Monday 23 April 2018

Cyril Farrell: Hope springs eternal after Tipp take crown

Cyril Farrell

On the week after the Leeside massacre on the last Sunday in May, I met some Tipperary people who would normally be fairly measured in their reaction to defeat or victory.

It was different this time. Their response to the 10-point defeat by Cork was bordering on the hysterical. The team had lost the run of themselves, behaving like men who had won the All-Ireland last year rather than coming second and Liam Sheedy was an impostor as a manager.

Not all Tipperary fans were quite that extreme, but they were extremely critical of the whole scene. It was a classic example of over reaction. Granted, Tipp were atrocious against Cork, whose subsequent performance showed that they were nothing special.

The key point about Tipp's defeat was that they played so badly, it had to be a one-off. Here was a team that had won two successive Munster titles and reached an All-Ireland final, where they matched Kilkenny all the way, so it wasn't plausible that everything could remain as out of line as it had been against Cork.

Last Sunday, 13 of the same 15 started in the All-Ireland final and beat the best team hurling has even produced by eight points. Moral of the story? Never be over-influenced by the last performance you've seen.

From Tipp's perspective, the good thing about the Cork defeat was that it came so early in the season. They had five weeks to re-connect with their positive side before the start of the qualifiers which made it almost like the start of a brand new season.

The qualifiers handed Tipp a home tie with Wexford and they were on their way. They improved with every game and while they nearly tipped over against Galway, the fact that they won the game in the last few minutes showed their self-belief was intact.

And by last Sunday, it was as if the Cork defeat had never happened. Kilkenny had a smoother path to the final, but the injuries to Henry Shefflin and Brian Hogan were significant. I wrote here two weeks ago that despite the best efforts of the team and the management, the five-in-a-row drive would take on a life of its own. Some Kilkenny fans were acting as if they believed the squad were such supermen that if they got a cut, they wouldn't bleed.

Unfortunately for Kilkenny, the circus surrounding Shefflin's return to training merely added to the hype. Not that Cody could do anything about it. If he had taken training out of Nowlan Park or -- heaven forbid -- locked the gates, it would have increased the pressure on the players.

They couldn't have been immune to the growing expectations. It doesn't matter how level-headed or experienced players are, they aren't immune to outside pressures.

Should Cody have started Shefflin? I said two weeks ago that he wouldn't unless he was satisfied Shefflin was okay so we must assume that was the case. After all, John Tennyson had a similar injury and played the full game.

Cody was damned if he started Shefflin and damned if he didn't. There's no doubt that seeing their spiritual leader hobble off so early was a psychological setback to Kilkenny but what if Shefflin hadn't started? The pressure to introduce him when Kilkenny fell six points behind in the first half would have been enormous. But if he came on after 20 minutes and was gone 13 minutes later it would have been even more damaging.

Shefflin's injury was a serious setback for Kilkenny but, credit where it's due, this was a marvellous performance by Tipp. They did to Kilkenny what the Cats have done to so many teams over the years by keeping the pace and intensity at a high level and by crowding the ball carrier.

And when the chances arose, they had the forwards who were capable of taking the goal chances, none more so than Lar Corbett.

And Kilkenny? Their incredible record speaks for itself and if there's anybody misguided enough to believe that they are now headed for a dip, they don't know Kilkenny or Cody.

As for the rest of the hurling world, they will be encouraged to see a team that lost so heavily in May return to win the All-Ireland. Hope springs eternal -- this year's championship has proved.

Galway must focus on claiming scalp

Ignore the row over the venue and the hype which surrounds Tipperary hurling -- that's the only way for Galway to approach tonight's U-21 final. I think that it's unfair to fix the final for Thurles when Tipperary are involved, but that's the decision, so Galway have to get on with it.

This is a powerful Tipp team, but Galway have a fine underage record and I'd expect them to make it a real contest. Tipp will probably win, but not by the margin some are suggesting.

Galway have had only one outing, which is a drawback, but I believe that the U-21s and minors should be competing in Leinster. If it makes sense for the seniors, it makes sense at underage.

Minor stars have huge part to play

I've got to get this off my chest. If it's okay to list 30 players for the senior teams on the All-Ireland final match programme, why is it restricted to 24 for the minors? Everybody knows that minor panels carry at least 30 players, so why not include their names? Last Sunday's programme had 96 pages, yet six youngsters and their families from Clare and Kilkenny were ignored.

It's downright wrong just as it's a bad call not to allow the minor captains to speak at the presentation. There's plenty of time to let these lads be heard.

I thought Tipp captain Eoin Kelly gave a superb speech. It was measured, articulate, respectful of Kilkenny and the occasion. And full marks too for Kilkenny for the gracious way they accepted defeat.

Irish Independent

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