Thursday 27 October 2016

Brace of goals prove tipping point

Premier by a nose as Galway rue 'what if?' defeat

Galway's Conor Cooney blasts the sliotar to the net in yesterday's All-Ireland SHC semi-final at Croke Park. Photo: Sportsfile
Galway's Conor Cooney blasts the sliotar to the net in yesterday's All-Ireland SHC semi-final at Croke Park. Photo: Sportsfile
Tipperary manager Michael Ryan celebrates on the full-time whistle. Photo: Sportsfile

Rightly or wrongly, Tipperary have forged an unwanted reputation for being unable to win tight matches. Maybe, with yesterday's white-knuckle triumph over Galway, that's all about to change.

This edge-of-the-seat All-Ireland SHC semi-final may have lacked the epic grandeur of Kilkenny/Waterford (chapters one and two) but it held your attention from first moment to last, partly because you never knew what was coming next.

As the lead oscillated, forward and back, Tipp's favouritism was frequently called into question ... never more tellingly than when finding themselves two points adrift approaching the hour.

Galway's full-back back line, led by the magnificent Dáithí Burke, had erected a maroon wall for most of that second half. The Tipp full-forward line had only scored 0-1 from play up to that juncture with Séamus Callanan, who had plundered 3-4 from play against the same defence 12 months ago, left to feed off free-taking scraps this time.

But then, in the space of two minutes, this contest was turned on its head by a brace of Tipp goals.


In the 61st minute, John Hanbury was caught the wrong side of John O'Dwyer who sped goalward before offloading to John O'Dwyer. The angle was daunting but 'Bubbles' improvised, like the ace predator he is, to bat his shot past Colm Callanan.

O'Dwyer, you suspect, will surely now start the All-Ireland but there was still a semi-final to win here - underlined by Conor Cooney's instant equaliser.

But in Tipperary's next attack, the workaholic Patrick 'Bonner' Maher eked out an opening for Callanan, whose slick hand-pass put John McGrath one-on-one. Callanan initially held him up but the younger McGrath could not be denied.

And still Galway, courageous to the end, refused to slink away. As the Tipp wides mounted, their opponents landed the next two points from a Cooney free and sub Shane Moloney, in injury-time.

What a difference a year makes. In last year's semi-final, super-sub Moloney also struck the ultimate point ... only that one proved a match-winner. Fine margins.

"We're thrilled, absolutely," enthused Tipp boss Michael Ryan. "There's no silverware for a semi-final but, in a sense, there's a lot more on offer. The chance to get to hurling's holy grail, playing on the first Sunday in September ... we're there. It wasn't pretty but we're delighted."

In some respects, this is ideal pre-All-Ireland terrain for Ryan. His team didn't hurl consistently well, giving him lots of training ground 'ammo' for their September 4 showdown with Kilkenny.

Their erratic form graph and wavering intensity was most evident during a first half which included a 0-7 shell-burst in seven minutes followed by a barren 17-minute spell as Galway surged from three down to three up, en route to leading 1-10 to 0-11 at the break.

But when it came down to the wire, Tipp showed that - contrary to recent history - they do indeed know how to close out a tight contest.

This was the first time they have won a one-point championship game since beating Cork in 2012. Ryan was a selector when they pipped Galway by the same margin on the way to lifting Liam MacCarthy in 2010; now he hopes history is about to repeat itself.

"It's well documented that we've struggled to win those kinds of games. Whether you like being associated with that or not, it's a fact. To turn one around and win a tight one is nice because the prize is great," he remarked.

A point ruefully reiterated by his Galway counterpart, Micheál Donoghue. "I can't fault the players' attitude or application," he said. "The way it was going, obviously just bitterly disappointed we didn't get something out of it. Just bitterly disappointed."

Whereas Galway were battle-hardened by their win over Clare, Tipp had been five weeks (since their Munster final cakewalk) without a game. And maybe rustiness was a factor in the former's two goals, both stemming from turnovers and finished with deadly precision by Conor Cooney, in the seventh minute, and Joseph Cooney in the 43rd after a Brendan Maher mistake.

But, by then, Galway had already been forced into a brace of half-time substitutions, Adrian Tuohy suffering a dislocated elbow and Joe Canning a hamstring injury just before half-time.


Even though Canning had been no more than solid, up to then, surely his presence could have swung such a finely balanced contest?

We'll never know.

Ryan's estimation that Galway led for "50-60 minutes" doesn't quite tally but it was an understandable guess.

"Let's be fair, they dominated and they were ahead in the game and we had it all to do," he pointed out.

But, when it mattered most, they did it.

All-ireland shc quarter-final: Tipperary 2-19 Galway 2-18

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