A lifeless sort of game but signs of life for Tipperary hurling.
Liam Cahill’s first League match as Tipperary manager featured 34 scores from 14 different sources. The margin of victory could well have been more than 20 points.
They had 57 shots at the posts in 70 minutes, spraying 18 wides and taking only two of nine goal chances.
A conversion rate of just under 60% so but what it did display, above all, was an intent to find the man in the best position to cause maximum damage to opponents.
Cahill’s Ballingarry clubmate Willie Maher was outspoken in his criticism of Tipperary’s failure to keep up with the modern game last year under Colm Bonnar. Now in the Laois hot seat, Maher couldn’t have been more generous in his post-match punditry.
“Tipperary in that kind of condition, in that kind of form, will do that to teams. I thought they were unbelievably impressive there tonight.
“Thurles was in good condition. The ball was flying around. Tipperary are obviously after doing a lot of work with Liam and the new management team. They were really strong. Tipperary in that kind of form could do an awful lot worse to you.”
While this game will soon be forgotten everywhere outside the proud parish of Ballingarry, it did at least provide an early marker of Tipp’s accelerated progress since beating the same opposition by four points last year.
The only potential longer-term impact of this rout came when midfielder Conor Stakelum limped off with a hamstring injury after scoring three first-half points.
“That’d be a concern for me,” said Cahill. “Conor Stakelum was very good tonight so hopefully we’ll get him back on the field as soon as possible.”
Cahill has already lost Ger Browne last week to a recurrence of a knee issue that will require surgery and most likely end his season. In better news, he expects to see Séamus Callanan back in blue and gold soon.
“Séamie is working really hard behind the scenes with us in training and I’d expect to hopefully see Séamie over the next couple of weeks.”
Both sides finished with 14 men as Brian McGrath and PJ Scully came off injured late on, with the Laois free-taker also confirmed to have damaged his hamstring.
Tipperary were over-reliant on Jason Forde for scores in pre-season. With the Silvermines star left on the bench, the test was to see who would step up to take over the bulk of the scoring burden.
Gearóid O’Connor led the way with 0-11 (0-3 from play), while Jake Morris was left stewing on the bench for 51 minutes before coming on to blast 1-2. He was one of eight subs to score; four for each side.
“Always good to get a good start. A lot to like about us tonight,” said Cahill.
“When you see an array of scorers like that, it definitely gives you great encouragement that fellas are playing together as a team. It’s a good sign that fellas are trying to do the right thing on the ball and trying to play as a unit.
“There were some areas of our play where we over-elaborated a little bit and took maybe one or two wrong options on the ball but we’ll look at that. It’s a work in progress.
“This team is very much in the stage of finding its way again. We as a management team as well are doing our best to try to get the blend and the balance right.”
Five forwards had scored by the 20th minute. The one attacker who didn’t score did most of the spadework, Patrick ‘Bonner’ Maher assisting 1-4, including Séamus Kennedy’s 12th-minute goal.
Of Tipp’s other goal chances, Enda Rowland saved from Seán Ryan, Cian O’Dwyer, and John McGrath. Noel McGrath and O’Dwyer both had two more chances, one wide and one blocked for each.
They finally doubled their tally with Morris’s strike deep in second-half stoppage time.
In defence, Ronan Maher had three points from centre-back on his first appearance of 2023 and Michael Breen won four good balls at full-back early on, although one miscontrol before half-time allowed Laois their only sight of goal. Debutant Martin Phelan, however, failed to rise the sliotar and was replaced at half-time, with new captain William Dunphy and his namesake Aaron the other fall guys.
Laois were 1-17 to 0-7 behind at that stage, although Tomás Keyes provided their brightest spark. He finished with four points from midfield and won three scoreable frees as Scully slotted 0-6.
They were brave in their endeavour but pragmatism may press Willie Maher to consider fielding a sweeper down the line.
G O’Connor (0-11, 7 frees, 1 65); J Morris (1-2); S Kennedy (1-0); C Stakelum, S Ryan, R Maher (1 free) (0-3 each); C O’Dwyer, J McGrath (0-2 each); C Barrett, B McGrath, N McGrath, C Bowe, J Campion, M Kehoe (0-1 each).
PJ Scully (0-6, 5 frees); T Keyes (0-4); J Keyes (0-2); R Mullaney, FC Fennell, L Senior, R King, P Purcell, J Duggan (0-1 each).
B Hogan; C Barrett, M Breen, Johnny Ryan; B O’Mara, R Maher, B McGrath; N McGrath (capt), C Stakelum; S Kennedy, G O’Connor, C O’Dwyer; J McGrath, P Maher, S Ryan.
J Campion for Stakelum (37 inj), J Morris for O’Dwyer (51), M Kehoe for P Maher (51), P Cadell for N McGrath (60), C Bowe for J McGrath (62).
E Rowland; D Hartnett, P Delaney, P Dunne; J Kelly, R Mullaney, FC Fennell; A Corby, T Keyes; A Dunphy, W Dunphy (capt), J Keyes; S Maher, M Phelan, PJ Scully.
R King for W Dunphy (33), P Purcell for A Dunphy (h-t), J Duggan for Phelan (h-t), I Shanahan for Corby (57), L Senior for Maher (60).
J Murphy (Limerick).