NOT a red card in sight. Instead, a cracking contest in the Gaelic Grounds yesterday, played in the fine spirit which embellishes the game of hurling when showcased at its best and, by general consensus, the Allianz National League title was won by the best team on the day.
Tipperary succeeded primarily because they had the better defence and when it mattered most, the greater scoring power, personified by Lar Corbett’s brilliance at full-forward in the second half and the opportunism of Seamus Butler on the right wing.
If anything, the 59th-minute goal by Corbett marked a turning point in the game, even though it was to balance on a see-saw all the way to its thrilling finish.
It came straight from a puck-out after Damien Hayes opted to pass instead of trying for goal himself and the ball to the unmarked Aonghus Callanan ran harmlessly over the end line.
Crucially, it gave Tipp the momentum at a stage when both sides were struggling to achieve supremacy and, while Galway fought back manfully — inspired by a wonderful goal from Joe Canning — they were always chasing the game.
The standard was set at an early stage when both sides quickly settled.
Tipp promised a goal as early as the sixth minute, when Corbett was at the end of a good move but took the wrong option and allowed wing-back Adrian Cullinane to intercept.
Three points from team captain Eoin Kelly, two of them frees, had them ahead briefly in the 10th minute, but after falling behind to a terrific score from midfielder Richie Murray shortly afterwards, they were not to lead again until a few minutes before the break.
What happened in the interim period was that Galway performed better as a team, inspired by the dynamism of Damien Hayes on the left wing and boosted by the stability which John Lee brought to the defence through his dominance at centre-back.
In fact, as the game developed, the Westerners achieved a definite advantage at half-back which severely curtailed Tipperary and limited the flow of ball inside to Kelly and Corbett.
And that was despite the best efforts of Shane McGrath, who was quick to make an impression at midfield.
At the other end, Joe Canning was making little progress against the close-marking Eamonn Buckley, except that he was still working hard for the team. And while the normally rock-solid Eamonn Corcoran was being exploited by Hayes, Conor O’Mahony was very much in control in the centre, helped by Fergal Healy’s inclination to go searching for the ball.
Overall, however, there was very little between the teams and while Hayes played a big part in giving Galway ascendancy, the strength of the Tipp full-back line (with Paul Curran getting no real test from a disappointing Iarla Tannian), meant that scores were not easily given away.
This applied even more in Tipperary’s case, given that their difficulties at half-forward persisted until James Woodlock started to win ball.
They were back in front in the 33rd minute when Benny Dunne got their opening goal, a reward for a surging run down the left wing but helped by an error from goalkeeper James Skehill in misjudging his low shot.
Not to be outdone, Galway hit back with a Fergal Healy goal created through Canning’s ingenuity and strength in making headway from the edge of the goal-mouth. It left the interval score 1-9 to 1-8 in Tipp’s favour.
With Galway bringing in Alan Kerins (who was to do well at midfield) and introducing Callanan at right corner-forward, scores were level twice, in the 44th and 51st minutes. Callanan quickly justified his introduction, getting an early goal (set up by Hayes) which cancelled out one scored earlier by Willie Ryan.
The opening for this was made by Corbett, who was to exert a strengthening influence over the last quarter, which resulted in the Galway management having to bring Shane Kavanagh back to mark him.
Galway also started to experience problems at half-back after Butler thundered into the game, going on to score five points in 18 minutes.
And while otherwise the defence coped fairly well under pressure, the concession of the goal to Corbett — a real gem, powerfully and skilfully struck — in the 59th minute was a body blow. It was followed quickly by a point from him and two more from Willie Ryan and Butler to open up a seven-point gap with seven minutes of normal time remaining.
But credit Galway with a storming finish and Canning with a marvellous goal which confirmed the significance of his addition to the team.
Shortly afterwards he put over a free to give them hope but the cushion which Tipperary enjoyed on the scoreboard was to sustain them.
And, while Kevin Hynes’ injury -time point created the possibility of an equalising score (after Hayes got into a goal-scoring position but was bottled up), Butler cropped up with his sixth point to ensure victory for Tipp and a 19th title.
Scorers: Tipperary: E Kelly 0-7 (0-5 frees); L Corbett 1-3; S Butler 0-6; W Ryan 1-1; B Dunne 1-0; S McGrath 0-1. Galway: J Canning 1-6 (0-4 frees); F Healy and A Callinan 1-0 each; D Hayes 0-4; K Hynes 0-3; R Murray, J Skehill (free) and G Farragher (free) 0-1 each.
TIPPERARY: B Cummins; E Buckley, P Curran, C O’Brien; E Corcoran, C O’Mahony, S Maher; B Dunne, S McGrath; S Butler, R O’Dwyer, J Woodlock; E Kelly (capt.), L Corbett, W Ryan.
Subs: S Callinan for O’Dwyer (55th minute); J O’Brien for Dunne (59th); A Byrne for Corcoran (injured, 63rd); D Hickey for Ryan.
GALWAY: J Skehill; C Dervan, T Óg Regan, F Moore; S Kavanagh, J Lee, A Cullinane; K Hynes, R Murray; G Farragher, F Healy (capt.), D Hayes; N Healy, I Tannian, J Canning.
Subs: A Kerins for N Healy (30th minute); D Forde for Murray and A Callanan for Farragher (second half); K Wade for Tannian (64th).
Referee: B Kelly (Westmeath).
Attendance: 16,315 (last year 22,000).
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