GAA Championships 2022 Week Six: Tipperary Going Tyrone Gone?
Munster’s hurling denouement last Sunday was phenomenally high-scoring but anti-climactic. The drama was in north-west England, not south-west Ireland, as Tipperary’s exit from the championship, without so much as drawing a game, was sorted before Aston Villa were even one-up at Manchester City. So there was more drama in Monday’s draw for the All-Ireland football qualifiers competition, involving the eight Division One and Two teams already out of the provincial championships, to determine who plays the losing provincial finalists for All-Ireland quarter-final spots.
There was laughter in RTE Radio presenter Darren Frehill’s voice, when Louth emerged from the bowl, as only Armagh and Tyrone remained. So, Tyrone must trek to Armagh to keep their All-Ireland title retention hopes alive. “That’s a character-builder,” analyst Kevin McStay euphemised (their February league match had FIVE red cards, four for Tyrone).
In an ‘ordinary’ draw, Mayo/Monaghan would have stood-out. And the division two teams being drawn together (Clare/Meath and Cork/Louth) would garner headlines, as that enhances the possibility of unexpected All-Ireland quarter-finalists. Armagh/Tyrone grabbed the headlines, and RTE cameras, (Sky has the Mayo match), though. And, momentarily, football is the sexy championship.
Anyway…the (yawn) hurling… After an understrength Clare beat Waterford by 12 points, Waterford manager Liam Cahill probably wished he’d taken his native Tipperary’s managerial position when offered it last August. And after Cork’s 12-point dismemberment of Tipp, Tipp boss Colm Bonnar probably wished Cahill had taken it too. Yet, for Bonnar, things had briefly looked far brighter.
Thirty-eight seconds in, Jake Morris found the Cork net with a tennis-style forearm smash. Five minutes in, Tipp were six-up. And 11 minutes in, Mark Kehoe was hauled down millimetres inside the penalty box, giving Noel McGrath the chance to put Tipp seven-up. They needed a seismic scoring-difference shift to stay in the championship. But with Clare already six-up on Waterford, it was on. Then McGrath’s penalty clonked the post. TWENTY-SEVEN seconds later, Alan Connolly goaled at the other end, Cork’s potential seven-point deficit became an actual one-point deficit. And Tipp folded.
Darragh Fitzgibbon’s 15h-minute goal put Cork four-up, with an 80-yard run and a low shot through Tipp keeper Barry Hogan, challenged only by Dillon Quirke’s star jump, designed to put Fitzgibbon off but more likely distracting Hogan, who probably thought, as did we all, “WTF was…THAT?” And Cork landed nine of the next 11 points to make the scoreboard look as if Leinster whipping-boys Laois were the opposition, inspired by half-forward Conor Lehane, whose first-half form would have turned ANY opposition into Laois.
Cork eased up after half-time but still added a ridiculous 1-16, the 63rd-minute goal a retro-flash of ‘ground’ hurling, Fitzgibbon driving the ball in from the left for sub Tim O’Mahony to sweep home. RTE’s pundits drooled, although when the cameras mistakenly returned to the studio five minutes later, presenter Joanne Cantwell was on her mobile phone, turned from the on-field action, undergoing an eye make-up refresh. More of a football fan, maybe.
In one week, Waterford tumbled from genuine second-favouritism to elimination, giving analyst Derek McGrath an awkward Sunday Game highlights show gig, having said, last month, that “whoever beats Waterford will be going up the steps” to lift the All-Ireland trophy. They’d want to be wide steps. Although, in fairness, many others thought similar.
McGrath seemed to be auditioning for a BBC ‘Jackanory’ revival, as he sat holding a big book, for no discernible reason. He never consulted it. But you couldn’t write what went wrong for Waterford. Clare rested key players, including main man Tony Kelly. But Waterford lost key players Tadhg De Burca and Jamie Barron to game-changingly early injury. Then, having recovered from falling 0-8 to 0-1 behind in nine minutes, they conceded a goal to new starter David Reidy. And in first-half stoppage time, David Fitzgerald dribbled the ball into the net to put Clare 12-up at half-time.
Waterford ‘had the wind’ after the break. But ‘le Petomane’ couldn’t have produced enough wind to help Waterford here. Clare went, ulp, TWENTY points ahead, as Tony Kelly briefly became Tony Who?, before introducing as many more subs as possible, confident enough to replace stalwart keeper Eibhear Quilligan with over ten minutes left. And Waterford outscoring Clare 1-5 to 0-2 late on simply turned abject humiliation into ‘ordinary’ humiliation.
“Last day dramatics?” asked the Sunday Game highlights show graphic. Well…yes. But in Moss Side, not Munster.
Waterford’s year is over. But Tipp will face the relegation/promotion play-off I trailed last week as an outside bet, if Kerry win the second-tier Joe McDonagh Cup. Kerry won in Antrim last Saturday and if they beat Antrim again in the 4th June final, the Cork/Kerry hurling clash I trailed last week as a potential play-off will be an actual All-Ireland preliminary quarter-final (PQF). If Antrim win, they will also be promoted to the Leinster championship, which provoked RTE studio debate on why Munster had no direct promotion. The consensus was “dunno,” although Kerry being the ONLY other Munster team might offer a clue.
