The hurling spotlight will be beamed exclusively on Semple Stadium this Sunday for a double helping of quarter-finals. Resurgent Wexford tackle Limerick while Tipperary’s gathering momentum will face a stiff examination by Dublin. A bumper crowd is anticipated for what should be engrossing action.
All the angst that surrounded our defeat by Limerick is fast fading into the background as the championship heads into the business end of affairs. Our recuperation was kick-started by the Galway win and gained further momentum against Offaly. Now Dublin stands in the way of a return to Croke Park for the first time since that embarrassing day against Kilkenny in 2012.
Tipperary go in as strong 4/11 favourites in the betting odds against a generous 5/2 offering on Dublin. Those figures hardly reflect the hurling reality because remember that many people were fancying the Dubs ahead of their Leinster final clash with Kilkenny. One off day hardly makes you a poor team overnight so a more sensible assessment will anticipate a major backlash from the metropolitans this time.
As ever it will be interesting to see what Tipperary team emerges for the throw-in. Conor O’Mahony appears to be close to full fitness, so that might present the management with a choice. Who gives way if O’Mahony returns? One option would be to return Barrett to the corner with Paddy Stapleton losing out.
Full back is also an ongoing discussion point. After refusing to experiment against Offaly it’s difficult to see a change now for what will be a much more demanding occasion. Encouragingly Paul Curran is going well in training thereby increasing the management’s options in this area.
The expectation is that Bergin and Woodlock will again man the middle of the field and indeed there’s little change expected in attack. Gearoid Ryan has recovered from the injury sustained against Offaly though after two disappointing games his position might be under question. Denis Maher seems to be the first option among the replacements though Eoin Kelly is making a major impact at training. The few occasions Eoin was introduced during the league he seemed to be well off the pace and it is quite incredible now that he has put himself right back in the frame once again at the height of the championship – remarkable drive from a truly remarkable player.
Overall the perception is that Tipperary has forwards to scare the best of them; any defence will be spooked by the likes of Callanan, ‘Bonner’ and Corbett in full flow, according to Jamesie O’Connor. People have been less complimentary about Noel McGrath, though his input was significant the last day. ‘Bubbles’ wins admiration for his incredible talent though at times his slack work rate comes in for criticism. Niall O’Meara remains out with that ankle injury. In general we’ll expect to rack up a sizeable total but there are worries about the defensive end.
Our last championship meeting with Dublin was in the 2011 semi-final. We went in as hot favourites after scoring fourteen goals during the Munster campaign but only managed one against the Dubs in a shaky four point win (1-19 to 0-18). Our only other championship clash in the modern era was back in 2007 at Parnell Park when we came through comfortably in the end, 1-20 to 1-11, though not without difficulties en route. That was the year under ‘Babs’ when a controversial Damian Fitzhenry free saw Wexford pip us at quarter-final stage.
Actually Tipperary has only ever lost once to Dublin in a senior hurling championship game and that was way back in the 1917 final. Our most recent league clash with the Dubs was back in March when we were fortunate to get the required three point margin that took us forward to the knock-outs.
The Dubs may be outsiders for this tie but one form line deserves respect: they went to Wexford Park and won in the Leinster championship. Wexford’s subsequent progress adds merit to that outcome so the Leinster final is not an accurate barometer of their true potential. I expect Ryan O’Dwyer and company to bring a big game to Thurles and we’ll need to be at our best to prevail.
The opening ‘quarter’ is no less intriguing. Limerick are favourites but Wexford are coming with momentum after putting out Clare and Waterford in turn. They bring a real live-wire buzz to the championship and Limerick will need to have put aside their disappointment of the Munster final to get through this one. I suspect they’ll look especially to improved forward play to earn their passage to the semis.
I doubt if the good people of Loughmore and Castleiney will have Cork referee Cathal McAllister on their Christmas card list any time soon. The Cork official dispatched two of their players to the dug-out in last year’s Munster club game against Na Piarsaigh and John Meagher suffered a similar fate last week in the U21 game at Ennis.
It was a controversial and critical decision nearing the end of normal time leaving Tipperary without their centre back for the decisive extra periods. In the end a brave Tipperary effort came up just short.
If John Meagher’s ‘offence’ deserved a red card then we might as well quit this physical contact sport and take up tennis. Defenders of the referee will point out that he was technically correct because John Meagher did make contact with his hurley, however slight, after the Clare man jostled him over a disputed line ball. However, it was a technical judgment totally bereft of any common sense application of the rules.
How often do we see players being clipped or slapped with the hurley as they go past opponents and there’s not even a nod from the referee. Seamus Callanan had a hurley broken across him as he went in for the first goal against Galway and there wasn’t even a booking. Likewise he was clipped on his last goal against Offaly and this time a card was shown but only a yellow. Now if you want to apply your technical argument then red cards should have resulted in both of the above incidents.
I can’t help remembering too the foul blow to the head that Niall O’Meara took in the corresponding fixture last year in Thurles and the offender merely got a yellow card. Yet a totally innocuous sideline jostle in this case sees the official waving red. It’s ridiculous.
The sending off obviously didn’t help our cause in extra time though we had our chances to win the game in normal time. We got hit for goals early and late in this contest but in between the side put in a commendable effort. A little more composure on a few chances and we might now be celebrating a major turn up because Clare were hotly fancied in this game. The loss of Liam McGrath with a ligament injury didn’t help either on top of the ongoing absence of his cousin John McGrath with a pelvis injury.
Incidentally John Meagher and Bill Maher were called in to senior training following this game. Another player I’d like to see involved with the seniors is Colin O’Riordan though obviously his focus is with the footballers as they square up to Galway. Good luck to both codes at the weekend.