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Tuesday 21 November 2017

Semple stadium slaughter to be Ger's swansong

Nature of Tipperary defeat had a stinging finality

Dublin manager Ger Cunningham (r) shakes hands with Tipperary manager Michael Ryan after their All-Ireland SHC Round 2 match at Semple Stadium in Thurles, Tipperary on Saturday.
Dublin manager Ger Cunningham (r) shakes hands with Tipperary manager Michael Ryan after their All-Ireland SHC Round 2 match at Semple Stadium in Thurles, Tipperary on Saturday.

Ger Cunningham didn't departure his exit as Dublin hurling manager on Saturday but it all felt very end of days.

"I don't know. It's very hard to say," he shrugged, although Cunningham did acknowledge: "my term is up," after three years of much turbulence and no discernible progress as Dublin's hurling manager.

The Dublin county board are currently awaiting confirmation that Cunningham will not seek another term as manager.

They are unlikely to be of a mind to grant him one in any case.

"It's very hard when you're shell-shocked because of the nature of the game and how it panned out.

"We weren't expecting it in any shape or form. But I'm still kind of shell-shocked from the game."

Saturday was undoubtedly the low point of a tenure not decorated with highs.

After three years, he has overseen huge turnover - though not all of his own wish - and blooded many players who will hurl for Dublin over the next decade.

Yet his team made only one All-Ireland quarter-final appearance in three years.

Their list of summer victories numbers just four; Limerick, Laois (twice) and Wexford.

They will begin next season in Division 1B of the League and the manner of Saturday's 22- point annihilation, coming in the same season as a 17-point hammering by Galway and that relegation had a stinging finality about it.

All we were missing in Thurles was four horsemen.

As his three year term is up, Cunningham would require county board reappointed if he was of a mind to seek more time to continue his project.

Given the turbulence that has marred the past two years of his reign and the high profile defections that have robbed the team of some of the county's best hurlers, such support is highly unlikely to be forthcoming.

"We got exposed today," offered Cunningham by way of explanation for a hiding not seen since the bad old days for Dublin hurling, inflicted by and in-form and electric Tipperary attack but facilitated by the exposure of the Dublin side backs to such high voltage.

"We got well beaten by a very good team who really, went for the jugular today when the opportunities arose.

"Really, when we look back on the match, what we'll be disappointed about is some of the mistakes we made that were punished. They were self-inflicted.

"Like, we got back into the game. We got back into the first half. We were level and we needed just to settle it. But just a couple of mistakes on our behalf…

"We create a couple of chances we didn't take. And we needed to take everything we could."

Cunningham's insistence on playing six forwards up meant Dublin did create chances of their own.

Cian O'Sullivan scored a brilliant individual goal while Eamonn Dillon had another cleared off the line by Donagh Maher.

By consequence though, Tipp were allowed enough chances to calibrate their aim.

Seamus Callanan scored 3-11 (0-7) but had another two shots repelled by Conor Dooley's torso and let another three good passes slip when gathering the ball would almost certainly have generated another look at the whites of Dooley's eyes.

Essentially then, Cunningham went man-on-man with the All-Ireland champions in their back yard with a team featuring a smattering of hurlers in either their first or second seasons at this level.

"We all wanted to go out and win the game," was his stated rationale.

"We wanted to go and attack them. Playing with an extra man back meant we would only have had five forwards.

"We're playing Liam Rushe at centre-forward because we needed a bit of strength there. We need ball-winners. And if we didn't have six up there, we were going to make life difficult for ourselves.

"And the proof of the pudding was in the fact that in the first half, we did create goal chances. We missed a couple, we had one cleared off the line.

"But when you're exposed, it's a fair question to ask. But we wanted to have a go at it."

Cunningham repeated "we didn't see that performance coming. We thought we prepared well."

"But we can only look after ourselves. We were just well beaten today. No excuses."

The deployment of a sweeper late in the first half was something of a bizarre development, therefore.

At that stage, Tipp had already scored four goals, products of the artistry of Callanan and John McGrath and the brutish endeavour of 'Bonner' Maher.

Donal Burke sat behind Chris Crummey for the final five minutes of the half but by the start of the second, that ploy had been abandoned.

"We were four goals down at half-time so we were contemplating shoring it up for the first few minutes of the second half but we felt that wasn't the message to give," Cunningham explained.

"We felt we had to attack Tipperary to try and get back in the game.

"But within 30 seconds, there was a goal gone in."

"They played exhibition hurling in the second half."

claim credit

Cunningham can claim credit for bringing so many players through over the past three years, though the exposure of hurlers just out of minor grade to Saturday's sort of pummelling could yet prove scarring.

And the facts are, there were far too many players not playing on Saturday for Dublin that should have been as each Tipperary score gave the defeat a more brutal appearance.

"They're dagger blows," Cunningham admitted.

There's been too many.

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