Paul Delaney was one of the Tipp players highlighted.Photo: Ray McManus/Sportsfile

When the Sunday Game went too far

On the evening of June 8th 1995, the Tipperary senior hurlers received the news that Paul Delaney and Michael Ryan were to miss a Munster semi-final through suspension following an altercation in the second half of the quarter final against Waterford which Tipp won handsomely.

The suspensions came about because of trial by television when panellists on the Sunday Game claimed that both players should have been sent off by Limerick referee Terrence Murray. Instead, he just took their names and issued the customary verbal warning.

It was such a pity because Tipp’s win over Waterford was well received by various scribes in the following day’s newspapers. The Irish Press labelled Tipperary’s performance in their 4-23 to 1-11 win in Pairc Ui Chaoimh, as “Pure Genius”. Justin McCarthy described the win as one when Tipperary gave a “five star performance.”

Indeed it was what Tipp needed as black clouds hung over the camp since their first round defeat to Clare in 1994 which ended in Michael ‘Babs’ Keatings tenure. Tipp were fancied going into that game following their impressive league final win over Galway. However, preparation for the championship was hampered due to injuries to John Leahy, Nicky English, Joe Hayes and Pat Fox although the Annacarty man came on as a replacement for Anthony Crosse in the second half.

In late autumn 1994, Fr Tom Fogarty took over from Babs and brought former players Ken Hogan and John Kennedy in as his selectors and but their tenure began with a poor league campaign the following spring.

May 21st was the date set for Tipp’s opening championship game against the Deise. Optimism in the county was far from good and it resulted in only 15,166 spectators turning up for the game. However the pessimism disappeared before very long as a slick Tipp side went for the jugular and led 0-12 to 0-5 at half time.

They raised it another gear for the second half which was helped by the introduction of Pat Fox, who had just returned from injury but the lack of fitness didn’t hinder him as he scored 2-4. Michael Cleary added 1-4 as Tipp booked a semi-final against Limerick.

However, a shadow hung over the win over Waterford. The Sunday Game television show that evening didn’t go all the way in praising Tipp’s performance. During the second half a row developed close to the Tipperary goal and the Sunday Game panellists vented their spleen and suggested that a number of players could have walked had referee Terrence Murray being stricter.

Things cooled down as the week wore on. One week stretched to two and then on Wednesday 7th June came a report that both Tipperary and Waterford would pay a heavy penalty for much publicised incidents. A three-hour meeting of the Munster Council’s Activities Committee held in Limerick interviewed six players as well as officials from both counties and heavy suspensions were handed out.

Tipperary defender Paul Delaney had a three-month sentence imposed and colleague Michael Ryan was suspended for two months. This meant both players would miss the semi-final against Limerick eleven days later and also the Munster final had Tipp advanced. John Leahy was also severely warned.

Waterford didn’t escape as team captain Brian Greene received a one month penalty while Peter Quaelly was hardest hit of all, not alone did he receive a three-month suspension, but was also penalised by his superiors as his passing out as a full pledged member of Garda Siochana was put on hold for three months. which was to be held at Templemore on May 25th. Both counties were fined £500 each.

As expected the Tipperary County Board said they would appeal the suspensions. Chairman Sean Fogarty quoted in the Nenagh Guardian, said it had been Tipp’s hope that when he and secretary Tommy Barrett were called to the meeting along with the players that they would be allowed to state their case. However Munster Council chairman, Noel Walsh ruled otherwise and this upset Tipp.

The upshot of it all was that Terrence Murray never refereed an inter-county game again.

There was the matter of a Munster semi-final to prepare for. The question on everybody’s lips was who would replace the missing pair on the left flank. Brendan Carroll from Thurles Sarsfields was drafted in to wing back in place of Delaney. Colm Bonner was moved from midfield to fill Ryan’s position at left corner back while Bonner’s place went to John Leahy, making way for Pat Fox to gain a place on the starting fifteen.

Over 32,000 filled Pairc Ui Chaoimh for the Limerick game and Tipp found out that the Treaty men were a more formidable opposition, coming off the All-Ireland final defeat to Offaly the previous year.

Yet despite not playing well they managed to take a 0-9 to 0-7 lead at half time. After the changeover Tipp quickly lost the lead as the opening fifteen minutes of the second half had both sides level on four occasions.

The concession of far too many frees was another factor and it helped Gary Kirby finish top scorer on 0-12 (0-9 from frees) in a man of the match performance. His free-taking was the difference while Ciaran Carey and TJ Ryan also on form.

Tipp tried hard to get their noses back in front but the best efforts of Brendan Cummins, Noel Sheedy, Conal Bonnar, Ramie Ryan and Aidan Ryan were not enough as Limerick ran out winners, 0-16 to 0-15.

Declan Ryan’s last minute attempt from far out drifted wide as Tipp struck fifteen wides as opposed to nine for Limerick. Michael Cleary claimed that one of his frees was a point but the umpires differed.

Limerick prevailed and as a result they met Clare in the Munster final. Clare won and continued their winning with victory over Galway and Offaly on route to a first All-Ireland victory since 1932.

It was a splendidly hot summer also and all Tipp fans could do was to enjoy the sunshine wondering if they would have beaten Limerick and then Clare with a full squad.

Hindsight is wonderful as we know but there was always the question of, what if? Would a full squad help overcome Limerick and then Clare in the Munster decider? Then it was up for grabs in the All-Ireland series. Ok the All-Ireland semi-final could have been a problem as Galway can be Tipp’s bogey team. But who knows. Tipp might have overcome Offaly in the All-Ireland final.

One wonders if age would age have become a factor as Pat Fox (34), Nickie English (33) were not getting any younger. The same for Aidan Ryan (30), Colm Bonnar (31) and Noel Sheehy (31). Then again the following year most of the same squad should have beaten Limerick in the Munster final but they let a big lead slip and lucky to claim a draw in the end.

The replay in Pairc Ui Chaoimh was a disaster as Limerick advanced and could have beaten Wexford in the All-Ireland final.

Moving to 1997, Len Gaynor’s team recovered well from a Munster final defeat to Clare and almost snatched an All-Ireland final win over the Banner but Jamsie O’Connor’s last minute point settled the outcome.

That 1997 side had nine of the team that lost to Limerick in 1995 such as Brendan Cummins, Noel Sheehy, Michael Ryan, Colm Bonner, Conal Bonner, Tomas Dunne, Declan Ryan, John Leahy and Michael Cleary. Newcomers Brian O’Meara and Liam McGrath played their part. Tipp were unlucky that day.

Leahy had a golden opportunity to goal from close in. Then hindsight is wonderful.