TIPPERARY WERE CERTAINLY a bit off the pace for chunks of yesterday’s semi-final against Galway.
Perhaps the five-week lay-off contributed to some of Tipp’s rustiness but Galway were excellent in many respects.
These were two very evenly-matched teams, as the scoreline would suggest, and there was virtually nothing in the game but Tipp had the bit of luck as Galway’s David Collins spilled the ball out over the line late on, and the Tribesmen lost Joe Canning and Adrian Tuohy to injury.
If that ball had gone down the field, there was every chance that the match was going to finish in a draw but Tipp displayed resilience and a stubborn streak to hold out in a game that, in recent times, they might well have lost.
I think Tipp will be absolutely delighted with the way they were able to win it but Galway will feel unlucky and they lost nothing in defeat.
The ‘Bonner’ Maher effect
I’ve spoken about this guy before but Patrick ‘Bonner’ Maher played a key role again for Tipperary yesterday, particularly when his side was chasing the game.
This was ‘Bonner’ time as he rolled his sleeves up, chased back and got in some phenomenal tackles and dispossessions.
Here’s just one example as first, Galway’s Pádraic Mannion gets possession of the ball:
Note the time on the clock, 46:26, before I talk you through what happens next.
In the second picture, Mannion gives ‘Bonner’ the slip as he prepares to move forward with the ball:
Crucially, ‘Bonner’ doesn’t give up as he chases back with the Galway player:
Mannion enters the Galway half but ‘Bonner’ in hot pursuit, executes a perfect hook to turn over the ball:
And finally, with 46 minutes and 37 seconds on the watch, ‘Bonner’ now has ball in hand:
If you’re talking about a proverbial game of inches, this kind of work-rate is priceless.
11 seconds after Mannion first gained possession, ‘Bonner’ has dispossessed him and put Tipperary back on the front foot.
The point is that it’s easy enough to have good work-rate when you’re team is going well but when your team is struggling and down a couple of points, you can really measure a player’s honesty.
You can be a leader and take responsibility without ever opening your mouth and ‘Bonner’ is a guy who does it by action.
Here’s another classic ‘Bonner’ catch as the game prepares to enter its final ten minutes of normal time, Tipp still behind:
Eight seconds later, ‘Bonner’ is grounded by a Gearóid McInerney:
And yet, he still manages to get up and get a handpass away to ‘Bubbles’ O’Dwyer:
I can’t emphasise enough how important this guy is the Tipp team and his importance was never more needed than in that second half yesterday.
The John McGrath influence
His set-up for John O’Dwyer’s goal was terrific yesterday and was yet another example of decision-making and calmness in moments of extreme pressure.
He’s very assured for a young player and held the ball up beautifully to let ‘Bubbles’ get into position off his right shoulder.
The crucial thing to note here is that John’s handpass went straight into O’Dwyer’s hand, which meant that ‘Bubbles’ never lost a stride before he finished with devastating accuracy.
Admittedly, it was an error from John Hanbury that let the ball through to McGrath, as we can see from this first picture:
McGrath picks up possession and the handpass is executed at just the right time and at an ideal height:
What McGrath’s pass has done is allowed ‘Bubbles’ to grab the ball in his left hand:
The pass has cut out the Galway covering defender and also allowed Bubbles that split second that he needs before he get himself into a shooting position.
If it’s lower, Bubbles may have to control it on his stick and perhaps be forced outside but the timing and execution of McGrath’s pass allows the goalscorer the chance to finish with economy of movement.
For John McGrath’s own goal, Seamus Callanan plays a brilliant role.
Where most guys would have taken the ball to hand, he scoops it first time, low to the ground, in McGrath’s direction:
McGrath’s one-on-one with the goalkeeper but he still shows great composure to finish it, first of all taking the contact from Galway goalkeeper Colm Callanan:
John turns and it’s now a simple task as he shoots into an empty net:
It should also be noted in this passage of play that the man who won the ‘dirty’ ball and provided the pass for Seamus Callanan was that man, ‘Bonner’ Maher.
Hurling at this level, one of the most important factors in whether you’re successful or not is how you execute chances. Tipp are very good in this regard.
Two were missed earlier in the game – Noel McGrath unlucky to see a shot come back off the crossbar before John McGrath was denied by an excellent Colm Callanan save – but of four goal chances created, two were taken and that’s a good return. Ultimately, it was good enough to win the match.
Tipp’s forward worries
For all of the good stuff that happened in attack, there are some areas of concern for Tipperary heading into the final with Kilkenny on 4 September.
I felt that when ‘Bubbles’ didn’t start, it was going to place extra pressure on our forward line to get scores.
Daithí Burke marked Seamus Callanan and did an excellent man-marking job on him and Seamus had no score from play.
Seamus still had a good game overall, providing assists while also winning and converting frees, and he set up that aforementioned goal.
But the bigger point is that four of Tipp’s six starting forwards didn’t score from play – Callanan, Dan McCormack, ‘Bonner’ Maher and Niall O’Meara.
Still, ‘Bonner’ had an immense game, as I’ve already discussed, while Dan McCormack provided an assist for John McGrath’s first half point and won at least three frees that were converted by Callanan.
Niall didn’t have his best game in a Tipp jersey this year but he was very workmanlike at the same time, before making way for ‘Bubbles.’
Noel McGrath had three points from play and John McGrath 1-1 but we were under pressure for scores from elsewhere in the forward line.
Michael Breen hit three from midfield while the Mahers – Ronan, Pádraic and Brendan – added one each.
