Monday 20 November 2017

Martin Breheny: Premier aces play cards to perfection

All-Ireland SFC quarter-final: Tipperary 3-13 Galway 1-10

Michael Quinlivan of Tipperary looks on after Galway goalkeeper Bernard Power denies him a goal early in the second half. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Michael Quinlivan of Tipperary looks on after Galway goalkeeper Bernard Power denies him a goal early in the second half. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

In an extensive list of remarkable features from this game, the one that stands out most prominently of all is this: Tipperary won by nine points but were worth a whole lot more.

Indeed, if their finishing had been even marginally more clinical they would have taken the winning margin past the 15-point mark on a day that will be ringed forever in the Premier County's football history.

Tipperary manager Liam Kearns congratulates Conor Sweeney. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Tipperary manager Liam Kearns congratulates Conor Sweeney. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

They shot 12 wides, dropped quite a few shots short and should have had another goal early in the second half when Michael Quinlivan was put through on the Galway goal, only to fire straight at goalkeeper Bernard Power, who smothered his shot.

It was about the only mistake Quinlivan made in a game where the Tipperary attack demolished the Galway defence. He scored 1-4 (1-3 from open play), Conor Sweeney poached 2-2 and Kevin O'Halloran added 0-4, leaving Galway in a spin from which they could find no escape.

Their defence conceded an average of 0-13 against Mayo and Roscommon (twice) in the Connacht Championship, which created the impression that a long-time problem had been corrected.

Tipperary proved yesterday that it was no more than an illusion as they ripped Galway apart with the utmost ease. For all that, no Galway defender was replaced, with manager Kevin Walsh opting instead to withdraw attackers who, admittedly, were becoming increasingly forlorn.

Conor Sweeney and Michael Quinlivan celebrate. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Conor Sweeney and Michael Quinlivan celebrate. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile


Mind you, they weren't as bereft as the defence which, in addition to struggling in the individual battles, also lost shape as the pressure increased.

The potency of the Tipperary attack was well-known to Galway, who had seen them hit Cork for 3-15 and Derry for 1-21. There was also the memory of 2014 when Tipperary hit Galway for 4-12 in a qualifier tie.

However, Tipp conceded 4-17 that day and, two years later, big question marks were still being raised against the defence. It created an expectation that yesterday's game would be a high-scoring affair, with Galway most likely to have the advantage.

Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge

Tipperary certainly lived up to their billing as classy finishers but that was the only area where the script remained intact.

The Galway attack was also highly-rated after hitting Roscommon for 3-16 but they completely misfired yesterday, scoring only 1-6 from open play.

One of the great myths of modern-day football is that Croke Park's 'wide open spaces' suit Galway's style, a line that was peddled quite regularly in the run-up to this game. The reality is altogether different.

Galway hadn't won a single game in Croke Park since the 2001 All-Ireland final, a run that has now extended to 11 games.

This was the worst of the lot for while Tipperary deserve great credit for the structure and application that underlined their approach, the truth is that they didn't have to do anything particularly special to inflict a humiliating defeat on Galway.

Optimism thrived out west that the Connacht title success was the start of a new era for Galway, one where, at the very least, they would renew acquaintances with the All-Ireland semi-final later this month and give themselves real hope for the future.

Instead, they have been clobbered by a grim reality, from which there will be no easy escape. Their Connacht title has been tarnished, not just by this crushing defeat but by the manner they accepted it.

Trailing by 1-8 to 1-5 at half-time, Shane Walsh's pointed free immediately on the re-start suggested that Galway meant business and would work their way through whatever difficulties presented themselves. And when Quinlivan's shot for goal was blocked by Power, it should have added another layer to Galway's resolve.

Instead, Tipperary hit them for two goals, the first coming from Sweeney, who finished to the net with a delightful ground shot after an incisive move in the 41st minute.

Six minutes later, Galway were opened up again as Sweeney rose high under a Jimmy Feehan long-range shot and flicked the ball to the net.

It left Tipperary leading by 3-11 to 1-7, a sizeable margin by any standards but not one which should have elicited the response it did.

Galway heads dropped, their error rate increased and they began to look very much like a team that couldn't wait to get out of Croke Park. Frankly, they surrendered with barely a whiff of resistance,

At the very least, they would have been expected to make some inroads into the deficit but they managed only three points in the half-hour, the final one coming deep in stoppage time.

Tipperary added two points in the final quarter, a period in which they also missed several good chances.

The fact that they maintained attacking pressure, rather than powering up their defensive mechanisms to protect their substantial lead, showed their mindset was programmed on maximum positivity.

Besides, they also recognised that they had far more energy than Galway and an ascendancy in most of the man-on-man exchanges.

Galway's attempts to work the ball into the scoring zone - where only Cummins and Comer carried any threat - were slow, laboured and predictable, allowing Tipperary to set their defensive traps.

Galway needed a quicker, more creative approach but it simply wasn't there. That was in marked contrast to Tipperary's game plan, which involved individuals taking on their men with direct running.


It took a while for that to work, leaving Galway quite comfortable early on when they kicked their way into a 0-4 to 0-1 lead after 15 minutes. Indeed, it could easily have been 1-3 to 0-1 as Cummins opted to kick his second point, rather than trying for a goal from close in.

It looked to be going to plan for Galway but all changed in the 16th minute when Quinlivan pounced for a goal after Peter Acheson's shot had been blocked. It was the start of a hugely productive period for Tipperary, who added six unanswered points to lead by 1-7 to 0-4.

Galway finished the half strongly, with Paul Conroy pointing before Comer's low centre of gravity took him through the Tipp cover, opening up the opportunity for a goal which cut the margin to three points (1-8 to 1-5) at the interval.

That late burst undid much of the damage, leaving Galway with an opportunity to calmly re-assess their situation at half-time. Nothing came of it as Tipperary quickly re-established superiority and increased their grip as the second half progressed.

They played some wonderfully inventive football in that period, all underpinned by doing the basics well against opposition whose distress levels rose as the extent of their plight became ever more obvious.

By the end, they cut a miserable sight, beaten into oblivion.

Scorers - Tipperary: C Sweeney 2-2, M Quinlivan 1-4 (0-1f), K O'Halloran 0-4 (1f, 1'45), B Fox, P Acheson, R Kiely 0-1 each.

Galway: S Walsh 0-4 (4f), D Cummins 0-3, D Comer 1-0, E Brannigan, P Varley, P Conroy 0-1 each)

Tipperary - E Comerford; C O'Shaughnessy, A Campbell, C McDonald; B Maher, R Kiely, J Feehan; P Acheson, G Hannigan; J Keane, K O'Halloran, B Fox; P Austin, M Quinlivan, C Sweeney. Subs: A Varley for Sice (48), P Varley for Heaney (50), E Tierney for Brannigan (62), P Sweeney for A Varley (60 b/c), P Cooke for Walsh (63), E Hoare for Conroy (68 b/c)

Galway - B Power; E Kerin, D Kyne, D Wynne; L Sike, G O'Donnell, G Bradshaw; P Conroy, T Flynn; G Sice, S Walsh, J Heaney; E Brannigan, D Comer, D Cummins. Subs: A Moloney for Keane (65),S Leahy for Maher (68), M Dunne for Hannigan (71), M Hanley for Quinlivan (75)

Ref - C Lane (Cork)

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