Anthony Daly penned a column in these pages at the weekend pondering how and why a Dublin team he himself once managed always seemed to “swerve” in Thurles.
Not this time. Mattie Kenny’s charges stood their ground at Tom Semple’s field on Saturday evening.
Leading by four points at the interval, Dublin were relieved of their buffer within as many minutes on the restart and it looked bleak then for their chances of winning this Division 1 quarter-final on a cold, wet and windy day given they faced into a stiff wind for another half-hour.
What followed was a response which belied the county’s past traumas in Thurles and one which may well prove pivotal to this generation of capital hurlers as they adjust to life under a new manager who worked the oracle with Cuala in his previous posting.
“They shot four very quick scores,” said Kenny who was coolness personified after what was such a win of note. “So we had to keep our noses in front and we had to keep the scoreboard ticking. We were conscious of that at half-time, that we keep an offensive side to our game, that we keep the scoreboard ticking over.
“You can’t come down here and just defend against these quality forwards because their range of striking and range of shooting — they can hurt you from any position. Tipp got some real quality scores in the second-half. But thankfully we were able to put some good passages of play together and work the scores at the other end.”
Tipp didn’t help themselves by shooting 18 wides, nine in each half, and Liam Sheedy would admit in the aftermath that theirs was simply too patchy a display against a side that had effectively out-thought and outfought them on the day.
Dublin did most things right. They started well, boosted by a sixth-minute Éamonn Dillon goal, kept the wides and errant passes to a minimum and played some intelligent hurling to extricate themselves from tricky spots and set up scores.
With Oisín O’Rorke proving to be a dependable dead-ball expert and substitutes such as Cian Boland and Paul Ryan coming off the bench to chip in with scores, legs and experience, they were always going to be in with a shout.
They never trailed. Not once. That alone makes for an impressive day’s work and, while Kenny’s input is integral to it, the manager was insistent that this was a win fashioned by the players who made a big statement here: to themselves as much as anyone else.
“You always set your internal challenges. Every team is the same. You’re trying to set your own standards. And when you’re coming down and playing the likes of Tipperary in Thurles, it’s a learning experience for our guys. And we’re delighted to take the learnings from this match.”
You’d be hard pressed to find negatives. Even the red card shown to Danny Sutcliffe was a nothing: a second yellow deep into injury-time which left his colleagues needing to survive just the one last, late sideline delivery into their own area.
Their reward is a first league semi-final since 2015, which they lost by a point to Cork in Croke Park. The opposition this time will be a Limerick squad that has built on last year’s All-Ireland with a table-topping league campaign and a quarter-final blow-out against Laois.
“That’s the challenges we’re looking forward to,” said Kenny.
“These guys ... they’re a really good group of guys. The group is working really hard. We’re trying to learn as we go along. Another quality game against a team like Limerick will bring this bunch on again. Every game … the more high-quality games like that we get, the better.”
Liam Sheedy would have welcomed another game or two himself but there were no complaints after this loss. Not in terms of the result or an opposition that, he admitted, had targeted them in the skies, earned more of the breaks on the ground and outworked them in the tackle.
There was a tinge of regret for the volume of wides they registered but no outward sound of alarm for a team which he said showed its potential only in patches this spring and one that will need to discover some path to consistency before the Munster Championship opens for business.
“We are taking nice shape,” the Tipp manager reflected. “I am very happy with the overall group. We had another group training this morning at half-eleven so we know we have a committed bunch that want to do well for Tipperary.
“What will make us now is the 15-on-15s over the next few weeks. They have got to be really buzzing and competitive as we prepare for the first round of the championship in Cork. I remain upbeat and positive and we have things to work on.”
Scorers for Tipperary:
J Forde (0-7, 6 frees); E Dillon 1-3, N McGrath (1 ‘65’), J Morris (0-3 each); M Kehoe and M Breen, S Callanan (1 free) (0-2 each); R Maher, N O’Meara, B Maher and J McGrath (0-1 each).
Scorers for Dublin:
O O’Rorke (0-7, 5 frees); E Dillon 1-3, S Moran (1 65) (0-3)); P Ryan and C Boland (0-2 each); E O’Donnell, C Crummy, R McBride, J Malone (0-1 each).
P Maher; J O’Dwyer, J Barry, C Barrett; R Maher, P Maher, R Byrne; N McGrath, M Breen; S Callanan, N O’Meara, J McGrath; J O’Dwyer; J Morris, J Forde.
P Maher for J McGrath (35); B Maher for Byrne (47); M Kehoe for O’Dwyer (57); A Flynn for Breen (62); D ,Maher for N McGrath (73).
A Nolan; C Crummy, E O’Donnell; P Smyth; D O’Connell, S Moran, D Gray; R McBride, S Treacy; C Conway, D Sutcliffe, J Malone;F Whiteley, O O’Rorke, E Dillon.
C Boland for Malone (29-HT); and for Treacy (HT); J Hetherton for Conway (HT); P Ryan for Whitely (56); R Hayes for Malone (62); D Treacy for O’Rorke (70).
P Murphy (Carlow).