THE HURLERS of Tipperary have kept their appointment. On September 4th, the reigning All-Ireland champions will meet Kilkenny, the supreme team of the previous four years, in what promises to be a monumental struggle between the timeless custodians of the game. The friction emanating from Urlingford and right along the border should match that of the San Andreas fault line over the next few weeks.
In the advance publicity for the All-Ireland final, the invaluable contribution the Dublin hurlers have made to this season should not be overlooked. In the short term, it probably will be. But this was another significant day for Anthony Daly’s men. Yesterday, they went toe-to-toe with the All-Ireland champions and kept pushing and challenging and fighting until the end.
It finished 1-19 to 0-18 but Tipperary were forced to walk a tightrope lead until the very end, with Peter Kelly, Dublin’s classy young full back, hammering a 69th-minute point to leave a goal between them. Tipperary’s facility to conjure goals from nothing has been central to their return to supremacy but yesterday the machine halted against Dublin.
They managed just one, when Lar Corbett maintained his splendid strike-rate with a piece of opportunism in the third minute of the match. He capitalised on Kelly’s failure to control a probing delivery and flicked a neat finish past goalkeeper Gary Maguire.
It was an ominous moment for a team facing into a first All-Ireland semi-final since 1948. But the predicted deluge never happened. Instead, Dublin got down to business.
Maguire went on to make two vital stops from Séamus Callanan and Corbett. And although Corbett flashed over three first-half points to go with his goal, Kelly had a superb game.
In the end, Dublin couldn’t manufacture a goal of their own and were left to reflect on the tiny half breaks that could have slanted history differently.
“Sure look, hurling,” mused Anthony Daly, his mind racing with the possibilities of the game and the surge of paternal pride he has come to feel for this young team.
“A thousand mad things and someone comes out on top.”
More often in the old game, that someone has been Tipperary or it has been Kilkenny. If Anthony Daly felt slighted by the idle talk about this semi-final, then maybe he had reason to. He drove down to his Clare home after watching Kilkenny edge past Waterford in the first semi-final and heard so little mention of his Dublin team that he might have wondered if they were actually still in the competition.
“It was a good thing the motorway was wide anyway because some fellas were giving us no chance at all. We are Walsh Cup champions, league champions and there is great pride in the boys. The only game we didn’t perform in was the Leinster final and we promised ourselves we would perform. We did that anyway. I’m disappointed but proud as well.”
And so a strange, marvellous season for Dublin hurling ends.
They combined the walk-under-ladders bad luck saga that afflicted five of their senior players with that brave league odyssey and the championship run to this semi-final. Yesterday, their minor star Cormac Costello fired four goals as tomorrow’s generation of pale blue hurlers sauntered into an All-Ireland final. Their under-21s will bid to make the same stage.
And yesterday players like Joey Boland and Shane Durkin and the battling Ryan O’Dwyer gave demonic performances to bring the seniors to the big stage.
“It was very, very tough,” sighed Lar Corbett afterwards.“It goes to show. Dublin had the country writing them off, the Tipp people writing them off. Everyone saying at home that we would be in a fight in three weeks’ time. We came up here today and got a lesson. We lost the fight but we were lucky to get the scores in the second half.”
And it was that cagey. Tipperary edged in front after a sensational Noel McGrath point – the tap-over was relatively simple but the leap and catch that preceded it was unbelievable. With six minutes left, the Loughmore man added another score from a perfect sideline cut. They hit exalted scores in a tough, crowded game.
Pádraic Maher, their magisterial half-back, landed two second-half points in addition to making his presence felt across the entire line. There is something of the Hell’s Kitchen mythology about the cut of Maher; he has the thou-shalt-not-pass doggedness to match the immaculate timing and stick craft and he was brilliant here.
Elsewhere, Tipp grabbed whatever breaks came with the greed champions have. Three 65s fell their way: Eoin Kelly nailed them all. When they needed to make changes, they sent in Brendan Maher, the young hurler of the year, a change that advertised the wealth of their squad.
“To be able to bring in Brenny Maher?” shrugged Daly. “Considering the five we were down?”
The game ended with the ball in the clutches of Brendan Cummins, the Tipperary goalkeeper who has now eclipsed Christy Ring’s haul of championship appearances. Yesterday was his 66th summer appearance for the county, a career that has spanned three decades and in which he has known the best and worst of times with Tipperary.
“It is phenomenal really,” smiled Declan Ryan, who has made the transition from being Cummins’ team-mate to his manager. “He was probably one of the fittest guys playing out there today. It is just an incredible achievement with the commitment and time and effort.”
When the game ended, Cummins clenched the ball and shook his fist at a Tipperary gathering in the lower Cusack Stand.
For Dublin’s young team, Cummins stands as living proof of just how precious All-Ireland finals are and just how tough it is to get there. His 67th match will be his fourth All-Ireland final, his third September day out against Kilkenny. It promises to be one to remember