Monday 16 September 2019

Michael Verney: 'Hogan dismissal changes game but Cats authors of own downfall'

1. Trailing by five points seven minutes into the second half Kilkenny need to put Tipp under pressure and as Noel McGrath circled picks up possession close to the Hogan Stand sideline Cillian Buckley and John Donnelly are putting him under pressure. However he fires a reverse handpass to Brendan Maher who quickly slings it to Barry Heffernan
1. Trailing by five points seven minutes into the second half Kilkenny need to put Tipp under pressure and as Noel McGrath circled picks up possession close to the Hogan Stand sideline Cillian Buckley and John Donnelly are putting him under pressure. However he fires a reverse handpass to Brendan Maher who quickly slings it to Barry Heffernan
2. With the initial tackle broken, Tipp are close to finding space and Heffernan sidesteps TJ Reid before the whole pitch opens up in front of him.
3. With Kilkenny down to 14 men, they are unable to apply significant pressure once the initial press has been broken. The Nenagh Éire Óg defender has huge space in front of him and time to look up close to his own ’65. He delivers a diagonal ball to Seamus Callanan in the corner.
4 Huw Lawlor tries to play Callanan from the front but misjudges the flight and the sliotar is in Callanan’s control. All of a sudden, the Tipp captain is one-on-one while, inside, Kilkenny defenders Joey Holden and Paul Murphy (bottom left) each have a player in their sights.
5. Holden, however, leaves O’Dwyer in order to cut off Callanan’s path and provide cover for Lawlor. However, Murphy can’t make it back to O’Dwyer and stays with John McGrath. Rather than pop over a point, Callanan ruthlessly punishes the momentary lapse. The first touch of the unmarked Bubbles pops up perfectly in front of him and he volleys it expertly to the net past Eoin Murphy. Tipp lead by eight and, effectively, the contest is all over.
Michael Verney

Michael Verney

Purists will say it should never merit a red card in any All-Ireland final but Richie Hogan's fate was sealed earlier this year when a new directive on head-high tackles was introduced by Croke Park's referee development committee.

Tony Kelly was the first victim of the crackdown when sent off in Clare's opening league game against Tipperary for a robust but high tackle on Pádraic Maher and it was only a matter of time before it reared its ugly head on the game's biggest stage.

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That day was yesterday and while there was outrage in many quarters over Hogan's straight red card - which saw him lead slightly with his elbow and land flush on the side of Cathal Barrett's head - James Owens was simply following the new rules of the game to the letter of the law.

That is the message coming from on high with referees chief Willie Barrett stating that "anything above the shoulders in relation to striking to the head, we've instructed our referees clearly to issue a red card for a deliberate challenge to the head".

Whether it was deliberate or not is difficult to assess but Willie Barrett outlined the "need to absolutely stamp it out," saying "there's an onus on the referee to ensure that the challenge is fair and there's a duty of care to your opponent".

Hogan left Owens with a decision to make after charging recklessly at Barrett - who dropped his shoulder at the last second before taking the blow - and was dismissed in the 33rd minute after a long consultation with linesman Johnny Murphy.

While Kilkenny legend Henry Shefflin wrongly called for "common sense" to protect the game as a spectacle and keep it 15 on 15, Owens made the brave but correct call to enforce the rules and dismiss him.

If anything, he should be lauded for not taking the easy option and no doubt he will be rewarded suitably over the coming years with several more games of this magnitude.

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Roll back to Lar Corbett's decapitating tackle on Eoin Murphy when Tipp lost to Waterford in the 2008 All-Ireland semi-final - for which he received a yellow from Diarmuid Kirwan - and it shows how officiating has changed dramatically with a zero tolerance for such tackles these days.

There were issues with Owens' interpretation of some other rules, however, as a host of Tipp defenders got away scot free when hauling Kilkenny attackers to the ground as they were sniffing for early goals.

It's scarcely believable that Jason Forde picked up their sole yellow card in the 54th minute given the cynicism which had preceded it and they were blessed that Seamus Kennedy, in particular, wasn't cautioned appropriately for a deliberate pull-down.

Hogan's departure changed the demographic of the game as Cathal Barrett sat back to sweep in front of the outstanding Ronan Maher but the Cats didn't do themselves any favours as they reverted to type.

Being without a man for nearly 40 minutes is hard to legislate for and driving the ball long to Colin Fennelly was the easy thing to do - especially after John O'Dwyer fired Tipp's third goal in the 42nd minute to leave them eight behind, 3-12 to 0-13 - but it severely hurt their case.

The reason why Kilkenny moved away from the long-ball approach - which had been so successful in the noughties - was because they were found out by other sides who realised that stopping them in the air was half the battle.

Use of short puck-outs, exaggerated handpassing, short stick passing, working the ball through the lines and utilising runners off the shoulder has been serving them well since Brian Cody altered their approach at the start of last season.

But they abandoned that style when it was needed most and the long aimless ball forward, for which Paddy Deegan was chief culprit, was a killer as they regularly launched ball into a two-on-one situation where the two invariably came out on top and Fennelly was rendered redundant at the edge of the square.

While Cody has always been branded a traditionalist who doesn't buy into tactics, that looked the case yesterday with an old-school style banging of desperation and it's hard to believe suitable adjustments were not made at the break.

As good as they have been throughout the summer with their upset defeat of Limerick in the last four an obvious highlight, their unusual approach let them down at two crucial junctures.

Opting to go for goals early in the Leinster final defeat to Wexford when three points would have sufficed to force a replay was uncharacteristic of their calmness under pressure, as was the panic displayed as ball after ball was bombarded into attack to make heroes of the Tipp defenders.

All Tipp had to do was break the high ball to the ground and fight for it with extra numbers at their disposal and they did so expertly before feeding to playmakers like Noel McGrath.

Eoin Murphy's puck-out strategy - which was predominantly route one - was totally dismantled as the Cats retained just 13 of their 37 restarts and had no platform to work with.

Tipperary retained 20 of Brian Hogan's 26 puck-outs and their use of the ball was diametrically opposed to Kilkenny as two different ideologies collided.

Prior to the sending-off, Kilkenny were taking the game to Tipp with their usual in-your-face approach not allowing the Premier a second to settle but the spare man changed that and Liam Sheedy's men were primed to take full advantage.

The ease at which Barry Heffernan was allowed to deliver a diagonal ball to Callanan in the build-up to O'Dwyer's goal highlighted their expert use of space and for a team who thrives in open areas, the sending-off allowed them to flourish.

The extra man meant there was always someone free to take a pass if the initial Kilkenny tackle was not successful and it also allowed Seamus Kennedy the licence to hare forward and fire over two points.

Their young substitutes took advantage of tired Kilkenny bodies to clip over five points between them with Ger Browne, Jake Morris, Mark Kehoe and Willie Connors (two) on target on a day when Tipp lorded the tactical battle and left the Cats clawing for answers they couldn't find.

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