The GAA Championship: Hat Tip To Tipp

by | Aug 29, 2019

It is usually more satisfying, for the neutral at least, when the right team wins a sporting tournament. This summer’s African Cup of Nations was largely wretched. But Algeria winning it eased the pain a little for neutrals. Last Sunday’s All-Ireland hurling final was competitive dreck. But Tipperary were the best team in the tournament for all but one day all summer. And it was only right that their captain Seamus Callanan should hit the final’s final score and lift the Liam McCarthy Cup.

Callanan was a particularly worthy winning captain. He scored a goal in every one of Tipp’s eight championship games, a more remarkable feat than eight-in-eight would be in soccer, given hurling’s fractionally lower goals-per-game ratio and the fact that there’s (usually – see below) six forwards knocking about the place.

And two of Callanan’s heaviest-scoring feats came in big game defeats for Tipp. A memorable hat-trick in a 2015 loss to Galway in an epic semi-final even by modern All-Ireland hurling semi-final standards (the man-of-the-match presentation was the video dictionary definition of awkward) and 2-5 out of Tipp’s 2-14 in defeat to Kilkenny in 2014. Callanan contented himself with one goal on Sunday, and a scrappy one at that. He may feel it was his most pleasurable.

Sunday’s final had scarcely got going as a competitive spectacle when it was ruined as such by some severely-punished recklessness from veteran (i.e. old enough to know better) Kilkenny forward Richie Hogan.

Kilkenny powered into a five-point lead after 21 minutes. But this should have been the early nine-point lead of their semi-final win over Limerick. Their off-beam shooting was only partly excused by the weather (the pre-match parade took place in bright August sunshine, the match appeared to start in November and the floodlights were on at the start of the second half…at 4.25). And Tipp were a point up on 31 minutes, thanks in part to a 25th-minute wonder-strike from Niall O’Meara, a remarkable 25-yarder for a first-ever Championship goal.

Enter Hogan, at pace. An indeterminate part of his right arm made indeterminate contact with an indeterminate part of Cathal Barrett’s upper body. The post-match consensus was that one camera-angle didn’t “look good for Richie” as it supposedly showed Hogan elbowing Barrett’s chin. But repeated viewing suggested that the diminutive Hogan’s elbow was rather lower. And Hogan WAS shocked when referee James Owens, after VAR-length consultation with the nearest linesman, told him he’d elbowed Barrett’s head and would get a card as red as the mist which caused the incident (Barrett’s hurl whacked Hogan in the face 15 minutes earlier).

Barrett’s head snapped back, as if he was chinned. But there was no suggestion of play-acting. Thus the protestations of Hogan’s ex-team-mate Jackie Tyrell on RTE’s Sunday Game highlights show, that the red was harsh, sounded sour. Especially when fellow-panellist, ex-referee Barry Kelly backed Owens with specific, direct evidence. TV cameras frequently focused on Hogan as he sat in the stand, his face bloodied from its encounter with Barrett’s hurl. His thoughts? “Sh*t, sh*t, SH*T!!!” would be my guess.

TJ Reid, one of the few Kilkenny players within touching distance of top-form on the day, levelled matters straight after half-time. But this just kick-started a punishing, Dublin football-esque, five-minute, nine-second spell during which Tipp outscored Kilkenny 2-3 to 0-1, itself heralding an outstanding second-half display, whatever Kilkenny’s resource, form and tactical deficiencies.

And all three deficiencies were legion. Kilkenny manager Brian Cody has shipped much recent criticism for encouraging heart and “savage” (a favourite Cody word) work-rate over tactics. His managerial record would be even more sensational if it was that light on tactics. Yet there was compelling video evidence for the critics’ case during Sunday’s third quarter.

Four minutes after half-time, RTE commentator Marty Morrissey noted, correctly, that “Kilkenny are going to have to run at the Tipperary defence, the long ball is not going to work.” Thus we had a TV commentator, albeit an experienced one, identifying a transparent tactical weakness to which the greatest manager in the game’s history seemed temporarily oblivious.

Kilkenny kept hitting high balls into where Richie Hogan no longer was, a game plan which excluded their best player until Cody belatedly moved Reid into the full-forward line. It was an opportunity Barrett, bereft of a Hogan to mark, took with both hands and a stick. He and his fellow-defenders feasted on said high balls and were a constant springboard for brilliant Tipp counter-attacks, augmented by fabulous Tipp shooting from the middle third of the pitch, which Kilkenny were unable to pack as they usually do.

