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Tipperary U20’s bow out

Published 8 months ago 15th April 2022 by Big John

Back in the mid nineties, myself and a few other hardly souls were early pioneers of long distance commuting. It was on these commutes that I first encountered a man who I shall simply refer to as Eamonn, because that is his name. Eamonn is a not so gentle son of West Clare or more specifically Miltown Malbay. He is as devoted to West Clare as George was to Timmy the Dog. I first got to know him around the time that Clare people discovered the ancient game of hurling so as you can imagine the debates on the train often got lively.

Over our nine years travelling together and long before I ever set foot in the town, I learned that there was more to Miltown Malbay than just the Willie Clancy Festival. Legend has it the town got its name from an old witch called Mal who fell in love with Cú Chulainn and may well have been Ireland’s first stalker. Although she followed him all over the country her love was unrequited. In an attempt to escape from her attentions, Cú Chulainn jumped from an island in the sea onto the Cliffs of Moher. Mal failed to make the jump, crashed into the rocks and her blood reddened the bay, giving some to believe that Malbay was named after her.

I also learned that Hennessy Memorial Park, the GAA grounds in Miltown Malbay, are named after former Clare and Miltown Malbay player Patrick Hennessy. There are a number of similarities between our own Michael Hogan and Patrick Hennessy. Both played corner back for their county and both were shot dead by British Forces in 1920. In Hennessy’s case, on 14th April 1920, crowds had gathered around a bonfire at Canada Cross in the town to celebrate the release of 90 republican prisoners from Mountjoy prison. In an effort to disperse the crowd, police opened fire killing three men including Hennessy and injuring eight others. They were killed simply because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time. In 1951, the GAA ground in the town was renamed in honour of Patrick Hennessy.

So there you have it, via long distance commutes, old hags and fallen heroes, I eventually arrived in Miltown Malbay last Monday evening for the Munster U20 first round clash between Clare and Tipperary.
There was a lot of talk before the start on the choice of venue. “Next stop America” was a line I heard muttered more than once. Some thought that Clare were playing silly beggars by dragging Tipperary so far west but a Clare man told me on my way in to the field that Hennessy Memorial Park is the county’s second ground and the spiritual home of Clare football. Then with a wry smile on his face he added that it had absolutely nothing to to with trying to protect the hallowed turf of Cusack Park for the hurling.
The results from minor football games over the past few years would suggest that Clare entered this contest as overdogs. The Tipperary management obviously agreed with this view and employed more sweepers than the county council.

Regular readers of this column will know the importance I place on the throw-in. It can set the tone for the day and in the modern game it gives you a chance to attack the opposition before they can get their defensive systems in place. Win It or Kill It is the mantra. Tipperary did neither and in their first attack Clare sliced the Tipperary defence open only to be denied a goal scoring opportunity by a foul on the ball. Those opening five seconds painted the picture of what was to come over the next 60 minutes.
By the sixth minute Clare had two points on the board plus one wide. That was more shots at goal than Tipperary would manage in the entire first half.

A piece of individual brilliance by Jamie Holloway in the 10th minute gave fleeting hope. The ball broke kindly for him on the 65m line and with all the Clare defenders present and correct there seemed to be little danger. When Jamie set off on his run nobody had a ghosts notion where he was going. I wouldn’t even be sure Jamie knew where he was going but somehow he found a gap in the Clare defence before unleashing an unstoppable shot to the bottom of the Clare net. I would be surprised if there is a better goal scored in this years championship.

It took Clare just ten seconds to respond. Tipperary conceded the kick-out and as always happens when you do that, you immediately give the opposition an overlap. Clare worked the ball up the field before the two midfielders combined and Brian McNamara drilled to the net. From that moment, you knew that this was going to be less of a contest and more of a triumphal procession for Clare.

In the modern era players spend a lot of time in the gym working on strength and conditioning. There can be little doubt that S&C is an important aspect of the game but it is not the most important. I have heard nothing but good things about our S&C people but the game of Gaelic Football is still all about the ball, the execution of skills under pressure and decision making. You won’t learn those aspects of the game in a gym. Having been so far behind in S&C for years, I fear that Tipperary are heading too far in the other direction now. It is 26 years since Clare beat Tipperary at this level (u21 or u20). If we don’t get the balance right between S&C and the all important field coaching sessions then I fear the roles will be reversed and it could be 26 years before Tipperary beat Clare at this level again.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Clare were continuing to dominate proceedings. Points from Brendy Rouine, Sean McNamara and Joe Raftery increased their lead to 1-05 to 1:00 and then in the 27th minute McNamara bounced on a mix up in the Tipperary defence for Clare’s second goal. As we approached half-time, the referee Jonathan Hayes, indicated that there would be one minute of injury time. I wondered where he got it from. There hadn’t been a tackle in the game.

Clare again win the throw-in at the start of the second half and have another point on the board after five seconds. Two minutes later the Clare Football Secretary is on the phone booking the field for the Munster Semi Final against Kerry as Shane Griffin got on the end of another flowing Clare move and blasted to the front of the net.

At minor level in 2020 Clare beat Tipperary by 20 points and after 35 minutes with the score now reading 3:08 to 1:00, that record total looked in danger of being beaten. But to their eternal credit, Tipperary battled manfully to the end. Darragh Brennan pointed a difficult free in the 38th minute. Five minutes later, Diarmuid O’Riordan did brilliantly to field a high ball into the square and was unlucky to see his shot go over instead of under the crossbar. Cian Smith added a free in the 43rd minute. Tipperary then had to wait until the 55th minute for their next score when Darragh Brennan put over his second point of the game before substitute James Corcoran popped up with the point of the game off his so-called weaker foot, if indeed he has a weak foot. Tipperary senior player Cathal Deeley showed his class in injury time when he unleashed a pile driver from 20 yards that left the Clare keeper grasping at air. This may well be the second best goal scored in this year’s championship.

Unfortunately, the late Tipperary rally was little more than a flash of pride and Clare ran out 3:15 to 2:05 winners. After the highs of reaching an u20 Munster Final last year, it’s back to the drawing board for Tipperary. While the players can’t be faulted for effort, it was hard to watch good possession being wasted so crudely and so often. They were out-played and out-fought in almost every area of the field by a well drilled Clare team that possesses some wonderful footballers. Obviously Kerry will be favourites to come out of Munster again but if there is to be a surprise in the championship then Clare have all the attributes to cause one.

PS: Before the game I headed for a coffee in the Armada Hotel down the road in Spanish Point. Frank Minogue and his staff run a fine ship. It was here I learned that the impressive murals on the walls in Miltown Malbay were painted by a Tipperary artist. Neil O’Dwyer from Clonoulty is a talented man.

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