GAVIN CUMMISKEY at Croke Park
ALL-IRELAND MHC FINAL Dublin 1-16 Tipperary 2-13: WHEN THE dust settles and statistics are scrutinised from this tense minor final, Dublin will know there won’t be a better opportunity to finally capture a national hurling title.
They got a tough rattle from referee Colm Lyons, who seemed a little rattled himself, on the free count in scoring zones but that’s equally a sign of how dangerous the Tipperary forwards were.
But the most potent attack in the country performed well below expected standards yesterday. It took Tipp 33 minutes before Seán Maher registered their first score from open play.
John McGrath’s 1-11 from placed balls kept them alive and was almost enough to prevail in this strange contest. Remarkably, Maher’s strike put them a point adrift, 1-8 to 1-7.
The Munster champions ignited thereafter, with Mark McCarthy, silent assassin that he is, spinning off the otherwise brilliant 16-year- old Dublin corner back Shane Barrett. The finish was unstoppably low to the net’s corner.
With that Tipp seemed destined to bound away and ensure the old order remains unhurt by the city boys. But this Dublin outfit refused to bend. They clung on to Tipperary down the stretch, with captain and full back Cian O’Callaghan taking on the Achilles role.
Cormac Costello, the dual giant, contributed some massive scores. Along with Donal Gormley, Costello hit essential points immediately after McGrath frees to keep it level entering the final throes. Dublin goalkeeper Cian Mac Gabhann also made an instinctive save to deflect Tadhg Gallagher’s bullet around the post.
What seemed like the game’s decisive moment came on 53 minutes. Thankfully it wasn’t because minor enthusiasts must be sick of dodgy refereeing decisions influencing results.
O’Callaghan won ball and was clawing his way out of defence with Maher grabbing at him. Lyons penalised the defender for steps. Maher followed up McGrath’s free to give Tipperary a two point lead.
More bizarre decisions followed. This time the pendulum swung Dublin’s way as Oisín O’Rorke was deemed to be fouled, allowing Paul Winters to make it a one point game with three minutes remaining.
Then Lyons made the harshest call of all, penalising Tipperary centre back Tomás Hamill for overcarrying. Despite the difficult angle, Winters’ strike was true and we had ourselves a tie.
“Look, I swore I wouldn’t be talking about any (refereeing) decisions that would happen on the pitch and I don’t particularly want to,” said Dublin manager Shay Boland afterwards. But he had to.
“Either we play a different brand of hurling up here than they do down in Munster or we’re just being penalised for indiscretions that we’re not disciplined enough in. So I don’t know what it is.
“I just felt that they got a lot of points from frees . . . but maybe a lot of them were fouls. I’d have to have a look back at them to give you an honest opinion on it.”
In fairness, plenty of them were justified as Dublin’s backs were forced to bottle up lethal finishers like McCarthy and the scoreless Stephen Cahill, who was replaced.
All Tipperary had to show from play was 0-2 by Maher and McCarthy’s goal. Dublin, in stark contrast, produced 0-2 from the halfback line, 1-3 off Costello’s hurley, with Conor McHugh’s lively opening half hour yielding 0-2 and Cian Boland contributed a score in either half. But it wasn’t enough.
They did have Tipperary glassy eyed in the opening exchanges striding into a four-point lead until a mishit puck out by MacGabhann led to Barrett’s foul on McCarthy. McGrath fired home a goal from the resulting penalty.
Dublin’s goal came from their ball-winning defenders rapid delivery upfield. Costello charged onto a break to make it 1-6 to 1-3. Tipp upped the tempo thereafter but couldn’t lift a green flag before the interval with Barrett blocking one goal-bound shot with his head.
O’Rorke hit the upright with a a goal chance down the other end early in the second half. That seemed a momentum changer. In Tipp’s favour. But Dublin players involved in last year’s All-Ireland final defeat to Galway refused to be overrun. Eric Lowndes and Winters, among others, kept at it.
“We’re never dead,” said Boland. “We’ve massive self-belief in those young lads, massive.”
TIPPERARY : P Maher; R Maher, M Breen, J Peters; T Fox, T Hamill, B Heffernan; B Maher (capt), J McGrath (1-11, 0-9 frees, 0-2 65s, 1-0 pen); S Maher (0-2), J Shelly, T Gallagher; S Cahill, S O’Brien, M McCarthy (1-0).Subs : S Ryan for J Shelly (half-time), K Slattery for T Gallagher (50 mins), C Lanigan for M McCarthy (60 mins).
DUBLIN : C Mac Gabhann; S Barrett, C O’Callaghan, E Lowndes; E O’Donnell (0-1), R Murphy, S McClelland (0-1); C Cronin, D Gormley (0-1); C Costello (1-3), C McHugh (0-2), C Boland (0-2); P Winters (0-6, all frees), C Conway, O O’Rorke. Subs : C Bennett for C Conway (50 mins).
Referee: C Lyons (Cork).