble.
Of Tipp’s 5-18 last Sunday no less that 5-17 was sourced from play. Sorry, but that simply shouldn’t be happening at this level.
One doesn’t have to run around trying to decapitate opponents in order to make it hard for them. Wexford currently lack the heft and the nous to do so. Galway do not.
Not that Tipperary will be horsed out of it, of course. It is to this reason they owe their very existence, Michael Ryan’s overriding motivation as architect/foreman being the construction of a team that would not take a backward step.
Sure enough, Wexford couldn’t drive them back on their heels. But Galway possess the wherewithal to at least drive them sideways.
Get John Kiely’s comments last Sunday evening. “They are a really tough side to play against. They will chase you down, they will hold you up, they will turn you around, they will dispossess you.
"They will turn you over so many times and I guarantee our turnover rate is high. They have so many players on the field who are able to cover the ground and are physically strong.”
The easy trap to fall into in assessing Galway’s chances today is not the soundness or otherwise of the semi-final formline — clearly Limerick were dismal in the extreme for the second time in a couple of weeks — but in overrating their forward line.
It’s possible to have too many players of the same size and same stamp. How high does their collective level of craft stack up? Joe Canning apart, would Ryan take any of them in exchange for any of his attackers?
At least Johnny Coen, always the most improbable of corner-backs, will add something different at midfield.
Galway were patently superior to Tipperary in the 2015 All-Ireland semi-final but only won by a point, largely because of Seamus Callanan’s gaiscí.
They were marginally inferior in the 2016 All-Ireland semi-final but only lost by a point, and that after the most outrageous misfortune when losing both Adrian Tuohy and Canning approaching half-time.
Callanan will be a loss both in himself and in terms of the room his presence would create for the McGraths.
There’s another reference point for those who look for these things. The 2012 National League final between Kilkenny and Cork.
The MacCarthy Cup holders won pulling a train and it was tempting there and then to wonder about the necessity of staging the championship at all.
(In the event Kilkenny won it alright but they had to go around the houses to do so, an obligation that saved and elevated that particular championship.)
If Tipperary are at their simultaneously honeyed and throat-slashing best and win pulling a train it’s 2012 all over again. Still.
Galway are the toughest — on every count — opponents they could have had, and unquestionably more dangerous right now than Kilkenny. Nothing to do with what the man in the street said a few weeks ago, but they can win this.