Jackie Tyrrell: Tipperary's display of clinical hurling makes them worthy champions

Cats’ long-ball tactics in the second half literally played into Tipperary’s hands

Kilkenny played into Tipperary’s hands by pumping long high ball into an area of the field where Tipp players not only outnumbered the Kilkenny ones who were there but were also being joined by more Tipp bodies flooding back into that area. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Kilkenny played into Tipperary’s hands by pumping long high ball into an area of the field where Tipp players not only outnumbered the Kilkenny ones who were there but were also being joined by more Tipp bodies flooding back into that area. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

 

As people, as hurling people and sports people, it’s amazing how easily we get distracted at times. Instead of talking about the bigger themes, we get bogged down in incidents and talking points. A lot of the time, we move on before giving things their due. Everything is about the next outrage or the next flashpoint. We definitely lose something along the way.

Everybody in Ireland knows what the main talking point out of last Sunday’s final was. Richie Hogan was sent off in the 33rd minute and the game changed drastically around the same time. Add one to the other and even people who were only half-watching the game knew what the narrative was straight away. So Richie has had five days of being the most famous man in the country.

Look at all the airtime and column inches that have been devoted to it since 4.03pm last Sunday.

All the nuance and shades of grey in the game disappeared as soon as James Owens gave him the line. The upshot of it all is that people have spent the week talking about the wrong thing. The sending off didn’t decide the All-Ireland final. Tipperary decided the All-Ireland final.

The momentum had shifted before the red card happened

Go back and watch the 10 minutes before the red card. Paudie Maher and Séamus Kennedy switched flanks and just that one little switch did so much to click Tipperary into the gear they wanted. Kilkenny had made the better start but six of their first eight points had come from frees by TJ Reid. They were five points up but it was a grinding performance.

Tipperary were trying to grind too but once they switched Maher and Kennedy, they started to get a lot more flow into their play. They weren’t as stuck on their own puck-out as they had been in the opening period and they were starting get their forwards into it.

Bubbles O’Dwyer found himself in wide open territory twice in the space of a minute – he didn’t score either time because he maybe had too long to think about it but it was a sign that Tipp were starting to find space, which is never good for the opposition.

The point I’m making is that the momentum had shifted before the red card happened. And the fact that the sending off was so controversial has robbed Tipperary of their due in the days that have followed. All week, assessment of Tipp’s performance has been diluted by people focusing on the sending off. As a result, I don’t feel the general reaction to their win has done them justice.

This was an awesome display of controlled, measured and clinical hurling. I have yet to see a performance as good as it when it comes to the use of an extra player. Cathal Barrett’s display as the extra man was superb. His positioning was impeccable, his reading of where the breaks were falling was clever and his distribution of the ball was simple and effective.

I thought it was interesting that he was given the job and not Paudie or Brendan Maher who had played that role throughout this championship. It was just another good call in a long list of correct decisions by Liam Sheedy.

Right option

When I think of Tipp in 2019, Sheedy’s ability to consistently pick the right option is the thing that springs to mind. Think of the decisions he got right this year. Firstly to come back at all in the first place. After that, the quality of the backroom team he put together. Bringing in Eamon O’Shea midway through the spring, just when the real hurling training would have been starting as the weather improved.

Look at the decision to make Séamus Callanan captain, to position Bubbles at centre-forward, to turn Brendan Maher into the go-to man-marker for the opposition talisman, to turn Noel McGrath into a midfielder. These are guys who had been around for a long time and Sheedy was able to reinvent them, to freshen them up.

Or look at what he did with younger players too – playing Barry Heffernan against Wexford out of the blue, positioning Ronan Maher at full-back, turning the perceived minus of an unexperienced bench into the huge plus of a youthful and impactful core of subs who came in buzzing in both the semi-final and final.

Tipperary’s year was shaped by these decisions and Sheedy got every last one of them right. That’s massively to his credit and massively to the players’ credit as well.

Tipperary’s year was shaped by big decisions and Sheedy got every last one of them right. That’s massively to his credit and massively to the players’ credit as well. Photograph: Oisín Keniry/Inpho
Tipperary’s year was shaped by big decisions and Sheedy got every last one of them right. That’s massively to his credit and massively to the players’ credit as well. Photograph: Oisín Keniry/Inpho

I have been critical of some of these Tipperary players plenty of times in the past. I’ve called them flaky and inconsistent on the biggest days. There’s no way those charges can be levelled at them in 2019.

