The better team can still be lucky to win
Sounds oxymoronic, yes, but how else to go about describing Tipperary’s victory over Clare? The class of the All-Ireland champions wasn’t in doubt: 0-28, 0-23 of it from play, and a couple of periods when they simply machine-gunned scores into their opponents, including the closing minutes of both halves. Worthy winners? Absolutely. Yet Clare left it behind them on Saturday, equally absolutely. This is inarguable. The 18 wides; the four consecutive wides before Conor McGrath’s disallowed goal; the puckout meltdown approaching half-time, when they had six puckouts between the 33rd minute and the interval and coughed up points on four of them. They even followed Aaron Cunningham’s double-barrelled blast with three wides in a row, while in injury time they might have had three goals.
Tipp remain potential champions, with caveats
The MacCarthy Cup holders always gave the impression here that they could go up a gear if and when required, as they did when sprinting clear in injury time to make the game safe — and this on an afternoon when Seamus Callanan was not at his best. In view of their 1-26 against Cork it can fairly be asserted that a total closer to 30 points rather than 20 points will be required to take them down in Croke Park. That’s quite an ask of any opposition and instantly puts Tipp on high ground.
On the flipside of the coin, their defending on Saturday will naturally hearten prospective opponents. There’s also what appears to be a small but not insignificant psychological issue at work. Are Tipperary so good going forward, so limpidly smooth in full spate, that when they do build up a lead they’re tempted to stand back and admire their own handiwork, thus rendering themselves vulnerable to a riposte? They gave Clare plenty of rope here but weren’t punished. Better opponents will find use for that rope.
It’s hard to gauge the worth of Clare’s championship
Glass half-full or glass half-empty? This was a summer of might-have-beens for the Banner. They’ll regret their caution in the Munster final and they’ll spend the winter ruing their sins of omission and commission against Tipperary. They did at least exit the championship with rather less of a whimper than they departed the 2016 equivalent, and Donal Moloney and Gerry O’Connor will take succour from the realisation that they’re not a million miles off. A small improvement in a couple of key areas would make them, say, five points better per game next year. But Clare’s biggest problem is also the most difficult one to solve: Doing the basics right. Winning their own puckout, making their possession stick, putting the sliotar over the bar — and into the net, given that the defeats to Cork and Tipperary saw themscore far more than the four goals they did manage. For Moloney and O’Connor the hard work is only starting.
Waterford keep her lit
That’s three consecutive All-Ireland semi-finals now under Derek McGrath, who will almost certainly not receive the credit he deserves for achieving an elevated level of consistency with a group whose best should, on age grounds anyway, be yet to come. Austin Gleeson apart, they don’t get neutrals off their feet in the way Cork do. But Waterford know exactly the kind of game they’re trying to prosecute and revel in its structured nature. They’re wearing comfortable, familiar old brogues, not a pair of expensive hand-tooled Italian shoes, and they’re grand with that. If they won’t shoot the lights out in Croke Park next month, it’s largely because they lack the firepower to do so. But they’re there. Again. That’s an accomplishment not to be sniffed at.
Wexford eventually find their level
If Davy’s old team have ifs and buts to ponder, his new team do not. Wexford have brought life and colour to the 2017 championship, which would have been a far lesser — and for the Leinster Council far less lucrative — affair without them. But in the end their limitations, specifically their acute vapidity up front, found them out. Their three biggest games this summer saw them hit 1-20, 1-17, and now 1-19: respectable totals but nowhere near the ballpark where serious MacCarthy Cup challenges originate.
Two recurring themes arose again yesterday: Freetaking (Lee Chin missed two successive frees in the closing ten minutes of the first half which they needed to convert) and the reliance on defenders to bulk out their bottom line (here Diarmuid O’Keeffe and Liam Ryan contributed three points between them). The latter issue may not be resolved as easily as the former, but at least Wexford have Division 1 hurling to look forward to next season. That has to bring them on.