Where now for Tipperary Senior Hurlers?

The press release from Tipperary GAA said it all. Michael Ryan and his selectors were leaving the Tipperary Senior Hurling setup to allow a new management group come and take the side forward. It is clear from the statement that Ryan and his selectors reflected long and hard over recent weeks, trying to dissect how a side so well fancied at the start of the calendar year failed to fire and exit the round robin Munster SHC phase. Hawkeye Sidekick reflects.

2016 is a long time ago 

The emphatic All Ireland victory over Kilkenny in 2016 was the high point for Michael Ryan. His Tipperary charges tore into Kilkenny and a second half goal salvo set the platform for an emphatic victory. A side whose movement, passing and shooting was the blueprint. A side where the McGrath’s, O’Dwyer, Callanan came to the fore with their skill set. Padraic and Ronan Maher dominated the half back exchanges. The full back line were tight and uncompromising. Gleeson in goal was commanding while Brendan Maher showed versatility in his defensive and attacking play from midfield and half back line. A team which had the potential to dominate all before them.

2017 so long yet so far

2017 was a mixed season; early league form showed massive potential but the performance levels suddenly started to wane in the latter stages of the league. The Wexford NHL semi-final was a turning point for the side; a physical encounter which saw Jason Forde suspended for an altercation with Davy Fitzgerald. The following week saw Tipperary in a NHL final against Galway where they were blown out of the water. Galway won the final in emphatic style and alarm bells started to ring out from the Premier County given the dominance in the physical and skill set battle.

This was further compounded with an early Munster SHC exit at the hands of a skillful Cork side in a classic encounter. 1-27 to 1-26 exposed huge defensive issues in the ranks and a journey through the qualifiers saw wins over Westmeath (uninspiring), Dublin (optimism given the six goals scored) and a hard earned win over Clare in the All Ireland Quarter-Final. Cue Galway and the All Ireland semi-final, a game which could have gone either way. Joe Canning’s brilliance saw Galway win the encounter by the bare minimum. Tipperary were dethroned and squad depth issues were exposed particularly in the full back line.

2018 going going gone 

2018 has to be considered a failure for this Tipperary side. Optimism was high as new squad talent were given ample game time during the NHL. Darren Gleeson was no longer on the panel and several keepers were tried before Brian Hogan got the nod for the Munster SHC round robin. The full back question was still a thorny issue and Seamus Kennedy was thrown to fill the breach. It did not work and other players including Padraic Maher were tried. The panel was beset by injuries with Seamus Callanan a noticeable absentee from the side during the NHL season. It was left to Jason Forde to be the key scorer in chief and was the highlight of the season for Tipperary.

The game plan from the side in the Munster SHC lacked identity; the swift passing and player movement in attack were seen only in patches. The work rate and conditioning of the side was thrown into the question with late losses to Limerick and Clare as the side floundered in the final closing exchanges. Tipperary fans wrangled over player positional switches throughout the season. Management were under pressure; key players in the side struggled for cohesion given their lack of NHL game time and management struggled to find their strongest fifteen out on the pitch. No cohesion in the side.

Rumors of training ground issues were prominent in the lead-up to the championship and the Kilkenny NHL final loss was a defeat which the team and management never recovered from in hindsight. A new direction was required and management felt they had no option but to depart stage left. A superb opening season for the management team now descended into ruin.

Managerial Contenders

Tipperary typically do not look to outside counties for their next manager. Tipperary are incredibly proud of their hurling and they will look within their county management structures first to fill the post.

Tommy Dunne (minors) won the Munster Minor Hurling Championship this season, a well respected coach who will be eager to get the opportunity to work with the senior panel. The issue for Dunne is the manner in which the Tipperary minor side lost to Kilkenny; a disjointed performance which exposed game management issues (aimless ball distribution, minimal running game) and work rate without the ball particularly in the forward line.

Liam Cahill with the U21 side has progressed nicely; several All Ireland minor titles leading to this appointment. The downside for Cahill is the manner in which Tipperary’s U21 team performed against Cork in the Munster final; a nightmare performance where nothing went right for Tipperary. Cahill will look for a response from his charges in the coming weeks in the All Ireland series but the Cork loss this year will be etched into Tipperary hurling fan base minds.

The other question is whether either candidate wants the job. The commitment required to perform the job and the pressure which comes with managing a Tipperary Senior Hurling side; expectations in the county will be sky high next year. If neither are a fit, then the net will have to be cast within the county to find the successor to Michael Ryan.

