Nicky English: Tipperary relieved to have overcome huge hurdle

Despite Waterford’s heroics, the best two teams will meet in next month’s final

Tipperary’s John O’Dwyer celebrates his crucial goal against Galway with John McGrath at Croke Park. Photograph: Tommy Dickson/Inpho

Tipperary’s John O’Dwyer celebrates his crucial goal against Galway with John McGrath at Croke Park. Photograph: Tommy Dickson/Inpho

 

Tipperary and Kilkenny came through extraordinary tests at the weekend. I expected them both to win but they were put to the pin of their collar by their opponents.

Kilkenny-Waterford on Saturday night was of epic proportions and ultimately it was won because of Kilkenny’s resilience and know-how.

Despite the surge from Waterford at the end, I think they showed a slight lack of composure at the very end when it might have been there for them.

On Sunday, Tipperary although not reaching the heights of the Munster championship, confirmed that they had improved in key areas: mentally they’re stronger and physically more powerful. They were staring down the barrel of another defeat by Galway and managed to summon up the goals that transformed the match.

That double salvo in the last 10 minutes was the difference and they reach the final with plenty to work on, which is an ideal scenario going into an All-Ireland final.

The underwhelming display by Tipp wasn’t unexpected; they hadn’t played in five weeks and were under enormous pressure to succeed in a match with a county against whom they often find it hard to hit the heights. I didn’t expect them to hit those heights even though it was clear they had the wherewithal to win.

You could look at it very critically and say that for a lot of the game their defence was under pressure and Galway dominated under the high ball and created goal chances.

Second Captains

Tipperary didn’t hurl with any fluency and that after a good start in midfield Breen and Maher went from looking as imperious as they had in Munster to little by little losing the initiative and by the end David Burke was the best midfielder on view.

Huge hurdle

From the Tipperary point of view however, they were losing with 10 minutes to go, not hurling terrible fluently and had players making key errors, like Brendan Maher coughing up the ball for the second Galway goal. But they found the wherewithal to win a tight game. It’s been a while since they did that, especially in Croke Park.

The goals killed Galway but they were already in difficulties after the two enforced substitutions at half-time.

Joe Canning had scored a point from play and hit his frees but above all he’s the team leader and you could sense the disappointment when it became clear he wasn’t coming back. It was a huge blow. Adrian Tuohy had also been playing well and he too was a loss to the defence.

After Joseph Cooney’s goal they had the opportunity to go on and win but they were guilty of a lot of aimless hurling, playing typically two up front and although when they got to the pitch of the high ball they were winning more than was comfortable for Tipp, more often they were simply outnumbered.

Aidan Harte hit a wide just after the second goal; there was an overhit pass to Cyril Donnellan and they might have had a last chance at an equaliser if David Collins had controlled the last ball on the sideline – and he wasn’t the only one who had difficulties with his touch.

Ring-rusty

Kilkenny showed far better touch, greater energy and physical assertiveness against Waterford than they had in the drawn match. Waterford took it to them, though and got the goals that have been struggling to score.

Colin Fennelly hit back in style with his two goals and looked able to turn Barry Coughlan at will and looked a serious goal menace for the first time in two years.

Brian Cody also rolled back the years to that evening in Tullamore when he really rolled the dice with four changes for a replay against Galway. Liam Blanchfield was sprung for Saturday and did really well on his debut with three points and one of the vital later frees.

But they also got big contributions from TJ Reid, Richie Hogan and a huge display from Michael Fennelly. I’d like to wish him all the best after what looked like a serious injury, which is almost certain to keep him out of the final.

You’ve got to hand it to Kilkenny for their ability to keep going. The Thurles match was played at a far higher intensity than the one in Croke Park and it just shows the benefits of playing a match.

Overexcited

You’d feel for Pauric Mahony because if he’d got the free there would almost certainly have been extra time and Waterford appeared to have the energy of a younger team to go and win. But could you ever be sure that Kilkenny couldn’t have survived that as well? Anyway with one match to go we have the two best teams this year in the final.

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