Tipp. Seek Minor - Inter. Double
Hurling’s climatic day is at hand. We in Tipp. will share in the nationwide interest in Kilkenny v Galway but the minor final gains in profile on account of our seniors’ painful departure. The U/18’s preceded the big boys’ run of three successive All-Irelands and are there after them with fair hope of compensation added to the win by the Intermediate side on Saturday evening. A double would be more than welcome in current circumstances. The quest for the successors to the senior “cabinet” of mentors is the main off pitch story of the moment.
Yes, the Intermediate success is modest plus, mostly because a loss would have a large minus. Various factors indicated favouritism - the home venue - after Portlaoise was reversed; our generous licence as regards range of selection; and a massive half-time lead of twelve after we’d copied Cats goal scoring flair in the opening period. Yet it dwindled to desperate hanging on and reliance on ‘keeper Logue and his defenders to preserve a two points margin. The visitors took the half hands down, coming back at a scoring pace that seemed sure to carry them on to a remarkable rally and to a loss quite embarrassing to the home element. Some of their better material apparently was kept out of availability due to senior panel involvement. Their goal contrasted with Logue’s brilliance in other duties and it had the issue perhaps tilted their way. A point to level was spurred in quest of a penalty goal. The advent of Dublin and O’Dwyer worked at once for us, the latter adding to a vital Morris free for a late cushion that survived, just about, a late Hickey free that had goal intent. Relief was the basic feeling. Frankly, the Tipp. exemption as regards choice is not about to be retained after both Cork and the Cats had to pick from junior and intermediate clubs. It may be said that several of those would be as strong as many of our senior ones, but the ability to utilise our top club players - county champion and others of high rank - just had to be an advantage and a factor in taking the championship. If we have thirty or so of top grade, that’s our system and our business. Quite a quota of players now have minor, Under 21 and Intermediate medals - a nice, varied display of rewards. “Minor” may have a down playing tone to it as a term. Not about to be the estimate for next Sunday’s bid to recover a status last held in ‘06 under Liam Sheedy - and ‘07 - under the now departed troika of senior mentors. De-throning Galway and putting on a very impressive display in the process will perhaps have us favourites against Dublin, who are again in both minor deciders, they lost out on two fronts a year ago.
The Tipp. v metropolitan pairing revives memories that should be a caution against presumption. I beg to morbidly recall what happened, not once but two years in a row. “Old God’s time”, you’ll say about 1945 and 1946. but to me sharp and ever topical. Anyhow, the minor grade was revived after a war-time cancellation for three seasons. Tipp. captained by Pat Stakelum and with flying wingers in Paddy Kenny and Jack Harris, breezed through everybody with goals to spare. “Best ever minor team”, said a “Star” captain. My predecessor, “Winter Green” - Sean Murray, N.T. Killenaule - declared that it would be an honour for Dublin to be beaten by such a side. Dublin, alas, were about to gain a higher honour!
They told a story about a gathering round the “wireless” in a Boherlahan household. The parish had centre forward Mick Maher, brother of Tim and Paddy, as a representative, so interest was high. Over to Croke Park. “Bail Ó Dhia oraibh go léir”, said Micheal Ó h-Eithir, “before the senior game we have news of the minor final, just finished - and news that will cause great surprise, especially in Tipperary. Their fancied side has just been beaten by Dublin”. “Good God”, said an elderly listener, “that can’t be right, look, would one of ye young lads run down to Dwyers and see have they any better story on their wireless”. I myself couldn’t believe it, either. My late brother, Jim, was midfield with Willie Carroll of Dundrum.
A year later, Tipp. sought to reverse the outcome and didn’t, but in very controversial circumstances. Captained by Paddy Kenny, they led a low scoring game into the dying minutes. A ball into the Railway square had backs and forwards contending. From the side came a Dublin forward who pushed our goalie, Billy O’Brien (Nenagh) into the net ahead of a sliotar which followed. No free, goal awarded, game lost, protests of no avail. Again I had fraternal regrets and a little for myself as a sub, though better personal fortune was in store next season. Tipp. did defeat Dublin in both 1952 and 1953 with such as Liam Devaney and Sean McLoughlin, but lost again to them in 1954, when a fourteen year old named Jimmy Doyle, was in goal. That ended the frequent meetings of the counties in less than a decade.
So William Maher and his youths need to be realistic in their quest for the “Irish Press” Cup. He handled the trophy himself in 1996 and would hope to see fellow South player Bill Maher follow suit on Sunday. There’s talk that Ronan Maher got a knock in training which may leave Padraig’s brother in doubt. Dublin’s standard in the grade has been very high in recent years, though they had the edge in good luck in catching a good Clare side right at the end through the second of O’Rorke’s two goals. We had it, too, in Galway’s loss of full back Killeen before Tipp. wrapped it up smoothly. Our side has definite all-round class and should be capable of finishing the job against the locals. Go n-eiri leo!
I suppose it’s a shade impertinent of us to have much to say about the senior final. Academic is Tipp’s position as absentees for the first time in four years. But you can’t watch a game like this in completely dispassionate mood - a touch of presence, even of prejudice, adds spice to the scene. No doubt two years ago Tipp. had the good wishes of counties where such would be a rarity, and so it is bound to be with Galway now. Admiration for the Cats’ prowess won’t extend to welcoming the start of another spell of dynasty to maybe emulate the four-in-a-row. A Galway win would, of course, render our own collapse even more extreme. One couldn’t imagine the Tribesmen able to swamp Tipp. to that extent, so their Leinster triumph may not make them favourites when the chips are down and the “pot” is there to be seized. To amend the famous statement of De Valera “beat me once, shame on you, beat me twice, shame on me”.
The count down has been enlivened by Brian Cody’s broad hints about a possible reaction to the semi-final as regards severity of refereeing. “Don’t punish us for what Tipp. did”, such has been the message, plainly conveyed. What big case he thinks he has about refs. is like an exam candidate with five A’s out of six cribbing about the standard of marking. It’s all, of course, tactical and maybe he has an unsuspected sense of humour, after all. One doesn’t expect anything similar to the start of our semi-final, the publicity will be a deterrent. Otherwise we’ll nearly have to go back to the old system of throw-in to midfield and forwards while the backs are unmarked till opponents arrive. This is a final of extraordinary background and immense potential, bound to be hard going and hectic in the congested clusters. The Galway attack contains the large figure and the firepower of Joe Canning, an obvious focus of speculation. The Leinster scoreboard will be wiped clean, awaiting Sunday’s imprint. The stress on players will be huge. All to play for, and to pray for!