Thurles Sarsfields have being the dominant force in Tipperary SHC in recent years. Tommy Maher and Paddy McCormack led the side superbly and could be an outside bet for the top job.

Eoin Kelly or Declan Fanning as well could be potential dark horses for the role. Kelly was involved with Thurles Sarsfields last season and is well respected. Fanning after having three years as a selector may think it is now time to look for the top job; continuity with a manager who has being in the setup. Would Brendan Cummins be interested in the role or assisting the new head coach as a backroom staff member?

The other left field candidate potentially could be Colm Bonnar. The ex-Tipperary player has managed Carlow in recent years to great success. Christy Ring and Joe McDonagh success in the last two seasons as well as securing Leinster SHC next season. Bonnar has vast coaching experience but whether Tipperary county board are warm to the idea of this appointment is an entirely different story. Michael Ryan’s departure has left a void; a big void and Tipperary need to make the right managerial appointment to allow the senior side to win hurling matches next season.

GAA – Weekend Reflections

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Hurling classic but football was all a bit one sided

August Bank Holiday 2017. A weekend which will be remembered for one sided senior football encounters. A weekend where Joe Canning down the stretch was incredible to lead Galway to a nail biting one point win over reigning All Ireland Champions Tipperary. Hawkeye Sidekick reflects on the action.

Galway advance to the All Ireland Hurling Final

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Hail Hail Joe Canning!

With the scores level at 0-21 to 1-18, Joe Canning stood over a free deep in Galway territory. The subsequent free was short and many thought that was that and a replay was on the card. James Barry subsequent clearance was retrieved by the ever industrious Johnny Coen who had the presence of mind to pick out Joe Canning who from the sideline and under immense Tipperary pressure slotted a beautiful score over the bar.

It was a very ESPN classic moment. Galway supporters were in delirium but Tipperary had one more chance to level but O’Dwyer hit a difficult chance wide. The game ending was in fitting with a tenacious encounter. Both sides did not give an inch with both forward lines having work extremely hard for scores.

Galway’s back line were heroic all day. The full back of Tuohy, Burke and Hansbury set the tone with tenacious defending and team work. Tipperary’s inside forward line did pose a threat at times but in the vital moments, the Galway full back line stood up and won decisive ball.

The catch from Daithi Burke in the closing stages was imperious. Tuohy had an excellent second half, a shaky first half at times particularly on the John McGrath goal where he dwelled too long on the sliothar, was dispossessed and punished. Hansbury has being an unsung hero this season. The Rahoon / Newcastle club man reveled as the game progressed and his distribution out of defense was on point.

I have had asked questions of the center back position in this Galway team but Gearoid McInerney ticked all the boxes yesterday. Physically dominant, he won his duel with the ever willing Bonnar Maher. McInerney set the tone and won several key aerial tussles in the closing stages to setup the attacking platform. Aidan Harte and Padraic Mannion produced stellar displays as well. Their distribution on point and quietened the influence of the likes of O’Dwyer and Noel McGrath for long periods.

Galway advance but for the last twenty minutes of this contest, it was the Joe Canning show. Canning had a nervy start to proceedings but once he hit his stride and started to come out the field for ball, his influence was match winning. Canning hitting a couple of superb scores from distance in the closing quarter.

Tipperary management then decided to put Padraic Maher on Canning, a switch which was too little too late. It was fitting that Canning won this contest for Galway; the mercurial talisman for so many years. The match winning score was pure sheer class.

Conor Whelan in the full forward line had an impressive afternoon. His physicality and power for such a young man is unbelievable, kept Donagh Maher and James Barry busy throughout.

Whelan and Joseph Cooney moved deeper down the field in the closing stages and were prominent in winning critical ball. Glynn as an impact bench did what he had to do. Disrupt in the air and be a nuisance for Tipperary to clear the ball.

Tipperary will be devastated after this result. There were a couple of talking points during the contest. The free count was interesting. Galway won fifteen frees while Tipperary only eight during the contest. A disparity perhaps to some?

Galway free count was a combination of factors; indiscipline in the Tipperary tackling — going high but there were one or two frees where the Galway player went to ground easy and got a free. Some days, you get those decisions but there were a couple of frees on another day would not be given.

Further debate will ensue on the helmet pull on Bonnar Maher in the coming days. When I saw it first, it looked like genuine Tipperary claims considering the recent officiating of this offense in the All Ireland Quarter Finals. No action. The linesman could not run away from the incident fast enough.

The goal chances created by Tipperary were spurned. Callanan’s chance in the opening half was a key turning point. Galway’s full back line had a shaky five minutes immediately after McGrath’s goal and another goal then could have swung the game in Tipperary’s favor.

