AFTER Kilkenny defeated Waterford, Brian Cody, the team manager, was quoted as saying that semi-finals were all about winning with performances secondary. I am sure after Sunday’s victory over Dublin, the Tipperary manager Declan Ryan would wholeheartedly concur.
Hurling may have got its dream final, but it could so easily have been a re-run of the Leinster final. Dublin was fantastic, giving easily their best display under manager Anthony Daly’s tutelage.
The All-Ireland champions deserved to win, but the manner of their success will have posed many conundrums for the team management.
Tipp entered the game as the hottest of favourites. With a goal on the scoreboard after two minutes one wondered if we were about to witness another demolition job by the Premier boys. To Dublin’s immense credit they quickly recovered from that early setback to more than hold their own for the remainder of the game.
Dublin’s tactics of playing an extra defender came as no surprise. While it generally worked well, it placed a huge burden on their five attacking players. Most of the responsibility for winning the ‘dirty’ ball fell to Ryan O’Dwyer.
He did brilliantly in the circumstances, but only on one occasion did Tipp goalie Brendan Cummins experience any danger.
Flying attacker Lar Corbett was again the chief tormentor of the opposing defence in the opening half. His early goal may have been the result of a rare Peter Kelly error, but it once again showed the lethal finishing of the game’s top marksman. To Kelly’s credit he recovered well to deliver a majestic display, particularly in the second half.
Dublin brought huge intensity and work-rate to their game and their style clearly unhinged Tipperary in many sectors. But the champions did exploit the space in front of their own goal with short puck-outs which brought a couple of easy points.
Dublin would have been very pleased heading in all-square at half time, but one wondered if they could maintain the intensity and work-rate in the second half. They certainly did for long stages, but Tipp slowly started to gain momentum in a few key sectors.
The half back line, and Paraic Maher in particular, began to dominate. Noel McGrath, practically anonymous in the first half, came very much into the game. Three 65 metre shots sailed over the bar from the unerring Eoin Kelly. These scores would prove vital at the finish.
With the game at its most intense in the closing quarter, Dublin’s work-rate started to drop, albeit just a fraction. It was enough, though, for Tipp to slip over a few vital points, but it was always an uncomfortable lead.
A couple of unforced errors late in the game from a number of Dublin players as the game headed towards a conclusion would prove costly. The experience of the All-Ireland champions shone through in the closing 10 minutes. That experience comes from winning titles.
Dublin is rapidly gaining the type of experience required to win titles. They played a huge role in an absorbing contest, even though they may look back on the defeat as a lost opportunity.
All the talk will now be about who are the favourites for the All-Ireland. It really does not matter because there is hardly a puck of a ball between Kilkenny and Tipperary.
That often used phrase “it’s all down to what happens on the day”, is probably the only honest forecast anyone can make on the upcoming final.