Tipperary learn to like the ball again and find their way to the league semi-final
Wins over Cork leaves Eamon O’Shea happy his team have overcome their slow start
The Tipperary team stand for the national anthem before the start of the game against Cork. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho
If there was always a danger when quarter-finals were introduced to the Allianz Hurling League that they might turn out to be an exercise in telling us what we already knew, at least Cork and Laois made us doubt ourselves temporarily. The semi-final line-up three weeks from now will, as expected, feature the top four teams from Division 1A but they didn’t all travel there by the most straightforward route.
While Galway and Kilkenny squared away Limerick and Wexford respectively with the minimum of fuss, Clare had to pedal a little faster than they expected to as the line approached against Laois.
They ran out 2-23 to 2-19 winners in the end but only after Cheddar Plunkett’s resurgent side overcame a first-half red card to claw themselves to within two points going into injury-time.
Tie of the round was in Thurles and but for a late goal-line stand by massed ranks of Tipp hurlers, a tie it would have been. On the day the clocks went forward, the extra hour of sunshine was almost called upon as Anthony Nash wound himself up into a last-puck 20-metre free in an attempt to force extra-time.
Having already nailed one in the first half, this was a little trickier since it was at an angle. Sure enough, the Tipp wall had no crack and Eamon O’Shea’s side went through with a 3-25 to 4-19 victory.
They will face Clare on April 20th, with Kilkenny and Galway meeting in the other semi-final.
For O’Shea, it was the second week of good news after a dreary month when it was decidedly scarce. He wasn’t exactly singing hosannas afterwards but he was resolutely optimistic about where his team are at and where they are going.
“I know it didn’t look good from the outside when we were losing matches but the spirit was always very good,” he said. “They showed great spirit and dug out a result [against Dublin] and did the same today when they had to. It wasn’t perfect but the nice thing was that they played some nice hurling, the way we want to play the game. I don’t know how ye see the hurling championship but I’d say there are four or five teams that can win it. It’s still very early in the year.
“The spirit was always strong – there’s huge desire to do well this year. The most pleasing thing was that the lads sorted things out themselves on the pitch. ”
That said, this was another defensive display that left plenty to be desired. Cork’s 4-19 should be enough to beat them most days, as Galway’s 3-16 was a fortnight ago and as Clare’s 4-15 and Kilkenny’s 5-20 were earlier in the league.
“Yeah, we are [conceding too much]. I don’t have the answer to that right now. The pleasing thing today was that we were trying to play the ball to the right areas. We did a lot of work on that on the training pitch over the last two weeks to get us to like the ball again. When you like the ball you can do anything with it
Elsewhere, Dublin secured their Division 1A status for another year with a 4-13 to 1-17 won over Waterford in Walsh Park, sending Derek McGrath’s side tumbling out of the top flight. And Offaly will have to play the winner of next Sunday’s Division 2A final between Kerry and Carlow for the right to stay in Division 1B after they lost out to Antrim in Ballycastle.
In football, Kildare and Westmeath were relegated from Division One with a round still to play after defeats to Derry and Kerry respectively. Cork and Derry are safely through to the semi-finals, with the remaining places to be fought over by Kerry, Mayo, Tyrone and Dublin next Sunday.