Tipperary’s 19th All-Ireland minor hurling title was captured in Croke Park on Sunday afternoon last following a fantastic display of style and panache as they put Dublin to the sword in what was a comfortable replay win.
This was as good a victory in the grade as Tipperary have had and the fabulous work ethic, coupled with no shortage of wonderful ball skill ensured that The Premier lads made no mistake this time round and finished off the job started three weeks previously.
After a remarkable 185 training sessions this season, Tipperary finally got to lift the Irish Press Cup and bridge a five year gap. And, while there were many who doubted if William Maher’s men could shake off a very potent Dublin side which was built on a very solid platform, it was to be Tipp’s day with five members of the squad adding to their All-Ireland minor football medals won last year.
Yes, it was a very special day for Tipperary and for those six men – captain Bill Maher, John McGrath, Stephen O’Brien, Tom Kirwin, Colin O’Riordan and Dylan Fitzell – it will go down in history. By denying Dublin’s four dual stars the title to go along with their minor football crown won a week previously, the Tipp lads ensured their own place in the record books instead.
Though the sod in Croke Park was in fabulous condition for the game, the fact that the morning had been damp meant that underfoot conditions were tricky for the players from the off. And, despite a significant warm up and acclimitisation to the situation, it still took time for the surface to be mastered. Would the slippery ball affect Tipp’s ball-to-hand, crisp hurling style of play? Time would tell, but it was rather unusual to see the floodlights on full power shortly after lunchtime.
Tipp had made a number of interesting positional switches from the drawn game with Stephen Cahill moving to midfield, Jack Shelly to full forward, John McGrath to wing forward and Dylan Fitzell coming in at centre forward in place of Stephen O’Brien. It was a lot of moving for one switch, but with the manner in which the attackers and midfield have been inter-switching all season, the transitions were almost seamless.
Unlike the drawn game, Tipperary started very well in this match and worked themselves into a comfortable position by the end of the first quarter. In fact, Dublin looked a little sluggish from the off and eventhough they had the opening score from a Paul Winters free in the 1st minute, Tipp had the better of the early exchanges. Two pointed frees from the stick of John McGrath after Stephen Cahill and Jack Shelly had been fouled, helped them to settle well, and though Eoghan O’Donnell levelled well from long range, McGrath was on hand to give Tipp the lead again in the 7th with another from a placed ball.
The first goal was always going to be decisive and it came from the stick of Mark McCarthy in the 8th minute after he advanced on goal, dropped the ball to the ground and lashed an unstoppable shot past the Dublin keeper, Cian MacGabhann. It was a real fillip to the Premier men and McGrath followed up with another free to give Tipp a five point lead after 11.
Dublin hit back with a fine brace of scores from James Roche, who was not programmed to start, but who made his presence known. Roche’s good work in trying to help Dublin back into it, was in vain though as Tadhg Gallagher blasted a great second goal for Tipp in the 14th after he shot into the ground following an incisive attack.
So, two goals in six minutes – the story was only going to get better for Tipp before the break as they added points from Sean Maher, Stephen Cahill, John McGrath (3) and Mark McCarthy, against just one for Dublin from Paul Winters.
Tipp’s link-up play was far superior to that witnessed in the drawn game and they seemed to be using the expanses of Croke Park far more effectively as well. By keeping the ball wide, the effectively nullified the greater physicality Dublin possessed. And, perhaps more crucially than anything else, Tipp’s ball skills and control were better, thereby allowing them to cope with the slippy conditions.
The attacking division – starved of quality possession for much of the drawn game – were finding themselves in great positions and they used the ball very well. In fact, they could perhaps have been accused of over-elaborating at times, but this goes to prove the amount of possession they actually had.
Dublin were expected to come strong in the second half, but with Tipp holding a 2-10 to 0-5 lead, the challenge for Shay Boland’s men was going to be Everest-like. Tipp’s job was half completed – a solid third quarter would help seal the deal.
