By Noel Dundon
If ever a Tipperary team travelled into the seething caludron to contest a provincial decider, it will be the U-21 hurlers as they square up to Clare in next Wednesday’s final at Cusack Park Ennis at 7:15pm.
Memories are still vivid of two previous journeys to Ennis for U-21 games with the infamous row after the game ended back in 1999 and then the ‘umpire gate’ a few years ago when Tipp were awarded a late controvertial 65 metre free after the goalkeeper was adjudged to have stepped outside the square with practically the last puck of the game - Pa Bourke cooly slotted over the winning strike and set the scene for a famous Tipp win, but also a few uncomfortable few hours for his colleagues and supporters. Clare folk were livid over the outcome - it was hard to blame them - and they made their feelings known as the presentation of the cup was taking place.
Cusack Park was not a nice place to be on either occasion and neither spectacle did anything for the image of the game or the Association.
However, those days are long past now and the hope for the latest clash of these great rivals is that the hurling will dominate the post match chat rather than other events. Cusack Park is a very difficult place to emerge from as the Dublin senior hurlers found out to their peril in the qualifiers. And, Ken Hogan and his management team of Tony Lanigan and TJ Connolly will be steeling their charges to be ready mentally for the challenge, as well as physically. The noise will be deafening, the atmosphere electric and the exchanges brutally tough. But, so long as you are prepared for this and ready to face up to the onslaught, there should be no problem - mental strength is something these lads have shown previously.
Tipp have already negotiated two very challenging away fixtures in the championship as they travelled to Pairc Ui Chaoimh and crept away with a hugely welcome, but rather unexpected victory. That win showcased a Tipperary side full of character and guts - two qualities which will be required in abundance again in Ennis - coupled with no shortage of scoretaking and staunch defending. Their energy levels are very high also and Tipp have shown great mobility and a strong bench when it mattered most in the closing stages of big games.
In the semi-final against Limerick, Tipperary once again proved to be astute travellers and with the side having been tweaked by the management, they looked more solid and composed with a very definite structure underlining their play.
The two championship games will have worked wonders for Tipp’s confidence and as they head to Cusack Park they will be well aware that they are facing a daunting task. Clare, as holders of the crown, will be doing everything in their power to retain their title. And, the Bannermen have the added incentive of having the chance to prevent Tipperary from doing an unprecedented clean sweep of provisional titles in the code. With the minor, intermediate and senior silverware already in the trophy cabinet, adding the U-21 would be a huge endorsement of Tipperary’s credentials at the present time. Clare will be noting this and will have something to say about it.
The game will be refereed by John Sexton of Cork. Given the expected large attendance this match will be all ticket and seating will not be reserved. Juveniles will require a ticket and supporters are strongly advised to purchase their tickets in advance as there is no guarantee that there will be tickets for sale on the night due to the demand.
The limited stand and sideline seats will not be reserved as they are on a first come first served basis. All Tipperary supporters are being urged to book their tickets early to avoid being disappointed. Ticket prices as follows:- Adult E15 Student/OAP E10; Juvenile E2; Student/OAP - Concession on the night on full price tickets only – pay full price and get a refund of E5 at specified Stiles on the day (on production of valid I.D.)
The Tipperary lads will be hoping to have a strong cohort of support in Cusack Park to cheer them on and give them every encouragement. Clare will certainly have a big following and it’s important that the Premier County is supported well also.
Best of luck to the players, management and backroom team on their bid to make history for Tipperary.