‘Bonner’ steps up to the plate

Has there ever been this kind of consensus?

On anything? In the aftermath of yesterday’s come-from-behind win for Tipperary over Limerick in Semple Stadium, there was a queue of players and management figures pointing to one forward in blue and gold who started on the bench but came on to turn a game which ended Tipp 2-20, Limerick 1-19.

No, not the man you’re thinking of.

Lar was there, in Semple Stadium, dispensing water bottles before the throw-in like a political candidate conscious of the need for hydration on a hot day, but he didn’t figure. We didn’t even see the golden helmet.

The player who turned back the green and white tide for the Premier County was Patrick ‘Bonner’ Maher, the man credited for doing so much unseen work for Tipperary that it was almost surprising to see him doing work that was clearly visible.

Maher’s great attribute is an adherence to the basic principle of geometry, that one about the shortest distance between two points. Tipperary have no shortage of players who can snap the ball over the bar with a quick flex of the wrists, but, like every team, they require someone to win the ball and make what our brethren in rugby call the hard yards.

Maher won the ball and drove for goal and chaos ensued: he was central to the closing quarter, in which Tipp hunted down Limerick as they wilted in a sweltering Semple Stadium.

His manager was certainly crediting the impact of the replacements after the game.

“The substitutions we made today worked reasonably well,” said Declan Ryan. “All the lads that came on made a huge contribution, they added a lot of energy to the game. It was very warm out there and it was great they had the impact they did.”

But one man had a slightly bigger impact than the others, right? “Patrick has great energy about him,” admitted Ryan. “Shane (McGrath) has been going very well in training in the last three weeks. I’m just delighted with what they added when they came on.”

The man in the other dressing-room was succinct in his evaluation.

“The subs Tipp had made the difference,” said John Allen. “Bringing on Bonner Maher... when we saw Eoin Kelly going off we were thinking, ‘looks like they’re under big pressure now’. But I’m hugely proud of the effort we put in. It was heroic for most of the game, they just had a stronger bench, that was the difference.”

Limerick must have enjoyed the first half. They settled quickly and Shane Dowling’s nerveless free-taking had them ahead early on. Graeme Mulcahy might have had an early goal but took the white flag instead, though Tipp weren’t as wasteful when they went downfield on the resumption: Brian O’Meara cushioned a nice pass to Pa Bourke, who finished coolly for the game’s opening goal.

The men in green and white weren’t fazed: within five minutes Mulcahy had worked another opening and went for goal, only for Brendan Cummins to save well; Conor Allis eventually retrieved the rebound and placed Mulcahy for a goal slipped home from a tight angle. Limerick in front, and they held the lead to the break thanks to Sean Tobin’s late point.

At half-time Allen and his selectors had a lengthy chat on the sideline — the manager even had time for a phone call home to his son — and Limerick didn’t flag on the resumption. At one stage they had seven points to spare, but their manager pointed out that this was 15 minutes from the end. A little early to count your chickens, particularly when your opponents can draw on the experience of three consecutive campaigns which have led to the All-Ireland final.

“I looked up and there were six points in it but there were 16, 17 minutes left,” said Padraic Maher afterwards.

“Plenty of time. We kept tagging on points and we didn’t go for goals too early. We used our experience near the finish to tag on a few scores and come out on top.”

A fair summary. Tipp ended the game with four points to spare, a decent turnaround, but Maher — Padraic, that is — pointed out that Limerick have a few players to come back themselves, and will provide a stiff test to opponents in the qualifiers.

The Shannonsiders played a clever support game, finding men in space while also bringing plenty of intensity to the table. When Declan Hannon is fully fit and Seamus Hickey recovered from injury they’ll be even better.

Tipperary? “We don’t have a great record down in Cork in recent years,” said Declan Ryan yesterday afternoon, heralding an early start to the mind games. Will Jimmy Barry-Murphy respond? Hard to see that happening.

Will Patrick Maher start for Tipp the next day? You can expect consensus in the county on that.


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