By Noel Dundon
AS expected, for the third year in succession, Tipperary will meet neighbours Kilkenny in the All-Ireland senior hurling final. But, perhaps not as expected in the eyes of the vast majority, the Premier County lads had a battle royale with Dublin in Croke Park on Sunday in the penulitmate game which was as tough, uncompromising and dour a game as has been witnessed in the 2011 championship so far.
Declan Ryan’s men did not win by the country mile everyone expected . Instead they inched over the line in pole position having weathered the mother of a storm from a Dublin side missing five of their regulars through injury. What the game would have been like had Anthony Daly being picking from a full deck, who knows, but one thing is for sure – Dublin re-announced their arrival on the big stage with a big performance which could have yielded so much more for them.
Tipp’s outing in the Capital was not the stroll in the park predicted. But, at the same time, despite Dublins heroics, there was no real moment in the match when one thought that a major shock was on the cards. Yes, the Dubs led by three points after 20 minutes, but the sides were level at 1-8 to 0-11 at the break. And, it was Tipp who did the leading in the second half, with Dublin managing to achieve parity on just two occasions.
It was a game dominated by defensive endeavour and it was quite obvious from the off from the way both teams were set up, that a close, tight, tough encounter was on the cards. Space was at a premium and with Dublin employing an extra man in the half back line in a bid to choke Tipp’s normally fluid attack, it was a rather curious game – scrappy and without convention. Indeed, at times it resembled more a game of backs and forwards with Michael Cahill in particular clearing a huge amount of ball for Tipp – he was the free man for much of the game and swept up brilliantly across the lines.
Dublin set out to prevent Tipperary from banging in goals. But, they must surely have cried bitter tears after just two minutes when Lar Corbett got inside to flick past Garry Maguire for Tipp’s solitary green flag after full back Peter Kelly had slipped up. Neutrals probably wanted that goal for Dublin, but curiously enough, the score could have had a negative impact on Tipp with a number of players opting to occupy a comfort zone for a time afterwards – perhaps the feeling that an easy day at the office was on, began to sink in. It was to be anything but.
Dublin, showing all their mental strength and resilience, got over the setback and hit Tipp with all they had. They hunted in packs and swallowed up play in the Tipp attack, but were forced to concede possession in their own attack as a result of being a man short. Still though, they were able to pick off points from Alan McCrabbe, Liam Rushe and Paul Ryan to level matters after seven minutes.
With an extra man in defence, Tipp keeper Brendan Cummins – who became the most capped championship player ever in the history of the game – was able to opt for the short puckout and pick out Tipp players just outside the 21. It was curious action but the Tipp scores rolled at the other end nonetheless with Lar Corbett, and Eoin Kelly (2) cancelling efforts from Joey Boland - a huge effort from centre back -Liam Ryan and Paul Ryan.
Dublin were mixing it and showing huge commitment in the tackle – Tipp, by contrast, were not tearing into it as one would have expected. Indeed, with Dublin scores from Paul Ryan (2) and Dotsy O’Callaghan shoving them three clear, Tipp Coach Tommy Dunne made his feelings known to the players – particularly those in attack. Clearly it was felt that the workrate level had to be upped.
Seamus Callanan flashed over an angled point after a crossfield ball from Padraic Maher – it was quite noticable that no Dublin puckout or delivery was being directed on top of the Sarsfields man. Still though, Maher was hurling with real authority and purpose and when he drove out from defence in the 22nd minute with a number of Dublin players on his back, having dispossessed Liam Ryan, it gave his colleagues a huge lift.
Despite the closing down on space in the Tipp attack, Lar Corbett was still getting onto ball. He fired over two more before the break and was easily Tipp’s most effective attacker. Indeed, had it not been for the 2010 Hurler of the Year, Tipp could have been in some difficulty.
Tipp’s midfield due of Shane McGrath and Gearoid Ryan pointed before the interval to match Paul Ryan efforts – the Ballyboden St Enda’s corner forward had shot six in the half – and with the sides level at the break, there was much to mull over.
Tipp had played with the breeze but had not gotten into the stride associated with the side. Dublin had worked so hard, but were still only on terms with the games opening score being a real killer for them. However, they were also aware that the story could have been a different one had it not been for the excellence of Maguire in goals who deflected away a Seamus Callanan goal chance in the 33rd minute after Patrick Maher and Lar Corbett had crossed passed before setting up the Drom-Inch man. Dublin were off the hook.
The Capital’s managerial cabinet spent some time discussing their options on the sideline at the break, before departing under the tunnel. Presumably, they would be impressing upon their charges the fact that the All-Ireland champions were there for the taking. There was a smell of sulphur in the air – all it needed was someone to light the match.
Tipp though used the break to reassess their approach. Brendan Maher was sent into the fray in place of Callanan and added some urgency and drive to the team, although not at his best as of yet. Gearoid Ryan was redeployed to wing forward to some considerable affect with Maher resuming his 2010 parternship with Shane McGrath at midfield.
