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Big John reports on Saturday nights senior football

Published 2 months ago 16th May 2022 by Big John

Between hurling and football, this was the fourth time in three weeks that Tipperary and Limerick have butted heads. Talking to Tipperary aficionados during the week their mood was low as news filtered through that Bill Maher, Kevin Fahey and Robbie Kiely were all in the repair shop. Without those three players there was serious concern that Tipperary’s ability to transition the football from defence to attack was now severely compromised. As it turned out those concerns were well founded.

There really is no way to sugar coat it. This will rank as one of the worst games of football ever played in FBD Semple Stadium. I don’t think I’ve ever been in such a bad mood coming out of a game as I was leaving Tom Semple’s famous field on Saturday night. It was a game that made watching paint dry seem like an extreme sport. Both teams were guilty. The fact that Limerick won the game shouldn’t exonerate them. Surely there has to be some sort of a responsibility to the poor crayturs who paid €20 into the game to at least try to entertain them because the last time I looked sport is still classified as entertainment. It is supposed to be uplifting and exciting but if what we witnessed Saturday night is to continue then psychiatrists, counsellors, agony aunts and even agony uncles will be overwhelmed for a long time to come. 

Thank God we still have the opportunity to go watch the Tipperary minor footballers play Cork next Thursday night. They may or may not win but they will have a go and will play the game the way Michael Cusack meant it to be played. 

It is almost a year ago now since I wrote in this paper that Tipperary football needs to “evolve or die”. The top teams in the country have seen the light and are now moving away from defensive football. The days of a negative approach where players are afraid to express themselves, have a mind of their own or God forbid have an adventurous spirit are gone and we need to catch up quickly. No young player has ever grown up looking forward to being the second sweeper on a team. 

There’s not a lot to be said about the game itself except that Limerick goals from Josh Ryan and Brian Donovan proved to be the difference as they ran out deserving six-point winners to reach their first Munster Football Final in 12 years.

Limerick opened the scoring after just 18 seconds. Josh Ryan got a hand on the throw in and Peter Fahy bounced on the breaking ball like a hawk on a chicken before setting up Cillian Fahy for the opening score. 

Jack Kennedy had the sides level with a fifth minute free before Sean O’Connor added another free to put Tipperary ahead for the first and only  time.

A malfunction in the Tipperary defence allowed Josh Ryan to tap home Limerick’s first goal after Brian Donovan’s initial close range effort had been well saved by Tipperary keeper Michael O’Reilly. 

Shortly after, Cillian Fahy added a point to make it 1-02 to 0:02 at the end of the first quarter. Tipperary’s response was good. They scored the next three points without reply with a long range Jack Kennedy free, a cracker from Sean O’Connell and then the score of the game from Mark Russell. The Lattin man doesn’t get ordinary scores. Man of the match Shane O’Connell scored from out in the country to send the teams in for the Jaffa Cakes, level at 1-03 to 0-06.

It’s hard to know what happened to Tipperary in the second half. To simply say that Limerick upped their game without looking at our own failures would be dishonest. From the second half throw-in to the end of the game we were slow, deliberate and predictable in almost everything we did. Add in a large number of unforced errors and poor decision making and you have a manual for defeat. 

Points from Josh Ryan and Adrian Enright extended Limerick’s advantage to two points after 10 minutes of the second half. By now the Tipperary ship was holed below the waterline as Limerick began to push up on the Tipperary kick-out forcing Micheal O’Reilly to take a number of risks that didn’t pay off. I have been impressed with Tipperary’s kick-out strategy this year and even in the first half last night we were very near a 100% success rate. Just because we had a number of poor executions in the second half shouldn’t have us abandoning all hope. I recall a story I heard about a team meeting in Kerry where they were going through a rather lengthy and complicated kick-out strategy. The players were asked for their input when Dara O’Se spoke up and said “why don’t we just f**k it out as far as we can and let the midfielders fight for it”. I won’t be an advocate of that as a sole strategy but sometimes when all other options are closed off, you might be better off knocking it long and getting bodies around the break rather than risk the short or mid-range kick. 

Meanwhile back at the ranch, to their credit, despite nothing going right for them, the Tipperary players stayed plugging away and were back on level terms by the 51st minute with points from Sean O’Connell and Jack Kennedy but ultimately it proved to be little more than a flash of pride.

Limerick substitute Robbie Bourke put them back in front with a point in the 52nd minute and three minutes later Brian Donovan who had looked dangerous all evening, broke through the Tipperary cover and blasted to the net. From that moment on the stage was set for Limerick to moonwalk to the finish and eventually run out 2:10 to 0:10 winners 

And so it’s on to The Tailteann Cup for Tipperary. That is probably the place to be for this relatively inexperienced side. 

Promotion in this year’s league was always the main goal and that has been achieved. Even the little man from Mars knows that Tipperary are far better than they on Saturday night. We have a management team in place who I have the upmost faith in but they will know they got it wrong. There is nothing that can’t be fixed. A return to action of one or two of the injured players would immediately improve our lot but a change in mindset would be the biggest improvement. When selecting a team the first question we should be asking ourselves is what a player can do in attack rather than looking at what he can do in defence. That’s why Mick O’Dwyer always started at No 15 and worked backwards when he was selecting his teams. It was a system that served him well. 

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