THE outcome was predictable but not the manner in which the winners achieved it.
Installed at ridiculous odds of 1/16 to reach the All- Ireland final for a third successive year, Tipperary became the latest to discover that Dublin are now a really substantial force in hurling, one which will exert a major influence on the destination of all the big prizes over the coming years.
Indeed, as the Dublin squad filed out of Croke Park after securing third place on the 2011 ratings (they deserve to be ahead of Waterford for winning the Allianz League and doing much better against Tipperary), they must have wondered how yesterday's game would have gone if they were able to call on injured quartet, Conal Keaney, Stephen Hiney, Tomas Brady and David Treacy.
No county can afford to lose two excellent defenders, a strong-running, ball-winning forward and an opportunist finisher without shedding power. Dublin improvised well but still came up a little short.
In fairness, they coursed their vaunted opponents all the way to the finish line in a tense, absorbing contest where the essential difference rested in Tipperary's capacity to create, and take, scores under pressure on the home run. Their experience proved crucial in the final quarter at a time when the immense physical effort which Dublin had invested all day began to take its toll.
Tipperary out-scored Dublin by 0-7 to 0-3 in the final 22 minutes, to finish the half with a 0-11 return which was exactly the same total (1-8) as the first half. Dublin scored 0-11 in the first half and seemed to be set for a broadly similar return in the second half when they landed four points in the opening 13 minutes. However, the strike lines dried up considerably from there on.
Their passing, which had been crisp and accurate in the first half, became increasingly erratic, making life a whole lot more difficult for their attack against a Tipperary defence where Michael Cahill was very effective as the loose man.
Conscious of Tipperary's high goal rate (24 in their previous six championship games), Dublin set themselves up with extra defensive reinforcements as midfielder, Johnny McCaffrey dropped into defence with half-forward Liam Rushe moving out towards midfield. Dublin's half-forwards were also funnelling back as part of the grand design to close off the channels that Tipperary exploited so effectively in the Munster Championship.
It looked like a futile exercise as early as the third minute when Lar Corbett read the angles to perfection to capitalise on a defensive mix-up before whipping the ball to the Dublin net. The spectre of another Tipperary landslide beckoned but, unlike Waterford, who disintegrated in the Munster final, Dublin ignored the setback and drove on.
The reward for their hard work and resilience was a highly productive period in which they out-scored Tipperary by 0-9 to 0-3 over the next 17 minutes. Dublin produced possibly their best hurling of the year in that phase, winning many of the one-on-one battles, working the ball cleverly into scoring positions and picking off a string of excellent points to lead by 0-9 to 1-3.
Corbett was Tipperary's only real attacking threat during the
first half as the hard-working Dublin defence went into top security mode. And on occasions when their locks were picked, goalkeeper, Gary Maguire intervened. He made a great save from Seamus Callanan just before half-time, but Tipperary still finished strongly to draw level (1-8 to 0-11).
When Tipperary shot three unanswered points in the opening seven minutes of the second half, they again appeared poised to press on for a comfortable win. But, just as they had done in the first half, Dublin launched a counter-offensive and scored three points in three minutes to draw level.
Indeed, their haul might have been higher had sub Maurice O'Brien managed to keep his drive lower in the 43rd minute. Briefly, the goal chance was on but his shot flew high over the bar, much to the relief of Brendan Cummins on a day when he created a hurling championship appearance record.
Tipperary led by a point after 58 minutes and it was from there on that they really imposed themselves on the game, scoring five more points while conceding only two.
A number of factors created the conditions for Tipperary's growing superiority. Padraic Maher, who had also been very good in the first half, Conor O'Mahony, Paul Curran and Michael Cahill tightened the defensive bolts; Shane McGrath asserted himself around midfield while Noel McGrath and Eoin Kelly raised their game in attack.
Anthony Daly talked afterwards about Tipperary's greater economy and it certainly applied in the final quarter. Peter Kelly, who made some wonderful catches and upfield bursts, one of which he finished with a spectacular point, led Dublin's defensive operation, but it wasn't quite as well co-ordinated as in the first half.
That allowed Tipperary to wait patiently
for the openings and, when they arrived, they had the accuracy to exploit them. Kelly pointed three second-half '65s'; Noel McGrath angled over a delightful sideline cut; Padraic Maher galloped forward to score an inspiring point and sub Pa Bourke finished it all off with the last point of the game from a free in the 72nd minute.
Dublin pressed forward in desperate pursuit of a goal in the closing seconds and came close enough, too, but Tipperary held out and, in the process, reached the All-Ireland final after conceding only one goal in four games.
They were expected to win yesterday's game much more easily, but that was under-estimating the degree to which Dublin have improved this year. Indeed, in hindsight, this was precisely the right game for Tipperary. They needed a tough test after the untroubled march through Munster and Dublin certainly provided it.
Also, the fact that they never really shook off a Dublin team that were well beaten by Kilkenny will dampen down expectations somewhat for the final. Tipperary are still favourites for the big showdown on September 4, but yesterday's game provided a welcome level of reality for Declan Ryan to work off in the run-up to the final.
As for Dublin, they have signed off on their best season in decades with the realistic expectation that there's more to come next year and beyond.
Scorers -- Tipperary: E Kelly 0-6 (2f, 3 '65s'), L Corbett 1-3, N McGrath 0-3 (1 s/l), Padraic Maher, R Ryan 0-2 each, S Callanan, P Bourke (f), S McGrath 0-1 each. Dublin: P Ryan 0-9 (6f, 1 '65'), A McCrabbe, L Rushe, J Boland, L Ryan, D Callaghan, M O'Brien, R O'Dwyer, S Ryan, P Kelly 0-1 each.
Tipperary -- B Cummins 7; P Stapleton 6, P Curran 8, M Cahill 7; J O'Keeffe 7, C O'Mahony 8, Padraic Maher 9; G Ryan 6, S McGrath 7; S Callanan 6, N McGrath 7, Patrick Maher 6; E Kelly 7, J O'Brien 6, L Corbett 8. Subs: B Maher 6 for Callanan (h-t), P Bourke 7 for Patrick Maher (56), B O'Meara for Ryan (65), S Bourke for Kelly (69), J O'Neill for O'Brien (72).
Dublin -- G Maguire 8; P Kelly 8, N Corcoran 7, P Schutte 6; M Carton 7, J Boland 8, S Durkin 7; J McCaffrey 7, L Rushe 7; C McCormack 6, R O'Dwyer 6, A McCrabbe 6; D O'Callaghan 7, L Ryan 7, P Ryan 8. Subs: M O'Brien 7 for McCormack (h-t), D Plunkett 6 for McCrabbe (53), S Lambert 6 for Schutte (63). S Ryan for L Ryan (65), P Carton for Durkin (72).
Ref -- C McAllister (Cork).