Tuesday 28 February 2017

Champions set standard for chasing pack

Cyril Farrell

In Semple Stadium yesterday, there was an ominous sign for those hoping to replace Tipperary at hurling's summit. Cork did very little wrong but Tipp, as champions do, found the answers when they needed to, taking their chances when they presented themselves.

When Cork got a sight on goal, they couldn't convert and that ultimately was the difference. And what's more, Tipp have a few players to come back in and will only get stronger from here.

Conor O'Mahony will probably come back into centre-back, meaning Padraic Maher will switch to the wing. Throw Brendan Maher back into midfield too and it makes an already impressive-looking team even more formidable.

Declan Ryan will have some hard decisions to make then, but he will have been greatly encouraged by the displays of the likes of Seamus Callanan, who got five points but was particularly impressive with his work rate, while Noel McGrath treated us to glimpses of real class.

Eoin Kelly and Lar Corbett did the damage in that blistering three-minute spell before the break, while Brendan Cummins pulled off a crucial save in the first minute to deny Cork a dream start.

Had that chance been converted, Cork's confidence would have soared and there would have been a much better chance of the Rebels repeating last year's heroics. But as was the case last year, Tipp's big players delivered when they needed to while men who came off the bench, like Benny Dunne, made a telling impact.

Cork head to the back door earlier than they would have liked, but they have plenty to be encouraged by. Their second-half comeback to level the game shows they are a team to be reckoned with and some of their younger players will learn a lot for that outing and they'll be a team to be avoided.

Tipperary face Division 2 opposition in Clare for a place in the Munster final and you'd expect them to jump that hurdle and stretch into a long summer season.

Another team to underline their championship credentials was Dublin. Anthony Daly must have feared the worst when 14-man Offaly got themselves back in touch in the final quarter, but it's a measure of Dublin's maturity that they found a way to win. It's only 12 months ago that they lost a game they were seemingly sure to win against Antrim in Croke Park.

The exposure Daly afforded some of his younger players in the spring paid dividends, too, and he has more strength-in-depth in his squad than many think. And if you put Joey Boland and Tomas Brady back into that side, their Leinster semi-final against Galway (assuming John McIntyre's side beat Westmeath) should be a cracker.

Offaly have plenty to work with too and if they can get some of their more experienced players back, they'll be another side who can take a scalp or two this summer, but they will have to ease the burden on Shane Dooley.

In the other game of the weekend, Wexford showed they are coming into form. They built on their late surge in the league that saw them avoid relegation to comprehensively dismiss Antrim.

The Ulster side might have been expected to go a little closer with some of their established players back after a win over Laois, but Wexford now welcome Kilkenny to their back yard. The summer is warming up nicely.

Irish Independent

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