By Noel Dundon
Tipperary senior hurling Manager Declan Ryan could hardly have mail ordered a better outcome that the four point victory over Dublin in the All-Ireland senior hurling semi-final on Sunday afternoon last.
The Clonoulty Rossmore man watched his side survive a stern test of character to emerge victorious over the Dubs, while at the same time leaving plenty of work to be done for the third consecutive clash with Kilkenny in the All-Ireland Final on September 4th.
Expectation was that Tipperary would cakewalk it to the decider. The reality was much different. But, on the plus side from a Tipp perspective, pundits and supporters have been forced to reel in their inflated opinions of The Premier County and reassess their credentials. For that reason alone, the Dublin game was a major success for Tipp.
Of course this game had all the hallmarks of the classic ambush. Tipp were so overwhelming favourites following their demolition of Waterford in the Munster Final, that nobody could see anything other than a Tipp win - especially with Dublin short five of their regulars. In spite of all the warning bells being sounded from within the camp, management could not dampen the expectation levels across the county - Tipp knew that Dublin would hit hard, close them down, hunt in packs and attempt to strangle the attack. They did just that.
Having emerged with their championship lives, Tipp are still on course to retain the Liam McCarthy Cup for the first time since 1964/’65. They have overcome a very different type of challenge too - the free flowing, open play of the Munster championship gave way to more tactical, heavy hitting fare, exactly what is expected from the All-Ireland Final against Kilkenny.
So, how did it pan out? Well, Dublin, from the outset, were intent on closing out scoring opportunities and their placing of midfielder John McCaffrey as an additional defender between the full and half back lines, saw to this. Of course this meant that Tipp had a free man in their defence - Michael Cahill, usually the man marker in the side, playing the unorthodox role of sweeper to fine affect.
Did it backfire on Dublin? Yes and no. The move worked from the point of view of preventing Tipp chances - 27 in the match incouding their 5 wides. But, Dublin never ever looked like getting a goal and this was to be the price they paid. Brendan Cummins, the five times Allstar Award winner, kept his 20th clean sheet in 66 record breaking appearances, and was treated to special recognition on the big screen by Croke Park having broken Christy Rings long standing achievement.
Lar Corbett’s 26th goal in the blue and gold jersey, after just two minutes, was as opportunistic as any he has bagged with Peter Kelly slipping at precisely the wrong moment. But, in a curoius way, the goal possibly served Dublin better than Tipp. If Premier minds possessed any element of complacency, Larry’s early flick could have compounded them. Dublin, stood tall and stuck to the game plan.
Make no mistake about it, Tipp were shaken, but perhaps not stirred by the interval. Whether they expected it or not, they had been treated to a very physical reception at headquarters. Dublin met them with legs, arms, shoulders, and bodychecks - let’s be clear though, it was a very sporting and manly game with no foul blows being landed. Referee Cathal McAllister let a lot go and was not flavour of the month with either set of supporters - a lot was missed, or was he attempting to let the play flow? The joys of being a referee.
Corbett was Tipp’s chief in attack in the first half, bagging 1-3 and setting Seamus Callanan up for a goal chance in the 33rd. Had Gary Maguire in the Dublin goals not saved, it could have been a fatal blow to Dalo’s men. Instead they went in at half time on terms and with the breeze to assist them upon return. Also, the capital decibels were on the ascendency as the game wore on, whereas it was Tipp who seemed to have the greater support in the 43,562 attendance.
One suspected that half time would offer the chance to re-set the course for Tipps journey to the final. They had survived the choppy waters created by the wave of Dublin physicality and were still afloat. Brendan Maher was drafted in to steady the ship with Callanan making way - others could just as easily have been hauled ashore too.
The fact that Tipp went three up within seven minutes of the restart gave notice of intent. Curiously, Eoin Kelly struck 3 65’s in the second half while Noel McGrath got two super points and a wonderful sideline cut. Lar’s work was further backfield with his scoring opportunities limited. But, had he goalled in the 7th minute, Dublin’s challenge could have petered out - Maguire again denying him with a fine stop.
By the end of the third quarter Dublin had it back to level, but the magnificent Padraic Maher shoved Tipp in front and faced the bus for home with an inspirational point having come upfield.
Tipp had enjoyed much success with the crossfield ball and with keeping it wide. Curiously though, the second half saw them pummel ball and ball down on top of John O’Brien at full forward, in the hope of something happening from the break. The direct approach was not bearing as much fruit as heretofore in the championship - alternative channels perhaps should have been sought out.
Dublin actually retained marginally more possession than Tipperary - 51% as against 49%. Tipp used their experience though and were more economical with the ball. Dublin served up 18 points - the same total they yielded from their only other defeat of the season, against Kilkenny in the Leinster Final. Tipp got through the gap with much work to be done for the All-Ireland Final - suddenly, the bookies odds have changed considerably. It will be an interesting few weeks as Declan Ryan and Brian Cody go toe-to-toe in advance of the clash. Interesting indeed. As for the Dubs? They have won a lot of admirers over the course of the season; have stepped up to the standard with great intention; and have signalled that they will be around for a while yet. They didn’t moan about the missing players, but just got on with the job in hand. One suspects that while disappointment overwhelmed their immediate emotions, a certain degree of satisfaction will also be gleaned from the performance and the season in general.
Footnote: We have been reliably informed that Dublin corner forward Paul Ryan, who fired over 0-9 of his sides total against Tipperary on Sunday, is actually a nephew of John Ryan, Ballycahill - not his son as stated in last weeks issue. The Ballyboden St Enda’s star who brought his scoring total for the year to 2-47 is son of Joe Ryan.