Comment: There's no luck about it, Tipperary just flatter to deceive
When Tipperary came back to draw with Cork a fortnight ago it seemed a turning point of huge significance. Michael Ryan had apparently delivered a half-time oration of sufficient power to awaken the real Tipp.
Onwards and upwards. The boys were back in town. It didn't quite turn out that way. But last week's revival against Waterford and the large slice of luck that made it possible seemed just the thing to shake Tipp out of their lassitude.
And when Seamus Callanan struck a couple of fine points late in yesterday's game I couldn't help thinking how well he'd go in the later stages of the Championship. Fool me three times, shame on both of us.
Tipperary made you doubt the evidence of your own eyes. Had you suggested before the beginning of the Munster Championship that they wouldn't make the top three laughter would have been general all over Ireland. Predicting they wouldn't win any of their four matches would have seemed downright perverse. This was the most talented squad of players in the competition.
Yet their provincial campaign, a hurling equivalent of Napoleon's retreat from Moscow, is perhaps the logical conclusion to an era of relative underachievement.
Every season for over a decade has begun with Tipperary ranked as either first or second favourite in the championship. The 2010 breakthrough final victory over Kilkenny appeared to herald the beginning of a new epoch.
Instead Kilkenny regrouped. Favourites to beat the Cats in the 2011 final, the 2012 semi and the 2014 final and its replay, Tipp fell short on each occasion. In 2015 they were even hotter favourites to beat Galway in the semi-final but lost that one too. A year later they finally ousted Kilkenny. With the best players on Brian Cody's team retiring, the Premier Age finally seemed to have dawned.
Last year they played the Rebels accompanied by predictions that the final humiliation for Cork hurling was at hand. Instead an over-confident Tipp helped breathe life back into the demoralised Rebels, something they'll probably regret for years to come. Now they've done Limerick and Clare the same favour.
Tipperary will always have 2016 but one All-Ireland in eight years is a poor return considering the quality of players available. Kilkenny bagged the Liam MacCarthy in 2015 with what Ger Loughnane rightly described as a "functional team", and Clare won one with kids in 2013. Galway will be very disappointed if they don't add to last year's victory.
A phrase which seems to follow Tipperary around is, "they have a lot left in the tank". Too often the tank is where it stays. Compare the players currently available to Michael Ryan and Brian Cody and it's the former who seemed better served.
The Kilkenny team still bears a transitional look. Against Wexford on Saturday night its flaws were exposed as the visitors ran up an eight-point lead just after half-time.
Yet, as they had done when in equally perilous straits against Dublin, Kilkenny hung in there. The return of Richie Hogan and Colin Fennelly had been expected to give the team a boost. When they underperformed, Cody replaced both at half-time.
It's hard to imagine a Tipperary manager being so ruthless. The tendency there has to been to leave struggling stars on the field in the belief they'll eventually come good. Perhaps that's why Kilkenny are in a provincial final while their neighbours face a long idle summer.
While Kilkenny eked out narrow victories, Tipp spurned opportunities. A bit more rigour could have given them three wins out of four.
There's no point in complaining about having to play four weeks on the trot or questioning the new championship structure. Tipp should be good enough to finish in Munster's top three. Perhaps the sheer natural talent of this generation of players has not always helped. It can sometimes seem that an 'it'll work out OK in the end, we're Tipp' attitude prevails.
There's a TV comedy sketch where a bunch of lads decide to build a house by montage. You see a very impressive sequence but at the end there's not much more than a few bricks stacked together.
This year Tipp played the championship by montage. There were impressive second halves against Cork and Waterford and a good first half against Clare but there was never a complete performance of the kind that wins major games.
The Banner couldn't have played much worse than they did in yesterday's first half. They looked nervous, their touch was poor, their shooting off and their decision making unwise. The game was there for Tipp yet somehow the home side only led by four points at the break.
The match perhaps turned in the 18 seconds that Jake Morris hit the post at one end and a reprieved Clare broke down the other end for Ian Galvin to score a goal. Luck had nothing to do with it. Galvin's chance was the more difficult of the two but he was the one who executed under pressure.
Just as damaging for the losers was the free Jason Forde missed when he had a chance to put them three points clear heading into injury-time. Forde had a wonderful Championship and without him Tipp might have lost all four games. Yet at the crucial moment his nerve failed. TJ Reid misses an occasional free but never a vital one.
With the outcome in the balance at Nowlan Park the Cats introduced John Donnelly, an U-21 forward still learning the senior ropes. The kid popped over two points to win the game. Kilkenny get it done, Tipp let it slip. They are entirely different animals. The real Premier County wear black and amber.
Look at the marvellous players Tipperary have produced in the last decade: Callanan, John O'Dwyer, Michael Cahill, Noel and John McGrath, Brendan, Padraic and 'Bonner' Maher. Look and wonder. What would Cody have made of them?
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