Tipp hit three within seven minutes to move clear. Noel McGrath, who had barely seen the sliothar in the first half, banged over the first after getting on to a breaking ball off John O’Brien. Then, Eoin Kelly had two 65’s to leave the goal between them – the second 65 arising after Maguire had denied Lar Corbett a second goal in the 7th minute. A goal for Tipp at that stage and it could have been curtains for the Dubs – instead they were still in the hunt.
The Tipp focus seemed to be on driving ball down on top of John O’Brien at full forward – the Toome’ man was having a right ding-dong with Peter Kelly though and no major advantage was acruing for the Premier County. Perhaps sweeping ball wide across the expanses would have been the better option, especially with Dublin crowding the middle so effectively.
Maurice O’Brien’s snapshot in the 8th could have been a goal as easily as a point, and Dublin followed up with two from Paul Ryan to level again.
A super Noel McGrath point after plucking the ball from the skies drove Tipp into the lead, but once more Paul Ryan levelled.
Padraic Maher’s 14th minute point, after coming upfield form his half back berth, was a real rallying score and with Kelly adding another 65 – he was unerring from placed balls – the gap was opening again. Ryan O’Dwyer found that the shackles had been put on him by a succession of Tipperary markers, but the Cashel man did break free for a Dublin point in the 22nd. Gearoid Ryan replied immediately and Tipp were back to a goal in front again when Kelly pointed a free in the 30th.
Dublin Manager Anthony Daly reverted to 15 on 15 at this juncture in a bid to get the goal he knew his side needed. Shane Ryan was sent into the fray and he pointed with his first touch to leave two between them once more.
Noel McGrath crafted a side line cut from 50 yards between the sticks at the Canel End and when Padraic Maher got his second point of the outing to put four in it, Tipp were on their way back to the final.
Dublin just could not get the goal they needed and eventhough Cummins has to clear his lines on two occasions in the losing moments, his net was never really threatened.
Dublin full back Peter Kelly hit a great point with a minute remaining, but Tipp sub Pa Bourke added the finishing touch to the game in the 37th after Noel McGrath had been fouled – the Loughmore Castleiney star finished the game very strongly after an indifferent first half.
Victory then for Tipp, but not with the high level of flamboyance we have grown accustomed to with this team. It was dour, tough and even ugly at times. But, it was a win and it demonstrated the ability of the side to get back to basics and grind out results in the most testing of circumstances. This was Tipp’s biggest test of the year so far, and they passed it. They won’t get honours for the performance but will take heart from having stood up to the huge level of physicality posed by the Dubs. Indeed, while much will be made of Tipperary’s lacklustre showing and while the lazy option might be to point the finger at Tipp, deeper examination of the game, reveals that Dublin simply did not let Tipp do what they normally do. Dublin set up their team to limit Tipp’s opportunities and stem their flow – they achieved that and were not too far off causing the shock of the championship.
All credit must go to Dublin for their effort. They were as written off for this one as Tipp were for the 2010 All-Ireland Final, and while they didn’t achieve the same result as their blue and gold jersied associates, they certainly gave the scribes and pundits plenty to think about. They hurled in a manly fashion with honour and pride and just came up short in the final analysis. How their options would have been boosted by those five injured players.
Joey Boland had a massive game for Dublin while Peter Kelly, Paul Ryan, Alan McCrabbe, Liam Rushe and Shane Durkin were also very prominent. Gary Maguire’s heroics in goals kept Dublin in the game while Maurice O’Brien worked well for them when introduced.
Tipp’s backs worked well as a unit with Conor O’Mahoney and Padraic Maher in particular, outstanding. Michael Cahill got through a huge amount of work while Paul Curran, Paddy Stapleton and John O’Keeffe ensured Brendan Cummins had a goal free 66th cap.
Gearoid Ryan and Shane McGrath both had their moments, but at different stages of the game while Brendan Maher will be glad to have gotten a half under his belt before the final. Lar Corbett kept Tipp in the game in the first half, but found opportunities few in the second – Noel McGrath took over the duties in the second, having come t o life after a quiet first. This was Tipp’s poorest return of the season from the attack to the tune of nine points. Six of the twenty scores came from placed balls, while five more came from outside the forward division – there is plenty to work on before the final on September 4th.
Tipperary: B Cummins, P Stapelton, P Curran, M Cahill, J O’Keeffe, C O’Mahony, Padraic Maher 0-2, G Ryan 0-2, S McGrath 0-1, N McGrath 0-3, S Callanan 0-1, Patrick Maher, E Kelly 0-6, J O’Brien, L Corbett 1-3. Subs: B Maher for S Callanan; P Bourke 0-1 for Patrick Maher; B O’Meara for G Ryan; S Burke for E Kelly; J O’ Neill for J O’Brien.
Dublin: G Maguire, N Corcoran, P Kelly 0-1, P Schutte, M Carton, J Boland 0-1, S Durkin, J McCaffrey, A McCrabbe 0-1, C McCormack, R O’Dwyer 0-1, L Rushe 0-1, D O’Callaghan 0-1, L Ryan 0-1, P Ryan 0-9. Subs: M O’Brien 0-1 for McCormack; D Plunkett for A McCrabbe; S Lambert for P Schutte; S Ryan 0-1 for L Ryan; P Carton for S Durkin.
Referee: C McAllister (Cork).