The only missing aspect for Tipp was the victory
By Enda Treacy
Devastation is the only word that can be used to describe this league semi-final defeat as somehow Tipperary left Nowlan Park on Sunday without a place in the final after being comfortably the better team for the first 55 minutes or so.
More of the fine team play witnessed against Waterford and Offaly was on show from Tipperary once again, as they answered the question of whether they could reproduce the same standard against a team of the quality of Kilkenny.
In fairness, they showed even more and it felt like Tipp had their foot firmly on the Cats tails, especially in the first half, as they showed magnificent energy and fight and it looked to all and sundry that it was Tipperary who were going to send a message to the big guns that they were ready to shake up the Big 3.
But it just goes to show how important it is for this Tipperary team to take that next step as they had all but one foot in the final, but an uncharacteristic mistake from All-Star goalkeeper Aine Slattery allowed Kilkenny back into the match, and also drained the confidence and flow of the players.
So many players excelled on the day, and it is hard to lay the blame at any one player's feet, with Roisin Howard, Nicole Walsh, Eimear McGrath and the incredibly consistent and class figure of Cait Devane all playing outstanding stuff, with the team play throughout particularly exquisite.
Much of what we saw against Offaly was on show again, with dynamic running, players coming off the shoulder, diagonal deliveries into the full-forward line, picking out the player in space and all this was displayed to perfection, particularly in the first half as Kilkenny couldn’t get to grips with the Tipperary play.
A testament to the Tipperary effort was the fact that Kilkenny were restricted to just 1-3 in the first half, with only two points coming from play, while they only allowed the home side to hit a single wide, with Mary Ryan and Karen Kennedy leading well in the spine of the defence.
It’s hard to pinpoint exactly where it all went wrong, as it would be easy to point to the two quick goals conceded in the final five minutes, but the accuracy between the first and second half from Tipp was notable as they seemed to run out of steam going down the final strait.
Indeed, the manner in which Tipp are playing and setting up requires to players to have considerable fitness levels, with support runners popping up everywhere when the ball is turned over, so it is perhaps no surprise that there was a dip late on, especially in the suffocating heat present in Kilkenny.
A special mention has to go to Tipp joint-captain Cait Devane. We’re simply running out of words to describe the class she is producing week in and week out, but she maybe even outdid herself on Sunday with some of the scores she registered. Kilkenny couldn’t handle her and a lot of the credit has to go to management and the coaching staff as they are playing to a system that is yielding the most from the Clonoulty/Rossmore ace, Devane scoring five from play out of her tally of eleven.
This defeat is a bitter pill for Tipperary to swallow but have many positives to take from the performance despite the result. It just goes to show that they will have to learn how to see out these games against the big teams; which seems to be the last piece of the puzzle as championship looms.
Orla O’Dwyer’s return is a welcome tonic going forward and she looked incredibly sharp despite the limited time she has had on the training pitch and will be important to the team.
Eimear McGrath has also been excellent to date and looks a real find in the forward line while Sarah Fryday had another good outing, this time at midfield, after impressing the last day out at wing-back and this could be one of the big positives from this league campaign.
All in all, it has been a largely fruitful league campaign – minus the loss of Clodagh Quirke to injury – as the team looks pretty settled and are now playing well in a system that seems to bring the best out of them, so from here there will be plenty of optimism in camp as long as they don’t allow the disappointment of this loss to fester.
It will be important for Tipperary to dust themselves down quickly and prepare for the championship in the coming weeks having been drawn with Wexford, Limerick, and Offaly.