Monday 19 March 2018

Comment: Tipp's new steel epitomised by the magical John 'Bubbles' O'Dwyer

Sublime 'Bubbles' goal sums up display built on substance

John O'Dwyer of Tipperary celebrates after scoring his side's first goal
John O'Dwyer of Tipperary celebrates after scoring his side's first goal
Séamus Callanan of Tipperary during the GAA Hurling All-Ireland Senior Championship Semi-Final. Photo: Sportsfile
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

There's been so much talk about steel in Tipperary this year you'd be forgiven for thinking the Golden Vale had been transformed into some 'rust-belt.'

Yet for all the substance that this performance undoubtedly produced it was one of the most stylish stick men around with one of the sharpest eyes in the business who has, essentially, served up an almost inevitable renewal of the All-Ireland final rivalry between Kilkenny and Tipperary.

John 'Bubbles' O'Dwyer may have felt he owed his team-mates something after leaving them in the lurch for more than 56 minutes of their Munster semi-final win over Limerick in June, a 'half a second of madness' as his manager Michael Ryan described it, earning him a straight red that day.

So when the moment arrived to seize this game and shunt it in a different direction with 10 minutes of another absorbing hurling contest remaining, 'Bubbles' - held in reserve until the second half - applied his delicate wrists to the task with a pickpocket's nerve.

Things get heated on the sideline during last Saturday's All-Ireland SHC semi-final. Photo: Sportsfile
Things get heated on the sideline during last Saturday's All-Ireland SHC semi-final. Photo: Sportsfile

You had to be at the right angle behind him in the Hogan Stand to really appreciate the window of opportunity he prised open, squeezing the sliotar past Colm Callanan with sufficient downward pressure into a gap you might have had second thoughts about sliding a sheet of A4 paper through.

After such a tight, tense battle, that Ryan would later confess they found it difficult to get to the pace of, 'Bubbles' goal felt like liberation, its breaking point.

True, Conor Cooney responded instantly with a point from the puck-out to restore parity but the air felt lighter for Tipp and when Patrick 'Bonner' Maher and Seamus Callanan scrambled a little magic between them a minute later to put John McGrath in for a second goal they were pointed for home.

There were more bumps and hollows to negotiate from there to the finish but that's the terrain that Ryan has built his team for and, at last, they were able to reflect on being on the right side of a one-point margin. Would they have won such a game 12 months ago? The fact remains, they didn't.

John O'Dwyer of Tipperary scores his side's first goal. Photo: Sportsfile
John O'Dwyer of Tipperary scores his side's first goal. Photo: Sportsfile

In the context of their recent history of being on the wrong side so often Ryan, naturally, spoke of the importance of such an outcome afterwards.

Twice they coughed up possession easily for breakaway goals but each time they were able to conjure up the next two points to stem the flow.

"It's well documented that we've struggled to win those kinds of games. Whether you like being associated with that or not, I can't change the facts," said Ryan.

"The facts are that we've failed far too often to win them. Most of the time (it has been) against top opposition that go on to win big prizes. We're on the right side of one here. I don't think it either defines you or that, you know, you should think too much positively or negatively about it," he reasoned.

For marauding midfielder Michael Breen though it was an opportunity to strike a blow for the harder edge they feel they have developed, an edge that has continued to win back the respect at home that might have been lost in the years after their 2010 triumph.

"It has been said that we die down in tight games, but not this year. We've developed that mental toughness, we built on it throughout the league and the championship and I think we are just coming right.

"It was just down to tough hurling, back to basics hurling. Things that great Tipp teams have done in previous years when we were winning All-Irelands.

"We just try to build in those traits into our team and its working for us and hopefully we can keep driving it on."

After the tumult of Thurles and Croke Park a week earlier this was just a notch down but engaging nonetheless.

The evidence was there in the opening skirmishes when Michael Cahill careered into Jason Flynn, knocking him off his stride. Joe Canning delivered a long range point in the follow up but the terms of engagement were set.

Tipperary and Galway have really only ever known one way to hurl in each other's company and with 30 players averaging 13 st 7lbs each (according to the programme notes) the collisions were at times ferocious.

The 'steel' that so much of Tipperary's progress this season has been predicated on manifested in different ways, Breen hustling over three points from the engine room, Darren McCormack hunting down with venom to turn over for the second of those on nine minutes, James Barry getting a hand or a hurl to just about anything in his vicinity.

McCormack is a rookie at this level but his capacity for work was reflected in the frees he won and the assists made here.

Paudie Maher's thundering blindside hit on Canning, driving the Galway talisman over the sideline and leaving him looking somewhat rattled and requiring repair work off the field for both, might be held up as more evidence of Tipp's renewal of 'old values' but Canning was back quickly and Galway still hit the next three points to negate any lift from an impact that shook the stadium.

But Canning's subsequent withdrawal at the break after pulling up with hamstring trouble sustained when Barry clearly pushed him in a race for possession clearly hurt them down the home straight.

So many Galway players stepped up again though, Daithi Burke's performance on Seamie Callanan and the breadth of David Burke's industry at midfield shining through most.

But with Callanan taking Burke away from the square McGrath was able to exploit to set up and score a goal.

For Galway the gap since their last All-Ireland senior title is stretching ominously towards a 30th year.

Donoghue spoke of pride in the effort and resolve of his players but ultimately they need to come up with something a little different if they are to make their mark.

"There is a great bunch of players there, if you took Colm Callanan out of the that team, the average age would only be 23."

So for the second time in the three years since hurling's 'rainbow' season the old protagonists are back at it again after quelling the latest disturbances.

Neutrals may bemoan the dearth of novelty but nothing guarantees full-blooded fare more than this most compelling of rivalries, one you can never tire of.

Tipp are taking their new found steel to the master metallurgists in September.

Irish Independent

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