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Comment & Analysis | Sport

Tipperary supporters need to take a hard look at themselves

Henry Shefflin of Kilkenny gets to grips with Tipperary's James Woodlock
Henry Shefflin of Kilkenny gets to grips
with Tipperary’s James Woodlock

AS one famine ends, another looks set to begin.

Ironically, the man who became famous for saying “the famine is over” back in 1987, Richie Stakelum of Tipperary, is a selector for Anthony Daly’s Dublin team.

The same Dublin team that ended a 52-year wait for provincial glory against Galway.

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Meanwhile Stakelum’s native county continue to underwhelm after losing by three points to Kilkenny in a Phase 2 qualifier at Nowlan Park.

This wasn’t Kilkenny, not their strongest suit, but it was still too flashy for the Premier County.

The worry for Tipp fans is that their best couldn’t beat the Cats’ worst, nor did they look close to it in the final 20 minutes.

Not that the Tipperary fans can simply blame their underperforming county representatives without doing a little soul-searching themselves. When you point one finger, there are three fingers pointing back to you.

Tipperary were first onto the field and were received with a self-conscious ripple from the visiting coterie.

Rather than make the hairs stand on your neck, you simply had to ask yourself if they realised the gravity of this game.

Kilkenny’s fans brought the house down when the Black and Amber shirts poured onto the field — the players surely felt like giants rather than just men after it.

True, this game was at Nowlan Park, in the heart of Kilkenny, and only a hen’s kick from the O’Loughlin Gaels club, but it’s been a recurring issue for Tipp.

Take their recent home league game against Clare as an example — the Banner men got a huge roar at Semple Stadium in Thurles, while the hometown players got a trifle.

When a game is all about intensity and getting up for it, feeling the love from the sidelines can make a difference.

This is not to blame the fans alone but it is to warn off those that would slam Shane McGrath as an underperforming captain — his tears as he made the long walk after the game told a story that we won’t ever know the half of.

The Ballinahinch man was taken off at half-time and that will no doubt bring Eamon O’Shea’s armband decision into question — but not by those who take little more than a passing interest.

Nor those who simply travelled down to do one of two things: jump on the bandwagon, or bitch. They don’t deserve that luxury.

Kilkenny were gallant despite being down Michael Fennelly for the entire game, Henry Shefflin for most of it, and with others playing through the pain.

They played little better than in either game against Dublin but from a long way out in the second half that looked to be enough to beat Tipperary. Two things made a huge impact on this game, and both from totemic figures.

On 29 minutes, Lar Corbett was out in front of Paul Murphy and ready to receive the ball — boom went his hammy, the ball travelled down the field and Richie Hogan levelled at 0-8 to 1-5.

41 minutes gone.Eoin Kelly had just missed a free but a scything run from James Woodlock gave him an open chance for goal — he made a hero of Eoin Murphy by driving his shot at the keeper, with shades of PJ Ryan in 2009 all over it.

Kelly then missed the resulting ’65, after which Eoin Larkin levelled a game that Tipp could have got a run on.

These were just some of the momentum shifts that allowed an underperforming and understrength Kilkenny side to push on and win.

The belief was ultimately sucked out of the Premier and they reverted to type in the final third of the game — trucking high balls down on top of the Cats defence, as if Tommy Walsh and Brian Hogan and Kieran Joyce would hate that.

Indeed they revelled in it.

Should the Cats negotiate their way past Waterford this weekend and get both Shefflin and Fennelly back to full fitness, very few would back against yet another All-Ireland title.

Hurling, despite this season finally giving the sport a new lease of life, in some ways needed the Cats to retire early for one summer.

Perhaps the only team that can stop Kilkenny are those that have already done so.

It says so much about Dublin’s improvement through this championship that their toughest game was against Wexford in the Leinster quarter-final.

Two bites is what it took to beat Kilkenny but, on both occasions, Anthony Daly’s team looked capable of devouring more of the carcass.

Belief changes everything. Galway were dismissed in emphatic fashion at Croke Park on Sunday, even though they had a half-chance for a goal that might have brought the deficit back to within a score in the final quarter.

That wouldn’t have been a fair reflection of Dublin’s dominance though, but what would be interesting to see is a rematch between the teams later in the championship.

The Dubs were up to championship intensity from the first whistle on Sunday because it was their fifth successive week on the go; Galway, with just a single game against an improving but hardly fearsome Laois outfit, were off the boil.

The Tribe will have to come through an All-Ireland quarter-final and semi-final if they are to meet the Dubs again, and their level of performance would need to be at a 2012 level to even reach that point.

Can they? They might get there, but there is little to suggest so at this point.

During the middle of last season’s championship, from the start of Leinster to the All-Ireland semi-final against Cork, they were averaging about 16 scores a game from open play.

That tally has fallen off a cliff ever since. In the drawn and lost All-Ireland finals against Kilkenny, they accrued just seven each time.

That remained in single digits throughout this year’s league, while 11 and 12 against Laois and Dublin respectively is just not enough.

Certainly not against the Dubs who ratcheted up 2-21 from open play over 70 relatively comfortable minutes.

“This will be Daly’s last year, no matter what,” was the feeling uttered from many mouths at the start of the season but, as had many times been said about Alex Ferguson, a little patience with the boss has paid off.

That is not to say that everything he has done earlier in this and last season has been vindicated, certainly not.

Johnny McCaffrey at centre-forward was a retrograde step, as was Conal Keaney in defence, and the constant migration of talisman Liam Rushe.

Daly deserves kudos for finally settling on a team and restricting it to minimal changes thereafter. Continuity of selection has led to a steadiness in performance.

It’s something that Anthony Cunningham’s Galway could benefit from if they are to make a real push for another All-Ireland final this year.

The weekend’s biggest winners, Dublin and Kilkenny, look much better placed to do that right now.



Shane Stapleton is the Irish Post's GAA hurling columnist. Follow Shane on Twitter @shanesaint

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