But four players drawing blanks from play in attack is a worrying enough trend for me and it puts pressure on the outfield players to contribute.
Still, the likelihood is that ‘Bubbles’ will start the final and that will add a different dynamic.
Overall, Galway did as well as they could defensively but ultimately, it was Tipp’s goal-scoring ability that got them over the line.
Tipperary’s two goals were conceded from unforced errors. Niall O’Meara, twice, failed to rise the ball on the Cusack Stand touchline and he comes under pressure here from Cathal Mannion:
Johnny Coen (purple circle in the next picture) picks up possession and his handpass to goal-scorer Conor Cooney (blue circle) is excellent. But Tipp’s error on the touchline has them badly on the back-foot as Cooney has loads of space to run into and he will eventually get his shot away from the spot where the arrow points to:
Tipp conceded two goals from turnovers yesterday and seven points from frees.
Those are statistics that will concern Michael Ryan and it won’t go unnoticed.
Michael pointed to a lack of intensity in some parts of the match and this sloppiness feeds into that.
For Galway’s second goal, Seamus Kennedy and Brendan Maher try to play an elaborate one-two of handpasses but goal-scorer Joseph Cooney is alive to it:
Cooney gets a hurl in and he’s on the move towards the Tipperary goal:
Cooney moves on and crashes a shot into the far corner and Brendan Maher, with hands on head, knows that he’s made a mistake:
Brendan made a pass that he didn’t execute well and really didn’t need to be made. This is what I mean by a lack of intensity and it’s so easy to get caught if you drop in concentration for a split second.
Small changes make the difference
When John O’Dwyer came on, it was at a time when Galway were playing very deep defensively, as they tried to protect their lead.
Tipp were operating with a two-man inside line of Seamus Callanan and John McGrath, with ‘Bubbles’ roaming.
This was a worrying period for Tipp as several balls went into the Galway defence and were mopped up comfortably.
Below is one good example, with just one Tipp forward, Seamus Callanan, anywhere near the 20m line. The Galway defenders, Gearóid McInerney and Daithí Burke, are well positioned to come from two different angles to cover as the ball drops in behind. Eventually, it will be Burke who completes the clearance:
But Tipp mixed it up as Bubbles went into the full-forward line and played as a third inside forward. It really did make the world of difference and ‘Bubbles’ was in the right corner forward position to score his goal, a lot closer to the Galway goal that if he had stayed roaming outside.
Savage battle in Thurles
Savage. There’s probably not a better word to describe Saturday’s replay between Kilkenny and Waterford.
I couldn’t get over the physicality and intensity that was in it from the very word go.
These two teams were really sharp and at match pace from the very first second.
It was just excellent stuff, every exchange at championship intensity and it was brilliant to watch.
The quality of the game was remarkable, particularly in the first 20 minutes and Austin Gleeson’s goal from that Michael ‘Brick’ Walsh pass was pure quality.
When ‘Brick’ wins the ball, he delays the pass for just a fraction of a second, waiting for the gap to open up and for Gleeson to come through:
Gleeson takes the ball at full tilt and doesn’t lose a step, meaning that he’s in full flow to go past the Kilkenny defender, before finishing emphatically:
What I really liked about Colin Fennelly’s first goal for Kilkenny was his absolute intent to score a goal.
It’s a straightforward ball from Walter Walsh from a deep position, straight into the Kilkenny inside line.
Fennelly takes the ball with conviction and crucially, he has that half a yard on Barry Coughlan:
Fennelly was totally committed to taking on his man and in full flow, he was almost unstoppable before crashing a shot to the net:
I spend a lot of time coaching this kind of stuff, particularly with inside forwards.
If they’re lucky enough to win ball cleanly when it goes in, you’ll see some forwards going outside their man in an arcing fashion, trying to get into a position where they can swing it over the bar. But Fennelly was so aggressive in his decision-making, turned and went straight for goal.
That conviction to go for the jugular is what you want from your inside men.
The Fennelly factor
While Colin Fennelly had a crucial impact for Kilkenny with those two goals, his brother Michael was back to his very best on Saturday and his potential absence for the final is a major blow to Kilkenny’s chances.
This was the Michael Fennelly of old, a marauding figure crashing into tackles and driving forward.
But he also does the simple things so well, with this handpass to a better placed teammate eventually leading to a Kilkenny score for Liam Blanchfield at the other end of the field:
The introduction of Blanchfield paid off big time, as he scored three points with probably as many possessions. It just demonstrates the quality of execution required when you’re hurling at the highest level because chances can be few and far between. Your strike ratio has to be very high and it was remarkable display from a guy to go into a game of that magnitude with little or no game time under his belt.
Waterford didn’t do a whole lot wrong and showed remarkable resilience, falling five behind but coming to within a whisker of taking the game into extra-time.
It’s very hard to find any sort of fault in their play but Kilkenny upped their game considerably, as we expected.
Waterford dictated the first game to a large degree, played it at their pace, their tempo.
But on Saturday evening, Kilkenny controlled it, particularly in the second half, but Waterford showed remarkable resilience to hang in there.
I have to finish with that incredible Eoin Murphy catch to deny Pauric Mahony an equalising score.
When you talk about leadership, this is it in a nutshell. Mahony didn’t hit that free badly and it was spot on for accuracy but look how high Murphy gets off the ground to prevent the ball from going over the bar:
That’s just a phenomenal catch, a match-winning moment.
Plenty of goalkeepers wouldn’t have taken that chance if the ball is that far over his crossbar but Murphy deserves huge credit for executing it under that kind of pressure.
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