Tipperary - All Ireland Under 20 Hurling Championship finalists. Back row: Adam Daly, Conor Gleeson, Mason Cawley, Sam O’Farrell, Harry Loughnane, Sam Rowan, Eoin Craddock, Ronan Connolly. Middle row: Joe Egan, Conor Martin, Jack O’Callaghan, Jack Collins, Podge O’Dwyer, Jamie Ormond, Oisín O’Donoghue, Darragh McCarthy. Seated: Senan Butler, Chris O’Donnell, Eoin Horgan, Ben Currivan (captain), Damien Corbett, Aaron O’Halloran, Cathal English, Ciarán Foley.

Bitter taste of defeat can fire players up for future success

Tipperary were up against it in many ways in this All-Ireland Under 20 Hurling Final.

By Shane Brophy

Coming in as Munster champions, they were very much the secondary act to an Offaly team that has captured the imagination of a county and the country, to such an extent the game eclipsed all the big senior football championship games played last weekend.

It felt like this was a coronation, finally redemption for the minor and under 20 final defeats of the last two years. Tipperary were in the role of party-poopers if they were to be crowned champions.

In the end, the script had its happy ending as Offaly finally scaled the All-Ireland tree in deserved fashion. They played the better hurling on the evening, used the ball better, and took their chances.

The margins between the two sides throughout were small but Tipp’s thirteen wides to Offaly’s nine was ultimately decisive, particularly in the second half where Brendan Cummins charges registered ten, when they were on top but weren’t able to build enough scoreboard pressure.

Offaly were also more consistent in keeping the scoreboard ticking over, where as Tipp went eleven minutes without a score in the first half, conceding five points in that time, and then in the second half had another eight minute barren spell in which time Offaly went from two to eight points in front, and that proved to be too great to come back from, despite a brave effort from Tipperary whose workrate and application were top-class throughout.

However, they were never able to get into a rhythm, admittedly much of it down to Offaly, but also Tipp’s own shortcomings in terms of their use of the ball and set-up.

Tipperary have played with a sweeper or plus one, all year with captain Ben Currivan excelling in that role, and it worked defensively as Tipp had conceded one goal all championship until the final.

The sweeper role isn’t primarily defensive, it is also a launch-pad for attacks but for it to be successful, the passing needs to be crisp and on-point but in this game, Tipp weren’t as sharp as they needed to be.

In the first half, admittedly against the breeze, Darragh McCarthy was a lone full forward for long spells as Senan Butler drifted too deep to try and get on the ball while Oisin O’Donoghue moved to the wing with Ciaran Foley to midfield, where he excelled again on the big occasion with three points from play.

However, it robbed Tipperary of the impact of Adam Daly who was detailed to mark centre forward Dan Bourke, to allow Ben Currivan to be the spare man.

In the build-up to the game, so much of the focus was on the respective star-men in Offaly’s Adam Screeney and Tipp’s Darragh McCarthy being key to whoever one, and in the large part both were kept relatively quiet in open play.

So, it was a case of who would be the unheralded player that would prove to be the match-winner and it was the Offaly captain Dan Bourke whose 1-3 from play was the ultimate difference between the wides. Daly is a good ball-player and maybe a more defensively minded Sam O’Farrell might have been more suited to that role.

Indeed his 47th minute goal typified the edge Offaly had in the game as Adam Daly looked to have possession secured but was robbed with Bourke taking the ball on and still a good 25-yards out, didn’t settle for the point, went for the goal, and got it.

It was the key score to put Offaly 2-16 to 2-9 in front, but to Tipp’s credit they responded and got back within three points before the late scoring salvo which secured the win for the Leinster champions.

When Tipperary did work the ball well, they managed some good scores, but just not enough of them.

They certainly looked to have the beating of the Offaly backs when they ran at them or with quality ball, but just didn’t find themselves in enough of those situations, particularly when playing a forward short throughout.

Paddy McCormack was certainly a loss in this regard, but Offaly were also without Dan Ravenhill, so they evened themselves out in that respect. A fully fit Ronan Connolly would also have been a huge asset, with the Cashel man an unused sub, as his physicality and athleticism would have been an asset at wing-back or midfield.

Goalkeeper Eoin Horgan pulled off a superb first half save but will be disappointed not to have stayed on his line for the first goal to allow Aaron O’Halloran to battle it out for possession with Barry Egan, the Tipp full-back superb throughout, as was Podge O’Dwyer who did as good a job on Adam Screeney as could be expected.

This Tipperary team has come a long way in a short space of time. This might appear strange to say considering over half the squad have All-Ireland minor medals, but they started out this campaign with little or no expectations.

Their challenge match performances were poor to such an extent they abandoned their running style shortly before the championship, to great success, winning a Munster championship and getting to an All-Ireland final. Maybe that is why they fell that bit short to an Offaly side who have been playing the same style for many years now.

The way Tipperary played in this championship is the way forward, it just needs to be more refined, particularly in the use the ball and enduring what is going into the forwards is what is to their advantage of their teammates.

Tipperary certainly had a height advantage on Offaly but that is no benefit if the ball is into a crowded area more of than not. Offaly knew that was coming and ensured the ball broke to the ground where they edged that aspect.

This Tipperary team aren’t the finished article. Nineteen of this panel are eligible for next year, and with a new batch of Munster minor winners backing that up, they will have a strong hand, but there is no guarantee of anything as Munster is so competitive so getting back to an All-Ireland final would be an achievement in itself.

The three year term of Brendan Cummins and his management team is up so there will have to be a decision to be made whether he takes the group on next year and that consistency would be welcome. They certainly deserve another go after learning the lessons from last year and their willingness to change tact, even at the last minute in terms of style of play.

However, James Woodlock has also worked with many of these players over the last three years with the minors and might like to move up with the group. Not an easy decision but a welcome problem, nonetheless.

For inspiration to go a step further, Tipp only have to look at Offaly who fuelled disappointments to inspire this success, there is no reason why Tipperary can’t either as the talent is there.