Saturday 18 November 2017

Billy Keane: Evans' roguish flattery fails to seduce Kerry

Billy Keane

Billy Keane

There was a surreal atmosphere in Semple before the game. The ceilidh music was lively, but it was pre-recorded and the only foot-tapping was from the impatient who couldn't wait for the championship to start.

Somehow there was a sense that Riverdance, the Kilfenora Band and the second coming of the Lord of The Dance wouldn't get the buzz going. One side of the stadium was shut off like a soccer ground where a game is being played behind closed doors. We wondered why this match wasn't played in Clonmel, the heartland of Tipperary football. Thurles is a huge pitch, made for Kerry who prefer prairies to walled gardens.

There were far more from Kerry than Tipperary at the game. It was built up as a day out rather than a proper hard-fought championship game. It's a sign of the times, but I never saw more picnics.

John Evans, the astute Tipp manager, who knows a thing or two about roguery, announced it was an honour to play Kerry and a privilege as well. If you closed your eyes you would nearly think it was Mick O'Dwyer who was doing the talking. We were half expecting the Tipp team to ask the Kerry lads to show them their medals.

In the end, it was a failed ambush in a county famous for ambushes, but for a while Tipp gave as good as they got. Philip Austin's superb goal ended the back-slapping.


Kerry had the wind in the second half. Tipp missed two goals and then Kerry hit the net to go six up.

Meanwhile, the ref was handing out frees for illegal hand-passes like a traffic warden on a freeway and Tipp goaled from what should have been a square ball. That was as good as it got for them.

Austin, their best player, went off with cramp. This has been a recurring problem for a superb young talent. Tipp just disintegrated from then on.

'Gooch' Cooper looked as sharp as he has been for some time and he picked off some classic points. Kieran Donaghy absailed down through the dust, passed to Bryan Sheehan, who scored the goal that finished off Tipperary.

Kerry won by 12 points which wasn't fair to Tipp, who were in the game for most of the 70 minutes. They must not be too disheart-ened. Tipp are a work in progress. When you get a hiding there's two ways you can take it -- lie down or see it as part of your matriculation. Yes it was men against boys, but boys grow into men.

Mike McCarthy is as good as two men. He dominated midfield even though he wasn't playing there. One 60-metre pass was hit with such perfection, it brought back memories of Maurice Fitzgerald's famous equalising point here against Dublin. A Tipp man should have been delegated to take him as far away from the action as possible, even to the foothills of Slievenamon. And keep him there, alone all alone.

Kerry might just have found a new Darragh O Se by accident.

Donnacha Walsh, coltish in previous seasons, is now a mature player. If he was paid by the mile it would break the County Board. He, too, had his best game for some time. Sheehan scored both goals and the captaincy brought out the best in him.

There was a special moment when Barry John Keane came on and scored two lovely points. He is a grandson of the great John Dowling who captained Kerry to beat Dublin in 1955. John would have been so proud.

So, the big question is will Kerry retain their crown?

All I can say is whoever beats them will win. Donaghy needs to stay clear of injury and Kerry need more pace in the backs. The Kingdom have the best forward line in the country and we might learn more on the cross-country circuit than on a straight run through as Munster champs.

News reached me that Evans and his neighbour in exile Micko didn't like the new hand-pass rules. Sure I told ye there a month ago it was farce.

The legislature must have been buttering the Mariettas and stewing the tea when the rule went through, and you'd wonder when was the last time any of the voters executed a hand-pass.

Will it destroy the game? Nah. All that will happen is the refs will ease up and the rule will be interpreted liberally. Teams will take more care with their hand-passing and will swing the striking hand as a mime artist might, with theatrical exaggeration.

Irish Independent

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