Noel McGrath’s goal chance was a tough chance, the pass was overcooked but the shot required a smart save from Callanan in the Galway goals. Two chances which on another day could have gone in.

Tipperary will rue a couple of point misses as well. Seamus Callanan received a head knock early in the second half, did not look right thereafter and the free taking was a mixed bag for the Drom / Inch club man. Brendan Maher and John McGrath had good opportunities wasted in either half. Fine margins.

The much maligned Tipperary back line had their best outing of the season but came up just short. The decision to move McCormick further down the field had the desired effect, the player won second ball throughout but the half-forward line suffered as a result, something that was articulated perfectly by the Sunday Game last night.

Maher, Barry and Cahill stuck to their task well. Padraic Maher was immense for Tipperary; his possession count and point taking was superb. Ronan Maher at half-back had his moments of brilliance but in the closing stages, his influence waned particularly when Canning moved out the field and Glynn was causing issues with his height on the aerial balls. Seamus Kennedy was good throughout. All players left everything on the pitch. A superb advertisement for hurling.

Galway advance to the All Ireland final. The goal for the season has not yet being accomplished and there are areas of improvement for the Tribesmen. David Burke was industrious throughout but will be disappointed with some scoring opportunities that got away. Cathal Mannion was out of sorts from the first whistle but is a player that should come good in the All Ireland final.

The forward line was all Joe Canning in the final quarter. Galway’s potent attackers such as Flynn, Conor Cooney and Niall Burke need to provide more leadership in the scoring duties for the All Ireland final as Cork and Waterford will look to mark Joe Canning (best of luck) out of the game. Conor Whelan was superb.

Johnny Coen’s performance yesterday needs to be highlighted; had my doubts about the Loughrea clubman in the midfield engine room but he was superb yesterday. Breen, Forde were taken off due to the work rate of Coen yesterday. He was selfless in his passing and distribution, assisted his colleagues defensively and was pivotal for the game winning score. Kudos where it is deserved. Roll on September!

Football Snooze-fest

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Bad day for Armagh

I type this blog posting as Mayo are twenty-two points up on a hapless Roscommon. The three senior football fixtures this past weekend lacked any bite or competition. Tyrone swept aside the Armagh challenge with minimum of fuss.

Peter Harte outstanding but you cannot rate Tyrone as a team given how poor Armagh were who struggled in all facets of play. The kick outs so good against Kildare was snuffed out and caused Armagh issues defensively. Mulgrew hit a nice quick brace of goals but will the Ardboe club man get the same space against Dublin? I don’t think so.

The only thing you can say about Tyrone is that they were defensively superb at present; the discipline of defending is a joy to watch. They put the pressure on the ball carrier who either fouls the ball or coughs up possession. Officiating will be interesting in the All Ireland semi-final on this facet of play. Colm Cavanagh’s injury and a red card (two yellow cards) to McCarron will be negative points for Tyrone on a stress free afternoon.

Dublin had little trouble getting past a disappointing, unambitious Monaghan outfit. McManus had minimal influence and Dublin were out of sight after fifteen minutes. Monaghan’s full forward line threat was non-existent; opening period saw no Monaghan inside forward thirty meters from the Dublin goal.

The usual suspects were to the fore for Dublin. McCarthy and McCaffrey were stellar in their runs from deep, caused Monaghan endless problems. Rory Beggan in the Monaghan goals was superb and only for him, Dublin would have scored more goals than the one goal scored by Dean Rock. The good news for Dublin was the squad bench that came on. Flynn, McAuley, Brogan all looking the part when coming on to create selection posers for Dublin management.

The All Ireland football semi-finals will be immense affairs. Mayo are the only team in the top four that have being battle hardened and will cause Kerry issues defensively. Their performance today was encouraging; they went for the throat and Roscommon were killed off in the opening twenty minutes. Mayo’s middle third was impressive; did not give the young Roscommon side a chance to settle.

Andy Moran, Cillian O’Connor inside were constant menaces. Parsons, Vaughan, Doherty, Boyle and Higgins were critical in the middle third superiority. The running lines of Mayo were excellent but did expose massive issues in Roscommon defensively. The kick out strategy was a disaster for Roscommon as well. No general movement for the Roscommon keeper to launch kick outs.

Super Eight format next season looks a bit precarious on the basis of this year’s All Ireland quarter-finals. Super Four in a couple of weeks hopefully will provide better footballing entertainment. The GAA demands it from the two semi-finals. A nation holds it breathe!