Kilkenny’s Adrian Mullen looked every inch a player just back from a midweek sickness bout, while Tipp’s John ‘Bubbles’ O’Dwyer was at his, ahem, effervescent best in the second half after a quiet first one. Callanan took full advantage of the space denied his literal opposite number, the out-numbered Colin Fennelly, to set up ‘Bubbles’ for Tipp’s third goal, O’Dwyer as ludicrously un-marked as he is ludicrously nicknamed before controlling and firing home in one devastating movement.

And it was all Kilkenny could do to stave off embarrassment until they ran out of puff late on. There were two telling TV camera shots; Kilkenny half-forward John Donnelly, another of their few in-formers on the day, puffing out his cheeks as another Kilkenny attack foundered; and Tipp manager Liam Sheedy, all bug-eyed intensity on the touchline, incongruous to the point of affectation in a game already well won, and thus quite irritating too, but also indicative of his admirable will to win.

Tipp extended their lead to Kilkenny’s biggest-ever in an All-Ireland final, 14 points (to Tipperary in 1964), each and every one deserved, Hogan’s dismissal affecting only that margin, not the win itself. Indeed, despite the telly’s best, almost desperate, efforts to make the red card the talking point and/or pivotal moment of Sunday’s game, it was neither. Tipp were already assuming control when Hogan lost his. And the real talking point had no impact on and was a side-issue to the game. But I’ll get back to that, be very warned (see “Hawk-Eye,” below).

Cody thought his defenders were “heroic,” which makes you shudder to think what the score might have been otherwise. But the real, sporting, heroes on the day were all Tipp. Callanan a triumphant leader after so much big-game heartache. Sheedy swapping the comfort of the Sunday Game ‘couch’ for what would have been one of hurling’s hottest managerial seats even if Tipp hadn’t had a disastrous, winless 2018 Championship. A trio of Mahers; Padraic, Ronan (brothers) and Brendan (no relation), stars of countless ‘Maher than the sum of their parts’ headlines.

And the real hero, sporting and more, man-of-the-match Noel McGrath. Diagnosed with and undergoing surgery for testicular cancer in April 2015. Back hurling as a late substitute in that August’s All-Ireland semi-final (and scoring what would have been a late winning point but for an epic finish by Galway). And a colossus in his nominal midfield position and all over Croke Park on Sunday.

Sunday’s game was not great, even if Tipp’s second half was. But it still made the Premier League’s Chelsea/Leicester second half, on immediately afterwards, seem lightweight. Tammy Abrahams or ‘Bubbles’ O’Dwyer? No contest.

Hawk-Eye – Technology In Controversy Shocker

“Hawk-Eye” technology has been used at Croke Park since 2013. And it had its highest-profile impact possible in 2014’s drawn Kilkenny/Tipperary final when O’Dwyer’s 95-yard effort to snatch a one-point, last-puck-of-the-ball victory for Tipp was ruled millimetres wide by the technology. However, while Hawk-Eye accurately determines whether a shot lands BETWEEN the posts, it was twice this year used as goal-line technology…which it demonstrably is not.

Tipp keeper Brian Hogan conceded both ‘points.’ In Tipp’s semi-final against Wexford, his catch after the ball ‘cleared’ the bar suggested a double-jointedness of circus-act proportions. And on Sunday he stressed that his arm hadn’t even touched the bar, which meant he would also have needed circus-freak wrists to let John Donnelly’s 18th-minute shot over it.

Hawk-Eye’s Grace Fenton told Irish sports website ‘The42’ that their ‘Points Detection System’ (PDS) “only gives a point when the ball has crossed the plane of the goal and in-between the goalposts.” And a company statement said this was “signified by the trajectory changing from red to white” on the graphic shown on Croker’s big screen. This “does not occur when the ball is wide.” However, this explanation was bollox.

The company website’s PDS blurb references “between the posts” but not “the plane of the goal.” And there was no disputing the “trajectory” of Donnelly’s shot if Hogan hadn’t caught it. The dispute was WHERE he caught it. Sunday’s graphic gave no indication of that, the white trajectory stopping some feet below the bar and behind the goal. And if Hogan caught the ball down THERE (which seems to counter Fenton’s added claim that “the fact” of the trajectory changing colour is “visual confirmation” of a score), he can BE the bloody circus.

The graphic was also a view from behind the goal-nets, let alone the bar, thus making it impossible to judge where exactly the trajectory changed “from red to white.” And if the relevant official gave the point based on a goal-line graphic, it is surely incumbent upon Hawk-Eye to publish that graphic…and show it on matchday big-screens in the future. I shall be a ‘doubting Thomas’ on Hawk-Eye as Gaelic Games goal-line technology until such time.

Thankfully, neither result could be shown to have been affected by these calls…outside the most outlandish chaos theories. But one day, if this issue is not clarified, a big result surely will.