Dublin were focred to come in search of goals, but they found a very stubborn Tipp rearguard in no mood to oblige. They tried to work the ball through to the danger time and again, but found their efforts repelled by the likes of the immaculate Ronan Maher, Thomas Hamill and Michael Breen.
John McGrath and Cormac Costello traded points early on and when Paul Winters elected to go for goal from a 21 yard free and saw the effort beaten away, it was a big lift to Tipp again, and a deflater for Dublin.
Tipp were to get the next four scores out of five – Tadhg Gallagher (2), Sean Maher and Bill Maher against one from Paul Winters. That took the game into the last quarter and with a 13 point advantage, there was no way Tipp were going to lose.
The story of the half though should record the wonderful work done by the players throughout the field. The half forwards defended like backs with Dylan Fitzell and Sean Maher in particular complimenting the work of Bill Maher and Stephen Cahill at midfield. Their efforts ensured that Dublin could not get a grip on the game and while Tipp were playing great hurling, this side also showed that they could ruck it with the best of them too.
Dublin did manage to break through the rearguard in the 22nd minute when Oisin Rorke flashed a fine goal past Paul Maher, but it served only as a consolation score. Tipp were able to see out the win John McGrath (2) and Mark McCarthy trading with Paul Winters (2) and Oisin O’Rorke.
Dublin failed to perform in the replay; Tipp failed to perform to their expected level in the drawn game. The difference was that Tipp were still able to muster enough in the drawn game to survive. Dublin were unable to do the same in the replay.
Shay Boland’s men were simply unable to get to the pitch required for an All-Ireland and it was heartbreak for them to have fallen in such circumstances. However, nobody could fault the Dublin effort – they battled and attacked right to the very death with the likes of Oisin Rorke, Paul Winters, Eoghan O’Donnell and Cormac Costello doing all in their power to spark a recovery. Their efforts were in vain though as Tipp were dominant in too many sectors for a capitulation to occur.
Tipperary’s celebrations at the final whistle showed just how much this victory meant to them and their mentors. They had given their season over to achieving success at the highest level. And, they had achieved it.
It was a fantastic victory for a side which impressed all the way through the season. Not only had they brought a very high skill level to their campaign, they had also showed a real willingness to rough it when they needed to. Hurling is as much about winning the hard ball as it is what you do when you have the ball. Tipp showed that there wonderful exponents of both.
The leaders in the Tipp side – the Thomas Hamill, Michael Breen’s, Bill Maher’s and John McGrath’s, gave Tipp the kind of lift they needed, when it was required. They have been emmense all season long and with the sharpshooting of Mark McCarthy, Tadhg Gallagher, Sean Maher and Stephen Cahill thrown in for good measure, Tipp certainly had their big men. Dylan Fitzell had a great All-Ireland too while Ronan Maher and Jack Peters were outstanding in defence, as was Barry Heffernan.
Jack Shelly worked so hard for the cause, while Paul Maher was solid in goal.
Congratulations to William Maher, Brian Horgan, Martin Maher, Noel Morris and their backroom team on achieving such a wonderful victory for Tipp.
The hope now is that these lads can go on and wear the blue and gold at U-21 and senior level with similar distinction.
Teams and Scorers:
Tipperary: P Maher, R Maher, M Breen, J Peters, T Fox, T Hamill, B Heffernan, B Maher (capt) 0-1, S Cahill 0-1, J McGrath 0-10, D Fitzell, S Maher 0-2, T Gallagher, 1-2 J Shelly, M McCarthy 1-2. Subs: S O’Brien for S Maher; S Ryan for S Cahill; C Lanigan for T Gallagher; J Loughnane for M McCarthy.
Dublin: C MacGabhann, E Lowndes, C O’Callaghan, S Barrett, E O’Donnell 0-1, R Murphy, S McClelland, C Costello 0-1, C Cronin, D Gormley, C Boland, C McHugh, J Roche 0-2, O O’Rorke 1-1, P Winters 0-6. Subs: K O’Flynn for R Murphy; C Conway for C McHugh; S Treacy for J Roche; R Tierney for C O’Callaghan.
Referee: A Kelly (Galway)