We had a reunion of the Tipperary squads from the 1989 and 1991 All-Ireland winning teams in the Horse and Jockey on Saturday evening last hosted by Tom Egan. And, we spent a magnificent night recalling those great years for us.
Curiously though, despite the successes we had, we spent most of the time chatting about the ones which got away - the ‘87 All-Ireland semi-final; the ‘88 All-Ireland; and the 1990 Munster Final included.
Those were the days of straight knock out and as we recalled those defeats, and others as well, little did we think that Tipperary would be facing another one a day later.
The big difference between our teams and today, is that Tipperary are not out - they are still alive. Granted there is a lot of work to do, a lot of soul searching and a lot of character building to be undertaken. But, we are still there, and while we are there, there is hope.
Sunday was a huge disappoinment - a massive hiccup for the management and the players. The whole build-up seemed to be going well and while the delay in the start of the game, due to the draw in the intermediate match, might have unsettled things a little, it was the same for both teams. That should not be used as an excuse and in fairness I don’t think it is.
But, certainly our play was edgy and nervy in the opening half. Limerick were very focused, as you would expect, but our giving away of frees kept them in the game. They scored 1-6 out of 1-8 from frees in the first half - unforced errors, silly fouls and personal fouls. They were very costly and while Padraic Maher mistimed his catch which led to the free for the Shane Dowling goal, you could harldy blame him - he was a colossal for Tipp on the day, especially in the second half.
Dowling struck that goal brilliantly having carried the ball forward once more, and it was a real fillip to Limerick at that stage of the game.
Patrick Maher’s perseverence and hard work led to that goal being cancelled and though we had our tails up after it, we never really took the game by the scruff of the neck. We were on terms at half time but having not played with the kind of fluency we would have liked, we felt we were in a good position with the second half to come.
It was a super start to the second half with Gearoid Ryan scoring a fine goal, but again we didn’t push on. Ryan was the one hard working forward for Tipp alongside Bonnar and I felt we certainly missed James Woodlock’s workrate and energy at midfield. Kieran Bergin found it hard to settle into the game and while Shane McGrath finished very well, Limerick had great performances from Paul Browne and Man of the Match James Ryan at midfield - a very deserving award.
We had the game in our hands on a few occasions and didn’t make the most of it. Our backline fought very hard and I always felt that we would be able to handle the Limerick forwards. Cahill and Barrett were very tight, but I felt we needed to see more clearances from Barry and O’Mahony on the wings.
The amount of ball we dropped into the Limerick keepers hand was unbelievable. It allowed Nickie Quaid to dictate the game because he had all the time in the world to look up and spray the ball wherever he wanted. We were guilty of taking the wrong options and the support network for forwards in possession was not there. We lacked a bit of cleverness and when you play only two in the full forward line you are inviting the keeper to do what he wants. Perhaps had we reverted to an orthodox full forward line it might have been a different outcome - our forward players have shown their potential in the past, but it was only sporadic on Sunday.
Of course the Limerick goal came so late that it was difficult for us to react. Three players went for the same ball and when Dowling eventually got it, he was the one man Tipperary did not want to see with it. It was a great finish but it probably highlighted exactly how big a loss Michael Cahill was when he went off with that hamstring injury. He is one man who sees out the game and it’s amazing how a match can change in five minutes, as it did when Cahill departed.
We had a few chances to equalise but again the wrong options were chosen. We needed a bit of composure but it wasn’t there even with Lar Corbett back on the field. He did not look up to championship pace and was not the vibrant Lar that we know so well. But, he is now back in the frame and in the groove and he can be one of the real leaders in the team as the recovery process begins.
It’s all about recovery now and knowing the three men in the management team, it’s all they will be thinking about. The experience of last year and of 2010 will probably stand to Tipp, but we need to sort out some issues and make adjustments. I feel we need a few swashbuckling players, perhaps in the mould of Buggy O’Meara who has been showing great form in the club championship and who has the experience of having been there before, John McGrath, John Meagher or Colin O’Riordan have been unavailable to the panel and could well make a big difference were they to make a return soon. Players who can offer an alternative approach - ball winners able to win difficult possession, would seem to be required. The goal now will be to get the spirit going in the team again and take whatever steps are necessary to ensure that there is more than one more outing for Tipperary in 2014. Last year was a huge disappointment going out so early - we don’t want the same again.
This team is still good enough and has plenty to play for. In our day, we would have been out, but not now. The character of the team will be tested - Captain Brendan Maher spoke a lot about character after the game had ended. We didn’t get to the same level of intensity as we did in the League Final - we were really up for that with so much pride at stake. We need to get that intensity back in our game again.
All is not lost yet, but there are serious challenges ahead in terms of character and in terms of who we meet next. And where.
Huge congratulations to the Tipperary senior footballers on a fantastic victory in the Gaelic Grounds on Saturday evening - their first Munster championship win since 2003. I have observed how they have gone about their training and preparations with real purpose and great credit is due to them. Going down to Limerick is never easy, no matter what code, but they played very well and came away with a very solid victory. It will give them a lot of confidence now as they face Cork in Pairc Ui Chaoimh in a few weeks time - a very different challenge and prospect entirely.
Late Kitty Nealon
I was very saddened to hear of the passing of Kitty Nealon on Sunday, wife of our former selector Donie and a lady who was part and parcel of the GAA scene in the county and province. The Nealon family has contributed so much to the GAA and I extend my sympathy to Donie and to the family.