A first Allianz National Hurling League victory of the season for Tipperary and a first defeat for Galway were the main talking points from a high-scoring encounter at Semple Stadium yesterday.
A tie that was level 14 times was settled by late scores from Johnny Ryan, with his first touch, and Noel McGrath as Tipp edged home by two points in front of 4,951 spectators in Thurles.
It was typical March hurling, error-ridden on a deceptively heavy sod, but Tipperary manager Declan Ryan won’t complain after his charges bounced back from their opening day mauling to Kilkenny in Nowlan Park.
A Waterford Crystal Cup final victory over Clare sandwiched in between will have boosted confidence levels and the style of Tipp’s play was noticeably changed as they used possession more intelligently.
Gone was the reliance on the route one approach that failed against Brian Cody’s charges on All-Ireland final day and again 15 days ago as Tipp’s forwards moved more fluidly and picked off some neat scores as a consequence.
Galway, too, played their part and led with nine minutes remaining before the home outfit did just about enough down the home stretch with a late flourish that will have heartened Ryan.
The talent within the Tipp ranks remains unquestionable but the job for Ryan and coach Tommy Dunne is to get them playing again to levels of 2010.
Galway coach Tom Helebert insisted that the Tribesmen are still very much a work in progress, behind the likes of Tipp and Kilkenny in terms of core strength and fitness levels.
But the inside line of Damien Hayes, James Regan and Bernard Burke showed enough to suggest that they could form a potent unit come the summer as the trio finished with a combined tally of 2-7 from play.
Pa Bourke was Tipperary’s scorer-in-chief, hitting 1-6, including a glorious second half goal before he was withdrawn in stoppage time.
So far this year, six-time All Star and former team captain Eoin Kelly has had to be content with a place on the bench and he lasted less than a minute yesterday, coming off with a hamstring twinge having replaced Shane McGrath at half-time.
This morning, manager Ryan will be pleased to reflect on two valuable League points, instead of reading about the continuing absence of Lar Corbett.
With the 2010 Hurler of the Year offering no indication that he is set to return, Tipp fans are straining their eyes into the attacking sextet and crying out for a hero to emerge.
Shane Bourke, so impressive for UCC in their Fitzgibbon Cup success, took his chance to impress with a hard-working display rewarded by two points from play while in the other corner forward position, John O’Neill clipped over two gems.
Brian O’Meara at full-forward perhaps won his battle with David Collins on points but the star turn in attack was Noel McGrath, who bagged 1-3 and a lovely 42nd minute goal.
“We got on the ball a bit handier today and we used it a lot better when we were in possession,” was Ryan’s assessment and he was spot on.
McGrath’s goal was a case in point as Timmy Hammersley and Pa Bourke did well to get passes away in confined spaces before McGrath planted a smashing shot past James Skehill.
At half-time, Galway led 1-9 to 1-8 following a 35 minutes that saw the teams level six times.
The visitors began in devastating fashion as James Regan planted a shot into the top corner in the third minute to establish a 1-1 to 0-0 lead, just a minute after Skehill did brilliantly to keep out a rasping O’Meara drive.
Tipp were level by the 11th minute, however, and goaled in the 29th minute as O’Meara somehow kept hold of possession under extreme pressure before Bourke finished clinically. Boosted by a second goal, from McGrath, Tipp led by 2-11 to 1-10 in the 42nd minute but a Damien Hayes goal for Galway levelled the tie at 2-11 apiece four minutes later.
“The lads stuck at it. It was nip and tuck in the second half and they stuck at it,” Ryan reflected.
That they did as Helebert was left disappointed that Galway did not emerge with at least a share of the spoils.
He said: “We’re disappointed not to take something out of it. We thought we’d worked hard to get something.
“A few decisions went against us late on. We felt one or two of the calls were, at best marginal but we didn’t get them. We have to accept it and move on.
“When you’re trying to come from where we are and build a team you need every break you can get.”
Scorers for Tipperary: P Bourke 1-6 (0-5f), N McGrath 1-3 (0-1f), J Woodlock, B Maher, J O’Neill & S Bourke 0-2 each, C O’Mahony (65), B O’Meara, J Ryan 0-1 each.
Scorers for Galway: N Burke 0-7f, D Hayes 1-3, J Regan 1-2, C Cooney 0-3 (1f), B Burke 0-2, B Daly 0-1.
TIPPERARY: B Cummins; D Maher, P Curran, M Cahill; J O’Keeffe, C O’Mahony, P Maher; J Woodlock, B Maher; P Bourke, N McGrath, S McGrath; J O’Neill, B O’Meara, S Bourke.
Subs: E Kelly for S McGrath (h.t.), T Hammersley for Kelly (inj, 38), J Ryan for Pa Bourke (70+1).
GALWAY: J Skehill; D Connolly, D Collins, G O’Halloran; J Cooney, F Moore, N Donoghue; D Burke, C Donnellan; C Cooney, N Burke, I Tannian; D Hayes, J Regan, B Burke.
Subs: B Daly for Tannian (28), J Coen for J Cooney (33), P Gordan for Donoghue (43), A Harte for Donnellan (53), E Ryan for N Burke (65).
Referee: C McAllister (Cork).
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