Whether it’s Sheedy’s doing or their own, they have attained a level of consistency this year that has made them worthy champions. They have developed a steely resolve and you could see in the last 25 minutes against Wexford and again on Sunday that they have demanded and taken ownership and leadership of their team. When it was absolutely needed in times of crisis, it was there. That’s how you win All-Irelands.

It shouldn’t come as a huge surprise to anybody. I did say I felt there was a sting in this Tipperary team when asked about them on RTÉ after the All-Ireland quarter final. There has never been a doubt about their skill-set or abilities. But it was only right to question their mindset and attitude at times due to substandard performances down the years. This summer was different.

For Kilkenny, it was a really disappointing day all-round. The performance over the 70 minutes wasn’t at the level you need in an All-Ireland final and no more than it dilutes the assessment of the Tipp display to put the result down to the sending off, it equally glosses over the Kilkenny one.

For what it’s worth, having looked back at it plenty of times, I still feel that it was a harsh red card. Every action in a game has a context and I don’t see it as fair to judge incidents without looking at that context. Barrett’s foul on Richie earlier in the game wasn’t malicious but it was reckless. He caught him in the face with the hurl and he drew blood.

Yellow card

I’m not saying Barrett should have been sent off or even that he should have got a yellow card. But if that happens in a game and the referee’s judgement is that it’s only a free, then the players on the field are going to draw their own conclusions from that decision. You’re thinking, ‘Okay, that’s the sort of game we’re in, the ref is allowing a bit of leeway because it’s lashing out of the heavens – good to know.’

For Richie to then get sent off for a clumsy tackle, with no leeway given, is, in my view, harsh. It’s applying a stricter standard to one tackle than he did to the other 15 minutes earlier. I get that you’re supposed to take each incident on its merits but down on the pitch in a high-intensity All-Ireland final, everything that happens affects everything else. Even more so when it comes to big refereeing decisions.

To send anyone off in an All-Ireland final, you need to be 100 per cent sure. James Owens’s body language didn’t convince me that he was certain in his mind. The foul was reckless from Richie, no question. But he had already seen– and felt – a reckless foul on him without a card being drawn. Add in the conditions and the fact that he has a fairly clean disciplinary record and I thought there was easily enough grey area there for Owens to give him a yellow.

The momentum had shifted before the red card happened. And the fact that the sending off was so controversial has robbed Tipperary of their due in the days that have followed. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho
The momentum had shifted before the red card happened. And the fact that the sending off was so controversial has robbed Tipperary of their due in the days that have followed. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

But again, it should be stressed that the red card didn’t cost Kilkenny the All-Ireland. Plenty of teams – and plenty of Kilkenny teams among them – have gone down to 14 men and still played way, way better than they did in that second half. The question that has to be asked of everyone involved is why they were so poor after half-time.

Everyone should appreciate a great team with great players and a great manager. The year belongs to Tipperary

Kilkenny played into Tipperary’s hand by pumping long high ball into an area of the field where Tipp players not only outnumbered the Kilkenny ones who were there but were also being joined by more Tipp bodies flooding back into that area.

Okay, try it once, twice, even three times but when it doesn’t work any one of those times you have to change. Kilkenny didn’t and with every Tipp defender who came out with the ball, the roars in the stands just got louder.

Kilkenny needed to vary their play a bit more when the long ball wasn’t working for them. They could have run the ball. Or they could have played it shorter. Or they could have directed balls into the corner to take out the extra defender and make space for on-running half-forwards. But they didn’t do any of that.

Huge influence

I felt as well that they could have used Conor Browne in a spoiling role on Noel McGrath to try and limit his influence. As it was, Noel was awesome and had a huge influence on the game. On a human level, it was brilliant to see him do it, back at the peak of his powers and performing at an elite level.

Kilkenny had a mountain to climb after that dominant period from the 35th to the 45th minute when Tipperary ran riot. The second half was built on puck-out dominance – Kilkenny were sucking for oxygen and only had a 25 per cent success rate off puck-outs in this period while Tipperary were operating off 85 per cent.

And of course, this Tipperary team have a potent attack. After 23 minutes, they had a mere 0-03 scored. In the following 23 minutes, they scored 3-11. That’s just lethal! I don’t see any other team out there who could have made that kind of turn around. They all chipped in.

Everyone should appreciate a great team with great players and a great manager. The year belongs to Tipperary.

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