Sport Hurling

Friday 23 February 2018

Sheedy's men not a beaten docket despite rebel hell

Tipperary supporters head for the exits in Pairc Ui Chaoimh before the end of their team's defeat to Cork last Sunday. RAY MCMANUS/SPORTSFILE
Tipperary supporters head for the exits in Pairc Ui Chaoimh before the end of their team's defeat to Cork last Sunday. RAY MCMANUS/SPORTSFILE
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

SO then, 70 minutes in Pairc Ui Chaoimh has changed everything. Cork are back as prime contenders to unseat Kilkenny; Denis Walsh is the country's brightest hurling coach; Aisake O hAilpin is the new Ray Cummins; Donal Og Cusack is being hired by NASA to redesign the radar programme for the next space mission; Tipperary are a beaten docket; their players are over-trained clones; Liam Sheedy isn't as smart as it appeared last year.

That's only half of it. Depending on which side of the opinion see-saw you're sitting, the case for any extreme can be put forward with an unchallengeable sense of conviction. Unchallengeable, that is until some new evidence emerges to suggest that the previous casebook wasn't quite as solidly based as it looked.

If there's one thing I've picked up from many years of covering sport, it is this: don't allow your judgment to be overly influenced by the last game you've seen. By all means, savour a special performance for what it is, but remember it can be a one-off unless, of course, it comes from a team or an individual who has delivered consistently at that level.

And if it's a stinking bad effort, don't assume it's a sign of things to come, unless there's a long-established pattern there. Just as one swallow doesn't make a summer, one wild duck doesn't make a winter.

Heavy criticism has poured down on Tipperary for what was, unquestionably, a sloppy performance on Sunday. Players who didn't react to Cusack's puck-outs certainly have a case to answer, while the half-forward line were doubly guilty for allowing John Gardiner, Ronan Curran and Sean Og O hAilpin so much freedom to assert their authority in a manner not seen since 2005.


Ultimately though, the biggest difference between the teams was Aisake O hAilpin. Route-one ball (admittedly Tipp's outfield players allowed too much of it to dive-bomb their square) provided a rich food supply which kept Cork nourished all day.

It's the simplest trick in the coaching manual. Float high ball down on top of a big man and hope he can beat his opponent. In this case, O hAilpin did -- in fact, he outsmarted two Tipp defenders. However, this was the same man whose performance in the league final helped Galway full-back Shane Kavanagh to be chosen as Man of the Match by some pundits.

O hAilpin played much better last Sunday and, having asserted himself right from the start, he gave Cork a confidence surge which spread rapidly throughout the team, while completely unnerving Tipperary.

It was the hurling equivalent of Kieran Donaghy's dramatic intervention in the 2006 All-Ireland Championship when Kerry decided that posting a big man with good fetching skills in front of goal was worth a shot.

Sometimes, old tricks are best and once you strip away the pseudo-intellectualism that sometimes masquerades as tactical analysis, it's still an immutable fact of Gaelic football and hurling life that a big man with solid feet and sticky hands presents a real threat at full-forward.

Sheedy is taking some criticism inside Tipperary and will, no doubt, ship a whole lot more unless they turn the season around. That goes with the territory, but isn't it a case of being wise after the event? He went with 13 of the team (the other two, James Woodlock and Pat Kerwick were injured) which came close to beating the greatest hurling team of all time in last year's All-Ireland final.

It was an understandable approach, even if some of them hadn't been playing all that well in the league. The assumption was that it would come right in the championship. After all, Tipp had established themselves as the second best team in the country over the last two years, so obviously they were doing a whole lot more right than wrong.

A 10-point defeat in the first round of the Munster championship has changed the dynamic, but it doesn't undermine all the progress that Tipperary have made, no more than it proves that Cork are the new force stalking the land.

Cork are certainly better equipped to make a real bid for the All-Ireland than they were in the strife-torn years, which, after all that's happened in the county, is a happy place to be. Ultimately though, there's every prospect that Tipp will out-last them in the championship.

Kilkenny, Tipperary, Cork, Galway and Waterford were regarded as the only teams with a real chance of winning this year's hurling All-Ireland at the start of play and nothing has changed.

Enjoy the jostling in Munster, Leinster and the qualifiers for the next six weeks, but the really important action doesn't begin until the All-Ireland quarter-finals on July 25.

Bar a major upset, the above five will all be still in contention. It's only at that stage that we can begin to make definitive judgments.

Irish Independent

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