Shane Stapleton looks back at last weekend's semi-finals
Rewatch Davy Fitzgerald’s one-man pitch invasion and ask yourself: was this not contrived?
He knew his team would be under pressure at some stage and so it was. Wexford deserved a free when James Breen was halted by Niall O’Meara and John McGrath, few people disagree with that. So while Fitzgerald is being troubled with decisions out of his control, he should be focusing on what was. Namely that sweeper Shaun Murphy could’ve cleared the ball first-time rather than playing Breen into trouble. Then again, accountability is a parcel for passing in modern life.
There was an obvious upshot for this unwelcome behaviour: Diarmuid Kirwan’s whistle was only working for one team thereafter and that was Wexford. On more than one occasion was a Tipp man fouled and told to get up by the ref, as the Models then quickly scored at the other end. See David Redmond’s sweet point in the second half seconds after Dan McCormack had clearly been tripped on the far ’21.
So when Davy Fitz afterwards speaks about Kirwan being one of the best referees in the country, you can take it that he knows his back was given a goodly amount of scratching over the 70. As for his on-field antics being rehearsed, see the calmness of his response when asked would he behave differently if he had a do-over.
"No, I wouldn’t. Because it’s important to make the point. To me, it changed the game plus I was trying to get my own team going, they were after getting a blow. You’re trying to rise them and get them going so it might have been two or three different things I was trying to do on that one. Do I possible know it was not the right thing? 100%."
Only Davy knows for sure, but it had the hallmarks of premeditation and, in some sort of perverse fairness, we’ll say he very much was throwing himself under the bus for the greater good. If the team was hammered, he was the talking point. Should he have been hurt in a melee, it was his body on the line for his team. No doubt it was unforgivable behaviour in terms of sporting etiquette but most will understand his motivation.
How often do we see Brian Cody and Co barracking a referee as they come in at half-time? That’s another, though more accepted, form of the same protest. The modern world demands bans for behaviour such as this, even if it amounted to nothing. The problem was the possibility of a melee where others get hurt as a consequence of the fuse Davy had lit, which is what can't be ignored.
After the game, Davy Fitz said of a possible ban: "Whatever it is, it is. I’d like to think common sense… I won’t do it again if that’s any consolation." Common sense was needed before the fact, rather than asking for it afterwards.
The Models drew parity with Tipp physically, created as many scoring chances and didn’t drop their heads after the first two goals. They hit 20 scores to Tipp’s 23, which is no disgrace. The downside for Fitz was that his side didn’t look like scoring goals up until the late penalty incident, and then Liam Ryan’s shot that Darren Gleeson made a bizarre attempt to save on his knees. Three times long-range Lee Chin frees dropped short against Kilkenny, and they retained the same policy and outcome. A strange oversight that cost them scores and therefore a better platform.
Tipp didn’t need any invitation but that’s what they got. John McGrath rarely misses and continued his lethal ways. Noel McGrath started on the inside line and, like his brother’s first, finished low for both goals in intelligent fashion. Davy Fitz spoke of the man-marking the Tipp attack — “If you peel off them at all, they’ll pick a man” — and that’s what Noel did before snapping a crucial ball over Diarmuid O’Keeffe for the killer green flag.
The other interesting aspect of that score was that Liam Ryan had been shadowing John, with the latter pulling him out to the ’65, meaning the resident full-back wasn’t home to mind the square — leaving it vulnerable to that aerial strike.
Not that Tipp were perfect, far from it. They didn’t seem to hit top gear at any point other than for the late burst when they realised the opposition weren’t going down. "The couple of goals that we got in the first half stood to us," Mick Ryan said afterwards. "We were trailing them on points so that would suggest that they were doing the bulk of the work, the bulk of the scoring." Seamus Callanan showed only flashes, Steven O’Brien and Niall O’Meara were quiet, Jason Forde may need more time to grow into midfield, while the full-back line didn’t always look comfortable.
Joe Canning meets fans after Galway's win over Limerick. Mandatory Credit ©INPHO/Donall Farmer
Any real concerns have to be measured against what Galway produced in their win over Limerick. Wet paper bags have often resisted better than this Treaty team who looked light-years behind in terms of conditioning. There were physical mismatches across the field, and the sense was that the Tribe never need to press on the gas.
Joe Canning did okay out at centre-forward but his tackling was loose on occasion and will be punished by better teams. The Portumna man needs to be a factor for the 70 minutes and be a playmaker for a team that seems to rely too much on individualism. Galway forwards look to get a shot off firstly, and only then will they consider a pass — often in situations when goals might originally have been on. Little wonder their only goal chance, which Conor Cooney took brilliantly, came from a long ball and naive defending. The Tribe could’ve won by more against a poor Limerick side whose starting attack hit just 0-3 from play, and looked blunt until Barry Nash came on.
There was talk of Galway’s good game plan on the Sunday Game, but we saw none, other than Adrian Tuohy man-marking Cian Lynch. For fear of revealing their summer plans, we are likely to see 15 v 15 on Sunday, a shoot-out in the Gaelic Grounds.
It has a Tipp win written all over it, but Galway’s attritional style tends to trouble the Premier.