Old game is still ablaze - Tipperary versus Kilkenny final nicely set
Tipperary and Galway deliver an absolute epic – yet it wasn’t even the game of weekend
Tipperary’s John O’Dwyer scores a goal past Galway goalkeeper Colm Callanan. Photograph: Cathal Noonan/Inpho
The old game blazes still. An austere summer of hurling that felt like we were huddled around a candle for most of it has exploded into a fireball riot just in time. Come the harvest, it will be Tipperary and it will be Kilkenny and it will be the pair of them for the fourth time in eight years. But to gripe about a lack of variety after the weekend we just had feels like nit-picking.
Tipperary will feel they squeezed out through a hole in the chainlink fence against Galway in Croke Park yesterday. They were the dog with the bad name before this, a reputation for losing tight matches following them around like an odour.
This was their first time winning a game decided by a goal or less since beating Cork in 2012. Since then, six games have gone to the wire and none of them ended with Tipp players dancing on the turf.
“I can’t change the facts,” said Mick Ryan. “The facts are we’ve failed far too often to win. Most of the time we were against top opposition who go on to win big prizes.
“There are no two games the same, you’ve got to deal with a completely new set of circumstances and it’s ever-evolving. The game is a live show, it’s ebbing and flowing the whole time and you’re just trying to react to that.
“I think it’s an important win, I wouldn’t underestimate it. It’s well documented that we’ve struggled to win those kinds of games. To turn one around and win a tight one is nice because the prize is great.”
This was a curious sort of epic. You wouldn’t call it the game of the year; it wasn’t even the game of the weekend. Probably the worst game of the last seven days, if you wanted to be tiresome and pedantic about it.
But it was visceral and it was thrilling and when you’re sitting in Croke Park in August, you’re making a glutton of yourself if you’re looking for more than that.
Galway left the ground not owing the 54,227 paying guests a cent of their ticket price. They trucked on here despite losing Joe Canning and Adrian Tuohy to injury at half-time. They kept Seamie Callanan scoreless from play, a perfect answer to his day of wanton plunder last year. They kept Tipp goalless for an hour – 10 more minutes would have seen them home.
Both Galway goals came from Tipp possessions – Niall O'Meara coughed up for the first, Brendan Maher gave a loose handpass for the second. On both occasions, justice was administered with extreme prejudice. Conor Cooney nailed his early in the first half as Galway ran in a three-on-two, Joseph Cooney scudded his nine minutes after half-time from a similar break. Tipp reacted well both times, gathering up the next couple of points to salve the wound.
That’s how they got through this. Grim-faced and not-to-be- denied. Ryan’s side were never particularly fluid and only occasionally put up the sort of Tipp scores that make you purr. The exception was John O’Dwyer’s 61st minute goal, finagled past Colm Callanan with a surgeon’s touch.
John McGrath spun onto Seamie Callanan’s gloriously scooped handpass soon after to put them ahead for the first time in 46 minutes. The goals were their only scores in the closing quarter-hour. But they were sufficiently ornery to keep Galway out at the other end and so they won the sort of game they lost this time last year.
“Bitterly disappointed,” was Michéal Donoghue’s take on it.
“We were coming up today, the prize at stake was huge. I can’t fault the players’ attitude or application. A hugely disappointed dressing-room down there like ourselves.
“Coming into the game, the chat was it was going to be a shootout. From a manager’s perspective and I’m sure Mick was the same, we didn’t want it to turn out that way. Inevitably it did and the game ebbed and flowed. The way it was going, obviously just bitterly disappointed we didn’t get something out of it. Just bitterly disappointed.”
“I think with the lads, their work-rate and maybe coming back the field and stuff tired them out. Maybe there was one or two clearances that went up and then the Tipp boys got them and it was just straight back down on top of us.
“But I suppose that’s just the way the game was. There’s probably periods on reflection near the end, maybe we should have carried a bit more, maybe we should have taken it on a bit more and gotten a score or maybe . . . sure, look, there’s always ifs and buts, isn’t there?”
Indeed. But the world turns and eventually Kilkenny get involved and finals involving Brian Cody’s side tend to leave little enough room for prevarication.
Ryan has plenty of ifs and buts in his side. Three weeks to tidy them up or face the consequences.