Nicky English: Impressive Tipperary looking a cut above the rest

Work rate, power and fitness as well as a classy forward line proves a potent combination

Tipperary’s Brendan Maher and John ‘Bubbles’ O’Dwyer celebrate after the convincing victory over Clare at Cusack Park. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Tipperary’s Brendan Maher and John ‘Bubbles’ O’Dwyer celebrate after the convincing victory over Clare at Cusack Park. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

 

It’s probably worth making the point that so far the round-robin championship has failed to live up to 2018 levels. Too many teams look like they have lost form and there hasn’t been the same excitement.

Not that any of this will bother Liam Sheedy and his management team because Tipperary have been extremely impressive in running up three wins, two away from home.

In the first 15 minutes in Ennis, Clare put it up to Tipp. Peter Duggan was scoring his frees and Podge Collins looked busy but the seeds of the downfall were there. Tipperary were starting to get on top physically and Brendan Maher’s marking job on Tony Kelly was already looking ominous for Clare.

Noel McGrath was making things happen and his brother John, who has got better each week, picked up a couple of points and then they combined for Noel’s goal and suddenly that scoring power that we’ve seen from Tipp in the first matches kicked in and they were five and six points ahead.

Clare fought hard and Tipp conceded frees a little like they had against Cork before half-time and Duggan converted them to leave his team just about within range at half-time. But even with the wind to come, signs weren’t good and sure enough things didn’t improve for the home side.

Kelly never shook off Maher, Cathal Barrett continued to get the better of Shane O’Donnell and while John Conlon was able to win ball, his use of it was never at the weapons-grade level so noticeable last year.

In the second half, Clare went from being man-to-man to using a sweeper. I’m not sure if the idea was to create space up front but it meant that Pádraic Maher was left as the spare man in defence and with Tipperary so on top in the middle third, there was no pressure exerted on Maher.

This for me summed up Tipp in 2019: unbelievable work rate, power and fitness, epitomised by Bonner Maher, who has been a revelation this season. His forcefulness and first touch is phenomenal. Ronan Maher’s shoulder on Cathal Malone was another example. They’re first to the ball and blew Clare away in the rucks.

Up front they’ve the precision of Séamie Callanan, getting his 30th championship goal for the county, John McGrath – six points from play – and Bubbles O’Dwyer. While supporters will be delighted with the scoring rate that’s averaging 30 a game, I suspect they’ll be even more pleased with the strength and dynamism of the team at the back and the collective application.

Good challenge

It’s probably valid to ask if they’re showing too much too soon by lighting it up in May but you have to bear in mind that we’re not counting down to September anymore and the middle of August isn’t that far away. Few teams look likely to threaten those performance levels, especially as the field looks to have fallen back.

For Clare it’s all a bit worrying. Their win in Walsh Park was a positive start to the campaign but the reservations about the failure to put Waterford away have increased in the intervening weeks.

Limerick is a good challenge for them next as it’s a local rivalry, but you would think that their scoring rate is going to have to improve if they’re to stay competitive with the stronger teams. Of their key scorers, Duggan and Conlon were replaced and Kelly didn’t impact. Improvement is desperately needed.

That’s all the more acute as Limerick found have found a bit of form without being entirely convincing. They got back on the bike.

I thought Waterford had showed a bit of fight against Tipperary but maybe it’s easy to do that when there’s no pressure on, trailing a match and down to 14 and essentially beaten.

There was no similar spirit at the weekend, no spark, no fight. As soon as Aaron Gillane got the goal, the wheels completely came off for Waterford. It’s hard to know what they were thinking – you would have imagined that they might have used the wind in the first half to have a cut and maybe get Austin Gleeson up front.

There has to be something wrong when you see Pauric Mahony taking a frustrated pull at an opponent and Austin Gleeson going off at half-time. They have drifted alarmingly since the All-Ireland final two years ago.

Limerick worked a lot harder than in their first match and I think they’d another gear if they needed it.

They looked more themselves. Cian Lynch and Kyle Hayes who had shown flashed against Cork were far closer to their 2018 form. They successfully introduced the subs, who got good scores, but there are bigger tests to come.

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