The bottom of the take is no more flattering than the low extremity of the election poll. That’s where we lie, in the pointless company of Offaly and Wexford, after Dublin pipped Tipp in Croke Park.
The home side had left the door open with a string of late wides but the visitor failed to avail of the chance of a draw, or better. It was again a case of “system disarmed” through attacking absentees - we fielded, at the start, only two of the All-Ireland forwards as Noel McGrath was subtracted from our resources. Eoin Kelly’s late appearance was obviously unplanned. Clearly, we need the return of Lar Corbett in particular in the quest for our first points against Waterford.
The League may not be a high priority but it’s no pleasant reading to see the champions - in racing terms - stuck in the stalls while the leaders are two furlongs down the course.
Both players and new mentors need the boost of a victory. It’s not a panic situation. Both Offaly and Wexford must come to Thurles and it’ll be the devil of it if we can’t prevail.
We had better do so, because the Decies at the Stadium and Cork and Galway (away) indicate serious tests. The defeat of De La Salle by Clarinbridge, luckless as it was, will probably see Davy Fitzgerald’s hand strengthened considerably by Mullane, Moran and Phelan. All of which raises the profile of the game and the pressure on Tipp in seeking to avert a further reverse. The Saturdays have been quite unkind so far.
Looking at a brighter side, we went under to Dublin by nine points a year ago and it did no great damage. Not that successive losses to the metropolitans have been suffered often in the past. This one was on the cards in any prudent preview. Tipp might rebound from the heavy loss to the Cats, but we were again short-handed up front and forced to experiment in that zone, while Daly’s team had done well against Waterford and the publicised return to the ash of Conal Keaney - plus the advent of our Ryan O’Dwyer - had lifted their morale. Last year’s result, too, was an incentive for a repeat. Time was when Dublin had low expectations and were fragile in a serious test. Not so now, as their eager physical crowding of our efforts showed on Saturday.
I didn’t travel, leaving it to our “exiles” in, or near the Capital to lend support. As it turned out we probably had a better view of the details of the match on television than they did on the spot - the Cusack side of H.Q. was especially shrouded in the opening half. A thin enough scattering of patrons was present at the start; it built up respectably later and for the football feature which was the bigger pull for Dub. supporters.
Mentors’ thoughts were indicated on our selection by the debuts of Paddy Fanning and Sean Carey in the front line. As it turned out, neither trialist survived, Brian O’Meara and Eoin Kelly the replacements. One was surprised, actually, to see O’Meara not started - and maybe more so to see newly wed Kelly available. The urgency of the position - one down with time passing and the issue in the balance - made Eoin an essential addition. His levelling score looked a good omen but it wasn’t to be.
The late loss of Conor O’Mahoney brought in Sars’ Ml. Gleeson and soon led to Brendan Maher’s switch to wing-back with Padraig taking centre. The outer defensive sector was not to have a good day, nor was it great either for the insiders. Dublin’s forward drive and mobility caused problems galore, with concession of frees punished time and again by Keaney. O’Callaghan set the adverse tone quite early with tricky foot and stickwork. A four-two lead for Tipp was rather against the trend of possession but Declan O’Dwyer’s goal, outfielding Curran, was a big moral uplift for Dublin.
John O’Neill was prominent in the riposte, capping it with a deft goal to regain the lead before the locals regained it, minimally, at the break. Clearly, we were in a genuine contest. Cashel’s Ryan O’Dwyer was now on, and with obvious good reason to be an “impact” sub.
Dublin resumed positively as Keaney registered three more off placed balls and then answered a Pa Bourke score. Four down demanded answer and, fair play to our lads, it was forthcoming to the extent of parity on Eoin Kelly’s point after Shane McGrath, “Buggy” O’Meara and a Bourke free. Keaney’s long one was cancelled by Pa and Dublin’s followers then groaned at successive chances gone astray. Would Tipp punish these wides? A final Keaney free put it up to us but Young and O’Neill were off target on the last opportunities. Dublin had what their level of effort and spirit deserved on the day’s play. A Keaney tour-de-force was the outstanding feature. It was revealing, too, that while Darren Gleeson had to rescue Tipp at least three times, we put Ger Maguire under no threat than one can recall, apart from O’Neill’s successive effort. We were bound to be scrappy and lacking in attacking creativity in view of the losses in important personnel. That of Noel McGrath compounded the problems. Neither of those present from the September set-up, Gearoid Ryan and Patrick Maher, fared well in the absence of colleagues.
It’s just as well that a fortnight intervenes before the next and rather important test. The chances of having closer to full strength will be increased. Re-grouping and re-focussing would be desirable.
Intermittent glancing at the “Aertel” page during Sunday afternoon raised the possibility of a Wexford win over Waterford - and six teams ahead of Tipp. in the table. The Decies just about frustrated Colm Bonner’s side and left them in our distinguished company, along with Offaly.