Wednesday 22 November 2017

Brendan Cummins: Tribesmen finally ready to embrace their destiny

Path clear for resolute Galway to go all the way - and blameless Ryan must remain at Tipp helm

Cillian O’Connor of Mayo attempts a kick at scoring a point, which ultimately went wide, in the very last minute. Photo: Sportsfile
Cillian O’Connor of Mayo attempts a kick at scoring a point, which ultimately went wide, in the very last minute. Photo: Sportsfile

Brendan Cummins

I've written it twice already on these pages this summer that Galway are a team ready to win the All-Ireland title. And there's nothing I saw in yesterday's tense semi-final victory over Tipperary that can alter my view.

In the last ten minutes, Galway fans were on edge and asking the question - can our team make winning decisions to beat the reigning champions?

The answer was an emphatic 'yes'. Look at the timing of Conor Whelan's hook on Michael Cahill, and the composure of Johnny Coen when laying the ball off to Joe Canning for that winning score.

Joe was a peripheral figure for much of the game but he provided the X-factor when it was required. His winner was superb but he also boomed over a massive free from inside his own half at a critical stage. Here's a man who can live in the moment.

But Galway are now much more than a team that needs Joe to fire at 100pc. They have Conor Whelan, who showed once again how his strength and skill are a potent mix in tight areas.

With his four-point tally, he was a constant threat to a Tipp full-back line which still coped quite well.

Over the last three semi-finals between the sides, there have been big hits which set the tone.

Crumpled

Remember last year how Pádraic Maher left Canning in a crumpled heap? This time, Canning sent Mikey Breen over the touchline before half-time, in almost the same spot.

Gearóid McInerney stood firm in the face of a thundering Maher shoulder in the first half, and these were really strong messages that Galway needed to send out.

The spine of their defence - Daithí Burke at full-back and McInerney in the centre - were really strong.

Galway have a bench, too. Jonathan Glynn and Jason Flynn came on, guys that really make a difference. Glynn was crucial in occupying Maher in the closing minutes. His presence alone took Maher out of the game, and it was a clever move on Galway manager Micheál Donoghue's behalf.

Now, Galway find themselves just 70 minutes from the summit - and the path is clear.

Their recent final struggles have been against Kilkenny but that black and amber barrier won't face them.

They have never feared Tipp and would have viewed last year's semi-final defeat as a slip-up, having lost Canning and Adrian Tuohy to injury.

This time, with a full deck, they felt they'd have enough - and so it proved.

But I felt that the deeper role Dan McCormack was asked to fill blunted Tipp's physicality and ball-winning ability up front.

Galway will now meet opposition unfamiliar with All-Ireland final day - and they possess the bulk and physicality to overpower Cork or Waterford.

If it's Waterford, with their sweeper system, Galway can match up, with Aidan Harte filling a similar role.

If it's Cork, they'll go man for man and Whelan will take serious watching by a Cork full-back line still operating in a honeymoon period.

Tipp, in contrast, move into reflective mode. Following last year's successful campaign, celebrations were muted, which showed a sign of intent from management and players that they were anxious to avoid the mistakes made by teams that preceded them.

There were no signs that anything was amiss in the League - until the final. Galway blew them out of the water in 20 minutes and it seemed that the weight of expectation had caught up with Tipp.

The players were stuck to the ground, and it was a mental thing as much as anything else.

They've been trying to recover from that ever since - and got very close yesterday.

The Cork game in Munster compounded the problems that arose following the League final defeat, however, and the fallout led to Cathal Barrett's removal from the panel. It's a decision that has dogged the backroom team for the remainder of the campaign.

In the last five minutes of the quarter-final victory over Clare, Tipp were back to themselves, hitting five points without reply and clinically disposing of their opponents.

It set them up for their best performance of the year - and yesterday's display was of the standard required.

The important thing for Tipp now is continuity. In the Premier County, we live in a world where the attrition rate for managers is high.

It seems that whenever there's a season-ending defeat, someone's head has to roll.

But through a rocky period, Michael Ryan did a great job in getting Tipp prepared to put up as big a fight as they did.

There's no shame in this defeat - and there's nothing more he could have done.

He's made decisions that very few other Tipp managers have - and stuck by them.

His team performed well and this doesn't feel like other losses. In 2011, for example, we didn't perform in the All-Ireland final, but from the low base of that Cork defeat in May, this performance showed that Tipp are back on track.

Free count

The free count favoured Galway 17-8 and while there was a big decision against 'Bonner' Maher in the closing stages, I don't think Tipp will blame referee Barry Kelly.

Still, I'd suggest that the lads were hardly that indisciplined in the tackle all day.

That was the biggest call, for me, and Bonner did appear to be pulled back.

Play continued and Tipp missed the resultant '65', but a free close to goal was a guaranteed score.

It was a potential game-changer but we've been on the right end of decisions in the past, and will be in the future.

I'd like to think that as a proud hurling county, we're big enough to celebrate big wins with dignity, and accept when things don't go our way.

But the narrative is all about Galway, and to them, the semi-final spoils.

They're so close now to the Promised Land and won't blink.

I won't go as far as to suggest that yesterday was their All-Ireland final.

But they'll realise how big this was. Destiny awaits them - and I expect them to embrace it with open arms.

It's in their hands. Time to take the final step.

Irish Independent

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