What we learned today at Croke Park.
- The GAA will be relieved as we witnessed the first proper exciting championship contest of the year. Yes, it is nearly the end of August but Galway / Tipperary SHC contest was absolute quality. Massive credit and respect has to go to both teams for a tremendous match full of intensity, endeavor and excitement. The start of the contest set the tone immediately with the mercurial Seamus Callanan netting after thirty-seven seconds. Promising Galway defender Cathal Mannion would have to get used to the Drom Inch star soaring high for the ball throughout the contest. Callanan’s 3-8 haul was undoubtedly the best GAA player performance of the year has propelled the Tipperary star as a viable candidate for the HOTY accolade come the end of the season. The Drom Inch star is a lock for an All Star and it was a shame that he was not on the winning side.
- How did Galway win this contest? Galway won this contest because of three simple reasons. Galway’s midfield pairing of Andy Smyth and David Burke routed Shane McGrath and James Woodlock throughout and launched numerous player advantage overlaps with their hard running lines and precise quick ball distribution. McGrath and Woodlock try as they might were overwhelmed by the intensity of the Galway half-forward and midfield line pressure. Neither player had the time or space to impose themselves on the contest. Galway management just about stemmed the influence of the other Tipperary forwards apart from the rampaging Callanan. Daithi Burke broke even with Bonnar Maher who worked tirelessly throughout. Tannian was effective in his work and Aidan Harte typified Galway’s desire by picking himself off the ground in the early exchanges to produce a performance to nullify Jason Forde so much so that the Slivermines player was subbed at the break. Shane Bourke did not fair much better. Tipp management reluctance to trust the new players in the panel was ultimately their undoing. While Anthony Cunningham and Galway selectors trusted the likes of Conor Whelan and Shane Moloney, Tipperary went back to the tried and trusted substitutes. Michael Breen had a brief cameo appearance but the Tipperary substitutes brought little to the table albeit it was great to see Noel McGrath back on a hurling pitch after his health scare.
- Sledging and referee pressure is alive and well in small ball. The problem is not confined to Gaelic Football. The television clips of Cunningham constantly on the verbals to beleaguered Barry Kelly was shameful in the opening half. Yes, there was a lot at stake today – the winners advance to the All Ireland hurling final but there are limits to how much you can influence the match officials. It was a sad sight to see how the match official in the middle ultimately caved into the criticism from the sideline. This was a day to forget for the Westmeath referee in all aspects of plathery, the sledging certainly did not help but you could see his confidence drain as the game wore on. His lack of trust towards his umpires was quite damning throughout. The sixty-five reversal against Tipperary was a huge call at the death. The art of tackling legally a player with the ball is officially dead — it looks like a full body assault is now legit.
- Galway advance to the final and there was plenty to admire from their performance today. Their ability to get up off the canvas when Seamus Callanan hit those goals was admirable as their response was to tack on points immediately after each strike. Their work rate was superior to Tipperary today. Their tackling and support of colleagues caught the eye but question if the same tackling tactics will be acceptable in the final showpiece against Kilkenny in three weeks time. Galway have showed the hurling world that they do not have to rely on Joe Canning to win a game. Cathal Mannion was immense again with several key long range scores and Jason Flynn continues to grow with each championship game. The glaring problem is the full back line and their ability to prevent goals. Padraic Mannion struggled in the air. John Hanesbury did not fair much better on Seamus Callanan and only for the heroics of Colm Callanan in the Galway goal could have seen six goals go easily in. Brian Cody has plenty of options to expose this weakness in the final showpiece and is an area which requires immediate attention from Galway. It is great to get to the final but it is only good if you win the final, defeat is a bitter pill to swallow and no worse a team like Kilkenny to inflict a nightmare final appearance on an opponent.
- Tipperary’s loss spells the end of the managerial rein of Eamon O’Shea. A Munster final triumph is the only silverware achieved by the Kilruane McDonaghs clubman with a group of players who now are looking down the barrel of oblivion. This may sound harsh but this group of players have being around for a while and only one All Ireland title to show for their efforts. When you consider that threats from Waterford, Galway and Kilkenny, has time run out for this group of players to win additional All Ireland finals? Michael Ryan succeeds O’Shea and questions may be asked on the new management selection within the county given that the current management team have failed to deliver an All Ireland crown which Ryan is a part of. A long winter beckons in the Premier County and questions on the centre back role have to be asked. For all of Padraic Maher’s swag and talent, he is prone to lapses and so it proved today with several scores coming from the Thurles man’s failure not to clear ball. The lack of potency in the forward line was evident in long periods. O’Dwyer and O’Meara were kept in check throughout. The midfield area requires examination. James Barry is wasted as a full back. Several brave decisions to wield the axe on the current squad is required by the new manager to blood the new talent required to get over the line again.
- The penalty and introduction of the black card debate will need to be examined again. The professional foul in preventing goal chances is now acceptable in hurling. John Hanesbury won the contest today with his deliberate tackle on Callanan late on and not Shane Moloney. Tipperary was guilty of committing similar offences today. The penalty rule is totally in favor of the goalkeeper, move the ball in and the attacking penalty taker will have a better chance. Great game but less of the sledging please.