Saturday 24 February 2018

Superb Premier tap into feelgood factor

Brian O'Meara celebrates his goal. Photo: Barry Cregg / Sportsfile
Brian O'Meara celebrates his goal. Photo: Barry Cregg / Sportsfile
Tipp's players celebrate in the dressing room after their Bord Gais All-Ireland U-21 HC final win. Photo: Ray McManus / Sportsfile
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

There was one saving grace for Galway -- it wasn't a 70-minute game. Had it been, God knows what score Tipperary would have run up.

As it was, the Bord Gais All-Ireland U-21 title was Tipperary's for certain after only two minutes.

Superb early goals from Brian O'Meara and John O'Dwyer, as they surfed the tidal wave of celebration from the week that was, quickly turned it into another demonstration of Tipperary's incredible hurling arsenal. Their challenge to Kilkenny's great dynasty is gathering serious pace.

For good measure they broke the previous margin of victory for an U-21 final, surpassing Cork's 24-point replay win over Wexford in 1970, when another double was completed.

This is an exceptional U-21 team, the reason why even the most discerning Tipperary supporters are giddy at the prospect of what the next five years will bring.

With the Liam McCarthy Cup nearby, Kilkenny's bid for immortality thwarted and a buzz around Thurles that was palpable, there couldn't have been a better environment to be a talented young Tipperary hurler -- all the ducks were in a row.

The argument over the venue, while a valid one for Galway to press during the week, was largely irrelevant by the end.

Had they been forced out to the Aran Islands by currach in the eye of a storm, Tipp would still have prevailed, such was the sureness of their touch and power of their play.

The venue, the 21,110 crowd and the feeling of celebration in the air around Semple Stadium only added to that certainty, albeit ruthlessly.

Perhaps Galway talked themselves out of it during the week. Talk of protests, poor ticket sales and anger over the undemocratic choice of venue for a national final could subconsciously have eaten into their psyche.

When Tipp struck for those early goals, a difficult task became impossible. For Galway, it became an exercise in damage limitation, an exercise they didn't carry out too well.

O'Dwyer's delivery to O'Meara for that early goal was a clear portent of what was to come and when O'Dwyer finished himself after a slick move involving Seamus Hennessy, Noel McGrath and finally O'Meara, whose switch pass made it, the ground could have opened up for Galway's hard-pressed defenders.

It got only marginally easier. By the 15th minute Patrick Maher scythed through, as he does so well, to set up Sean Carey for the third goal and a 3-4 to 0-2 lead.

Carey is perhaps Tipperary's least celebrated attacker but he was terrific, vying with O'Meara and Seamus Hennessy for man of the match.


Galway did manage to get some traction, chiefly through Johnnie Coen's efforts at midfield, and with the wind they had at their backs they hit four unanswered points between the 16th and 23rd minutes that helped to arrest the slide.

By the break it wasn't looking as bad for them, a 3-7 to 0-9 deficit appearing more manageable. Galway manager Anthony Cunningham took the view that they had been competitive up to that point.

"They got a great start. Maybe the first ball could have been a free out but then we missed quite a bit -- nine wides," he reflected.

But the Tipperary management asked for ruthlessness in the second half and with wind assistance they got it, the points raining over with little or no response.

What gaps at the other end Galway did find were invariably closed off by Padraic Maher, captain and full-back for the night.

Behind him James Logue made three good saves, one in the first half from Joseph Cooney, son of former Galway star Joe.

With Brendan Maher hurling at his ease at centre-back, the platform was a very stable one for Tipp. They moved through the gears effortlessly, McGrath stepping it up particularly around midfield.

Patrick Maher's penetrating run behind the defence on 41 minutes provided the fourth goal and when McGrath's free from close to his own '65' deceived everyone and found the Galway net on 47 minutes, the gap was a massive 18 points (5-13 to 0-10).

Tipperary didn't ease up there either, pressing on to score nine of the last 10 points in a massacre that left a chill in the few Galway supporters that did make their way to Thurles for the evening.

The frustration was compounded when centre-forward Niall Quinn was red-carded for catching the imperious Padraic Maher in the face with a stray elbow on 52 minutes.

Galway could manage just three second-half points and were thwarted by the crossbar when Gerard Kelly's shot from a Cooney pass rebounded off it.

At the other end, it seemed that anything lifted in the direction of the Galway goalmouth carried over as Tipperary registered scores in the second half at a rate of one every two minutes. It was their second such double, matching the achievement in 1989, and manager Ken Hogan was rich in his praise.

"It's a testament to the guys that they were training with us on Tuesday night when they could have been in Mullinahone with their captain Eoin Kelly. We'd all love to have been with Liam Sheedy in Garrykennedy on Thursday night," he said.

"But no, the guys stayed away to train with us. The guys only had one goal and that goal was to complete the double in six days."

The choice of venue still rankled with Cunningham afterwards but he wasn't offering it as an excuse.

"I think it probably had a bit of a bearing in the last 20 minutes," he said. "It wasn't a level playing field and everybody knows that. It's not nice to put young players into this environment, but I wouldn't take away from Tipperary. They were fantastic.

"The couple of last goals for Tipperary really put the tin hat on it. It's hard on the players. It's okay on everybody else but these are young guys, 19-year-olds, 20 and 21-year-olds and they're only learning their trade, but we'll be pushing them to pick up the pieces and drive on."

Scorers -- Tipperary: N McGrath (1-0f), S Carey, B O'Meara, J O'Dwyer 1-3 each, P Maher 1-0, S Hennessy 0-3 (0-1 '65', 0-1f), M Heffernan, P Murphy 0-2 each, K Morris (0-1f), J O'Neill, B Maher (0-1f) 0-1 each. Galway: D Burke (0-2f), J Coen 0-2 each, B Daly, J Regan, G Burke, G Kelly, B Burke, J Grealish, J Cooney, N Quinn 0-1 each.

Tipperary -- J Logue; K O'Gorman, P Maher, M Cahill; J Barry, B Maher, C Hough; S Hennessy, N McGrath; S Carey, P Murphy, P Maher; M Heffernan, B O'Meara, J O'Dwyer. Subs: C Coughlan for O'Gorman (43), J O'Neill for O'Dwyer (51), A Ryan for Murphy (51), J Gallagher for McGrath (55), K Morris for Heffernan (56).

Galway -- K Finnegan; D Connolly, P Gordan, G O'Halloran; N Donoghue, D Burke, S Og Linnane; J Coen, B Daly; J Regan, N Quinn, E Forde; R Cummins, G Burke, G Kelly. Subs: J Cooney for Forde, B Burke for G Burke (26), J Grealish for Linnane (40), D Glennon for Cummins (44), B O'Flaherty for Gordan (51). Ref -- J McGrath (Westmeath).

Irish Independent

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