Tipperary knuckle down and give Westmeath a dusting in Mullingar
Liam Sheedy’s side cut out the errors and cut loose in impressive style
Tipperary’s Paul Flynn has a shot blocked by Tommy Gallagher of Westmeath during the Allianz Hurling League Division 1 Group A match at TEG Cusack Park in Mullingar. Photograph: Tommy Dickson/Inpho
Westmeath 0-16 Tipperary 4-27
Already, it seems clear that the 2021 All-Ireland will be a place for the high-rollers only. On a roasting midlands afternoon where it felt like we might never see rain again, Tipperary did no more than confirm that they are one of the teams that will hit the baseline of 30 points a game in the coming months.
In days of yore – you know, the mid-2010s – this would mark them down as marauding favourites for Liam MacCarthy. In 2021, it gets them a seat at the table. What they do from there is summer’s question.
Four weeks out from their opening engagement in the championship, they weren’t ever going to give Westmeath anything other than a face-first lesson in how far the Leinster side have to travel. As Shane O’Brien pointed out afterwards, the last time Westmeath played Tipperary, it was in the muck and dirt of winter. “Bad weather can be a leveller,” he said.
There was no bad weather here. There was no leveller. The difference in first touch was glaring between the sides, ditto physique, double ditto decision-making. O’Brien was full of positive noises afterwards but conceded that the compressed schedule had taken its toll on his squad – he has 10 players injured and gave two players their debut here, with another playing his first game after three years away. Playing in the Joe McDonagh will feel like taking off tight shoes.
Tipperary feasted on them in the end. Liam Sheedy’s side shilly-shallied for a while, limping their way through a careless opening quarter and only leading by 0-7 to 0-4 at the first water break. For an indication of their eventual knuckling down, look no further than their shooting stats – 0-7 from 16 attempts up to that water break, 4-20 from 31 shots for the remainder.
“Some of our ball in at times wasn’t as good as I’d like it to be,” Sheedy said afterwards. “I think when there was good movement inside, they were getting on ball – but you’ve got to make it stick when it goes in there and first touch is everything.
“I think for the first 17 balls that went in we only retained six of them, and that simply wouldn’t be acceptable at this level. So that’s an area of our game we’ve got to work on. But I think a lot of the lads are trying to do the right thing and we do remain a work in progress.
“Some of our shots were too quick. They were snappy. And when these guys are hitting ball snappy like that, it’s not good to watch. We encourage them to really back themselves and find a flow in their strike. And when they do that, these guys are well able to put the ball over the bar.
“We like to think we are very good strikers of the ball, especially on a day like today. It’s not just today – we have been high 15-17 wides per match up to now and you simply won’t be competitive in matches if you do that.”
After getting that wasteful, bitty opening quarter out of their system, Tipp found their groove. Noel McGrath was floating around the place, unlocking space here and there, and it was no shock that the opening goal started with him. Running diagonally across the Westmeath defence, he changed hands to flick a handpass against the grain, sending Willie Connors into clear water. At the second attempt, the lively Connors found John McGrath and the green flag was a given.
Connors had a fine game at wing forward, as had Barry Heffernan and Brendan Maher in the half-back line. Michael Breen was a muscular presence in the midfield and Cathal Barrett was foot-perfect in the full-back line. Sheedy’s championship side is taking shape.
By half-time, Tipp led 1-15 to 0-7 and what little there was left in the game for Westmeath disappeared when corner back Darragh Egerton was sin-binned seven minutes after the restart. It looked a harsh call – his foul on Jason Forde was certainly a drag down but there was no certainty that the Tipp forward was in for a goal and Westmeath had a covering defender ready to make the tackle.
Nonetheless, Egerton had to walk and Forde dusted himself down to bury the penalty. By the time Egerton returned 10 minutes later, Tipp were 3-19 to 0-10 to the good, with Forde burying a second goal before making way for Jake Morris. The Tipp subs ran rampant for the rest of the game, with Morris, Mark Kehoe and Alan Flynn nailing scores from all distances and angles.
There will be a day those scores matter, every last one of them. Though this wasn’t it, Sheedy could head back south reasonably hopeful that he has them for when it comes.
WESTMEATH: Noel Conaty; Darragh Egerton, Tommy Gallagher, Conor Shaw; Aaron Craig, Tommy Doyle, Peadar Scally; Cormac Boyle, Robbie Greville (0-2); Aonghus Clarke, Killian Doyle (0-3, three frees), Joey Boyle (0-1); Josh Coll, Niall Mitchell, Ciaran Doyle (0-5, four frees).
Subs: Derek McNicholas (0-3, one free) for K Doyle (27 mins); Darragh Clinton (0-2) for Josh Coll, Kevin Regan for Scally (both 56); Alan Cox for Clarke (57); Shane Clavin for C Boyle, E Ahern for C Doyle (both 69).
TIPPERARY: Brian Hogan; Cathal Barrett, Pádraic Maher, Barry Heffernan (0-2); Robert Byrne, Brendan Maher (0-1), Brian McGrath; Michael Breen (0-2), Paddy Cadell (0-2); Dan McCormack (0-1), Noel McGrath (0-1), Willie Connors (0-1); John McGrath (1-2), Séamus Callanan (0-1), Jason Forde (2-6, 1-0 pen, four frees, one 65).
Subs: Jake Morris (0-3, one free) for Forde, Alan Flynn (0-2) for McCormack (both 47 mins); Craig Morgan for Heffernan (53); Paul Flynn (0-1) for N McGrath (54); James Quigley for Barrett, Mark Kehoe (1-2) for J McGrath (both 59); John Meagher for B McGrath (60).
Referee: Liam Gordon (Galway)