Tuesday 20 August 2019

Brendan Cummins: 'Premier men far too hot to handle when duel in sun became a true hurling contest'

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Referee Sean Cleere warms-up with linesmen, Colm Lyons, left, and Johnny Murphy. Photo: Sportsfile
Referee Sean Cleere warms-up with linesmen, Colm Lyons, left, and Johnny Murphy. Photo: Sportsfile

Brendan Cummins

Yesterday's semi-final boiled down to a simple equation, one which both teams will have been aware of long before the ball was thrown in: Wexford needed it to be a game of running and Tipperary needed it to be a game of hurling.

When it was a running game Wexford were all over Tipp, but the lack of a cut-throat, clinical edge cost them: they butchered two goal chances in the first-half and they had countless overlaps, but they just never landed the killer blow.

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Granted, the sending off had a huge impact. After that Wexford abandoned the tactics that had got them to the lead. There was 25 minutes left plus six of injury time when it happened and from there Tipp won it 11 points to 1-2.

The biggest reason? Puck-outs.

Wexford had 16 puck-outs and went long with 14, losing 10 of them. It definitely led to their downfall. They did the same against Galway when they were against the wind; they had a spare man, but chose to go long all the time, putting it up the middle and never changing their position.

But the Mahers are Tipp's main ball winners and Wexford's approach put it in their hands. They were able to work the ball up the field, while Wexford's spare man was standing inside in the 14, out of the game, allowing Tipp's forwards to get on the ball. Tipp's hurling brain took over in the last 20 minutes and when it turned into a true game of hurling, they had too much.

It was definitely Tipp's best performance of the year. The big question over them all season was whether they could win a close game and now they have.

Such things can hinge on small moments, key things that often go unnoticed. I remember when we played Galway in 2010 and it looked all up for Tipp, but suddenly Pa Burke won possession, kept a cool head and gave it to Lar Corbett, who scored a point.

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In those situations everyone remembers the guy who got the score, but as a player you remember the guy who made the difference.

On the bus home the Tipp players will remember the lads who came in: Willie Connors, Ger Browne, Mark Kehoe, Alan Flynn and Jake Morris.

Four of them scored, and for Tipp to get over the line they were always going to need that contribution from the bench.

The most encouraging thing about their performance was that they played with that extra spirit when it was put up to them.

But the thing is, spirit only gets you so far. It puts you in a position to win, but hurling ability gets you that win and, in the end, Tipperary just had too much of that for Wexford when they were able to get the ball out of their defence.

As for Saturday's game, the contrast between Kilkenny and Limerick brought me back to the Tipperary dressing room under Nicky English.

In certain games he'd walk in, look around and ask: "Has anyone been stitched yet? Has anyone been cut?" He'd let the message sink in: "Show me desire."

Limerick wanted to win stylish, Kilkenny wanted to win ugly. That's the trait of Brian Cody. Conor Fogarty had to be carried off, Joey Holden was split open: the Cats were willing to get busted.

But there was more to it. Yes, Limerick wasted chances, scoring just nine from 19 shots in the second-half. But we said last week that the key to beating Limerick is your half-back line staying where they are. That's what Kilkenny's did.

The Limerick half-forward line ran into their own half and found themselves running in quicksand. There was 90 yards between their half-forward and full-forward line all day and they did nothing to fix it.

The Munster final gave Limerick bad habits. They thought they could be casual in possession and play at the same intensity. Limerick tried to run the ball out of their half-back line all day, but Kilkenny's half-forward line brings a different intensity to Tipperary's.

It was easy for them to find work because Limerick had eight bodies 60 yards from their own goals.

Any time a Limerick guy got the ball they didn't have to run 20 yards to hit him - he was in front of you.

It's like taking the blind-side in rugby: you get killed between a bunch of players and the sideline.

Kilkenny were cute at the back. Joey Holden played most of his time as sweeper because Graeme Mulcahy saw a problem with the Limerick half-forwards and went back to fix it.

Kilkenny's half-back line said 'off you go' and because of that when Limerick won the ball and looked up, it was two on five. Nowhere to go.

Limerick tried to play their way out of trouble, but in games like that you need to fight your way out. Hook, block, tackle... get the ball close to your body in possession.

John Kiely had his hands on his head more than I've ever seen. The body language was: oh my God, we're up against it here.

Paul Kinnerk tried to deliver a message to Kyle Hayes and Tom Morrissey but was confronted by Kilkenny players, the message clear: you're not whispering anything in this fella's ear, get off the pitch.

All around, Kilkenny were superb. Richie Hogan is like getting a new player in the transfer market.

Adrian Mullen is like Henry Shefflin when he was younger - a bit scrawny but when he hits you, you stay hit.

Walter Walsh has found his mojo, TJ Reid never lost it and Eoin Murphy in goals, Huw Lawlor at full-back - outstanding.

It's why they're back in the final, against all odds. Two teams who fully deserve to be there, ready to bust themselves open for the ultimate prize.

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