After the Leinster hurling championship’s first round, RTE pundit and former Dublin manager Anthony Daly warned that hid former charges might suffer for “not putting enough on Laois.” And, as usual, Daly was about right.
With three teams finishing joint-second to Galway, the second provincial final spot, an All-Ireland PQF place and championship exit went down to scoring difference (two tied teams would have been separated by head-to-head results). And with Dublin beating Laois by a merer two points than even Daly suggested, they exited the championship. Indeed, for all the hype about last-day dramatics in Leinster too, Dublin’s always-likely loss to Galway left Kilkenny in the Leinster final regardless of their fate against Wexford.
Some might claim Dublin were ‘unluckier’ than Daly predicted, as the joint-second trio had six points, while Daly envisaged a potential exit with five. But…no. The Dubs managed just one goal, against Laois, in their five matches. This would be worse in soccer (they were held goalless in their other two wins). But a two-point win over a team whose average defeat was 22 otherwise? As worse as it gets. Even Westmeath put five past Laois last Saturday.
Although Galway and Kilkenny will contest Saturday week’s Leinster final, Westmeath and Wexford were the province’s joint story. Westmeath powered to an 18-point win in Laois. But just as seismic was Wexford’s more-than-deserved four-point win in Kilkenny.
Sky Sports interviewer, former Cork keeper Anthony Nash, gave man-of-the-match Lee Chin more problems with his opening enquiry than Kilkenny’s invisible midfield managed. He asked Chin why Wexford were so much better on Saturday than they had been for the previous six weeks, in championship and league. But the correct answer, “because I was playing from the start,” was simply unavailable if Chin wished to avoid accusations of arrogance.
The contrast with Wexford’s last appearance in Kilkenny’s Nowlan Park, a 16-point thumping by Waterford in March’s League semi-final, was total. Almost. They started on Saturday in similar fashion, Mossie Keoghan’s well-worked goal helping to put Kilkenny five ahead after xx minutes. Then Chin was moved from full-forward into midfield. And it was as if a switch was flicked.
Wexford led at half-time, the sides separated by Oisin Foley’s 33rd-minute goal. And not even Kilkenny’s traditional upping of their work-rate after a half-time blast from manager Brian Cody could entirely reverse the trend. Kilkenny were level as late as the hour-mark. And though Wexford opened up another three-point gap, they needed Matthew O’Hanlon and Damien Reck’s awesome goalline clearances, from Keoghan and TJ Reid respectively, to keep that intact.
But a draw would have been criminal, on the night and for its impact on the championship, as it would have qualified Dublin for an All-Ireland PQF at their expense. Kilkenny went appallingly direct with the wind behind them, fuel to Brian Cody’s many critics as a tactician. Sky Sports pundit Jamesie O’Connor said Wexford would make a better job of the All-Ireland series than Dublin. While RTE’s John Knox wrote that Kilkenny “escaped into the Leinster final.” Both were about right.
Galway’s six-point win over Dublin swung between routine and tedium, enlivened only by occasional flashes of brilliance from one-gloved Galway forward Conor Whelan. Dublin keeper Sean Brennan made his second penalty save of the championship. But the game’s flow was unruffled. Scores were welcomed like a cricket crowd might greet a quick single. Dublin were again over-reliant on Donal Burke, who landed a Tony Kelly-esque two-thirds of their scores. And this game’s only legacy might be the late injuries to Galway’s David Burke and Padraic Mannion.
Hurling’s lower-tier competition finals were held in Croke Park on Saturday. My team, Roscommon, caught some ill-timed stagefright and lost by 11 points in the fourth-tier final to a fine Tyrone side. It was the closest of the three games. Louth beat Longford by 13 points in the fifth-tier final, while Kildare humped Mayo by 16 in the second-tier decider. But it is a great event (I went in 2013…Roscommon lost that day too), giving real grass-roots players in counties not primarily known for hurling a taste of the GAA’s biggest venue they would otherwise never approach.
Football’s new second-tier Tailteann Cup competition began last weekend. Second-tier football competitions have a short, sh*te history. In 2007, I was one of few witness to the 2004-08 version, the Tommy Murphy Cup, watching Antrim’s facile win in London with about nine other people. The GAA have put some marketing oomph behind the Tailteann. But to fulfil its remit to develop ‘lesser’ football counties, it must be the round-robin affair planned pre-Covid, not this year’s straight knock-out affair. And regionalising it makes its pairings too familiar to attract maximum interest.
Sunday’s Wexford/Offaly preliminary round clash was a case in point, coming five weeks after Wexford shocked Offaly in the Leinster championship. The weekend’s two matches were entertaining. Offaly got one-point revenge on Wexford. While an impressive Wicklow gubbed Waterford in Saturday’s ‘historic’ (though not televised) opening match. But there’ll need to be much more entertainment for the tournament to grab the public’s imagination.
GAAGO will have RTE’s coverage of the provincial football finals. Munster and Leinster at 3 and 5pm on Saturday (there’s a Champions League final to avoid). Connacht and Ulster at 1.45 and 4pm on Sunday. BBC Northern Ireland will be at the Ulster decider too. GAAGO will also show Leitrim’s Tailteann Cup first round hosting of Antrim, 2pm Saturday.