Friday 20 September 2019

Vincent Hogan: Tipp warm to battle but their generals must be ready to go to war


Cork’s Seamus Harnedy in action against Tipperary’s Sean O’Brien in Thurles. Photo: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile
Cork’s Seamus Harnedy in action against Tipperary’s Sean O’Brien in Thurles. Photo: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile
Vincent Hogan

Vincent Hogan

Just as the clouds rolled in like leathered Hell's Angels on a family campsite, all that was left to do with Tipperary was log the time of death.

Vague murmurs of discord could be detected from the back of the Kinnane Stand, signalling it seemed a precipitous loss of faith in Michael Ryan and his team.

What happened next? Tipperary came back out and remembered themselves, that's all. It really was that plain and unscientific in Thurles. They didn't rein in Cork's nine-point half-time lead through tactic or any complex system adjustment.

The truth about hurling is that great comebacks seldom find their genesis in such places. They rise from intangibles like momentum and dander and young men finding the light within.

So Tipp came from a bad place to re-awaken their season, yet asked afterwards if he was still worried about them, Ryan had the candour to reply "Yes to be perfectly honest".

He will know more than anyone that Tipp need to get on a roll, as they did in 35 minutes yesterday, they reminded us how they can turn into a dangerous animal. Ten of the team that started the 2016 All-Ireland final started here too and while some opened with all the aggression of morris dancers waving hankies, by the end their hunger for contact was making the old ground shudder.

While Cork looked the better hurling team for most of what we saw, it was Tipp who warmed to the battle more.

But they have to start building quickly on that now in this summer of Championship change. Their big-game players - Seamus Callanan (on the mend from back surgery), Padraic Maher who struggled in the first half but is unlikely to have an experience like that again, and 'Bubbles' O'Dwyer who failed to sparkle after his half-time introduction - have to show more, and next week's opportunity against Waterford gives them that.

Callanan is sure to be sharper for having almost a full game under his belt. The big-day experience is there and if they can replicate the lust for battle that shone in that second half then Tipp can be more than a match for anyone this summer.

The clarity of Cork's hurling yesterday, the stickwork, the spatial cleverness, the coherent flow of a team absolutely on a single wavelength blew great, ugly holes in any notion that Tipp had resolved their difficulties.

Some of their troubles smacked of self-harm too, though. Tipp retreated needlessly on Anthony Nash's puckouts, allowing him pick short deliveries to his back-men when a more confident opponent would, surely, have challenged him to go long. The pressure on Tipp seemed to be diminishing them.

Endlessly, Sean O'Donoghue or Damien Cahalane were free to come out with the ball before drilling precise diagonal deliveries towards a Cork attack now spinning like a crimson ferris wheel.

And Tipp's full-back line imploded before our eyes as any full-back-line would, given the quality of missile being delivered down in front of them.

Within 20 minutes of the throw-in, Michael Cahill was on his third different opponent, all with points already on the board. It wasn't just him, it was everyone. Sean O'Brien and Seamus Kennedy were faring no better while, crucially, big Paudie Maher looked to be getting the runaround from Daniel Kearney.

Cork's attack would mine 1-13 from play in that opening half, Maher on a yellow from the 12th minute after trying (and failing) to shake some respect into the hare-like Kearney. Inside, Seamus Harnedy, Shane Kingston and Patrick Horgan were scoring, it seemed, for fun.

Tipp people can be tough on their own, sometimes melodramatic to failure. On so many levels, hurling is how they judge themselves, a sense of self rooted, to some degree, in the last century.

Tipp's team of the early '60s dominated in a way nobody in blue and gold did before or since. They won four All-Irelands out of five, their best men seen countrywide as square-shouldered gods.

But life changes.

Time was, a giant mural of some of those figures adorned the gable wall of a pub on the Two Mile Borris side of Thurles. That mural always seemed more than a flag of nostalgia. It stood as a statement of place, of identity. Today, that gable wall bears a giant ad for Sky.

So there was a wan, anxious feel to the cathedral town around ten to three yesterday as Ryan sent his men back out to save their summer, his only adjustment the replacing of 'Bonner' Maher's heft with O'Dwyer's wrists. It looked a shot to nothing.

And, for the record, 'Bubbles' wasn't the catalyst for change. If anything, he was the weakest of Tipp's forwards as the team began to surge, albeit only Nash's brilliant reflexes denied him what would surely have been a 68th-minute winning goal.

All that changed fundamentally about Tipp was their demeanour. They got the first five scores of the second half and, from there, Cork found themselves in an argument that had little to do with theory or training-ground drill.

With chants of "Tipp, Tipp, Tipp" now in their ears, Ryan's men simply became carnivores again.

As John McGrath, invisible in the first half, unstoppable in the second, reflected: "They were just that bit smarter than us in the first half and it took us a little while to cop on to what they were doing, to smarten things up a little bit.

"I don't think it was anything major. Mark Ellis was a real out-ball for them in the backs and we tightened up on that in the second half. Just added that extra bit of pressure and backed ourselves to go man to man.

"We trusted ourselves and I think that showed. We showed everything that is good about Tipp hurling in that second half.

"I suppose it's kind of old-style Munster Championship now after losing last week. They're all must-win games if we want to stay in the Championship. Our backs were to the wall even before the game and going in at half-time we knew we had a serious job ahead.


"But there's some serious men in the dressing-room and everyone stood up and was counted."

Still, big days are soon forgotten when crisis looms and, for a man with 10 years' service in the bank, the All-Ireland win of 2016 will have felt an eternity away for Ryan at half-time here.

But he knows the terms of engagement too. After all, he stood on the same line in 2014 when the same, familiar grumbles came splashing down around the ears of Eamon O'Shea, Galway easing away to what looked certain to be an emphatic qualifier victory.

Yet Tipp rallied to win that game from nowhere and only a Hawk-Eye call would ultimately deny them the Liam MacCarthy Cup three months later.

Irish Independent

The Left Wing: Ireland's fullback dilemma, World Cup bonding and the squad standby list

Also in Sport