Nightmare leads to dream final

IT’S ON. Tipperary and Kilkenny will meet in the All-Ireland final, and for all sorts of reasons hard-wired into the DNA of both counties, both counties will be glad.

The Cats would rather beat Tipp than any other county to win four-in-a-row. And Tipperary, more than anybody else, would want to be the county to put a stop to their smoothly-purring gallop, if we can cross species for metaphorical purposes.

Cut us some slack. After yesterday’s mismatch we’re looking for consolation anywhere we can get it. Tipperary beat Limerick back to the Stone Age yesterday in a game that didn’t make it to the 20th minute as a contest.

The final score was 6-19 to 2-7, or at least we think it was. The scoreboard operator ran out of light bulbs with 10 minutes to go as we entered a realm of fantastical numbers familiar only to Stephen Hawking. Or maybe Liam Carroll.

It’s our own fault. For the last couple of weeks we were talking Limerick up like Canadian investors looking over an Allied Irish Bank prospectus, and we’re not the first to discover that the value of investments can fall as well as rise.

There had been a lot of confident asserting that, based on their history, Limerick heads wouldn’t drop if Tipperary jumped out an early lead, but yesterday’s collapse was on a par with Dublin a couple of weeks ago, another side to find themselves smothered as they defended Hill 16.

Clearly somebody tore up a fairy fort at the Railway End when the pitch was relaid after the U2 concert, and that somebody needs to put it back.

Limerick paid tribute to Waterford’s largely successful template against Kilkenny early on yesterday, pulling players back the field, with David Breen out in the middle, Seamus Hickey picking up Seamus Callanan, and Brian Geary loose between the two defensive lines.

However, they took their homage a step too far when Stephen Lucey replicated Aidan Kearney’s first-half error last week. Lucey misjudged a routine delivery right down the middle and the ball ran through to Eoin Kelly behind him. Alone. Twenty metres from goal.

What do you mean what happened next?

On fourteen minutes Lar Corbett left green jerseys twisting in his vapour trail and placed Noel McGrath for a forehand smash to the net; two minutes later Mark Foley dallied for a heartbeat too long on the 21-metre line and had his pocket picked in front of goal by Pat Kerwick, who finished with extreme prejudice.

At the end of the first quarter, then, Limerick were three goals behind and the game was dead as Dillinger.

The score was 3-8 to 0-4 at half-time and Tipp added a further 3-11 to their total after the break.

“We missed a few chances and we were on the back foot after 20 minutes,” said Limerick boss Justin McCarthy afterwards. “By half-time, realistically, as a contest the game was over. At half-time we thought we could come back as good as we could, but it was a big hill to climb at that stage.”

Tipperary manager Liam Sheedy was delighted with the win, but he wasn’t gloating in the immediate aftermath.

“Anyone watching sport would know that that wasn’t Limerick today. I feel for Justin and the lads. It’s happened to me as a manager a few times — nothing happens for you and it doesn’t work out, and Limerick had one of those days.

“There’s big guys in that dressing-room, there’s character in that dressing-room and have no doubt they’ll be back. That just wasn’t their form.”

True enough. But to throw some business jargon into the mix, for Tipperary going forward, the poverty of Limerick’s challenge yesterday means that questions remain for Sheedy and his management team.

For instance, we all expected Tipperary to fade a little in the second half, as they’ve done in previous games this year, and when Limerick burgled a couple of goals the Premier’s mini-hiatus seemed to have arrived right on cue.

At least it did until Lar Corbett buried another two goals within seven minutes. Does that mean the second-half slacking-off problem is solved?

Tipperary’s half-forward line has been criticised for disappearing in recent games, with Seamus Callanan in particular being fingered for vanishing into a phone booth and re-emerging in his civvies rather than a cape and tights. Yet he was also available for the Corbett pass Noel McGrath finished to the net in the first half, and he slipped into splendid isolation on a couple of other occasions as well, scoring fine points in the second half.

At the other end of the field Sheedy’s deployment of Padraic Maher on the edge of the square worked well, but when your team wins a game by 25 points, how much pressure has your full-back been under?

Expect something different on September 6th when Kilkenny take the field.

“They are the team,” said Sheedy. “And rightfully so. They’ve earned that over the last four years. It’s no fluke they’re going for four-in-a-row.”

And it’s no fluke that Kilkenny’s appetite for work has burnt itself across the retinas of the pretenders. Lar Corbett testified to that after the game.

“I don’t think that work-rate would win an All-Ireland on September 6th,” said Corbett, whose personal contribution was a spectacularly lazy 3-1 from play. “We know what Kilkenny are doing to teams year in, year out. We’re under no illusions.

“We see Kilkenny do it year in, year out – the man in the best position gets the ball. That’s it. Today the man in the best position got the ball and if you start from that you’ve a chance of winning any game.”

Eudie Coughlan had a succinct comparison of the up-and-coming Kilkenny side he and his Cork team-mates beat in 1931. They were coming in, he said, and we were going out.

Kilkenny were not the blood and iron regiment of 2008 against Waterford in this year’s semi-final, and as the year goes on the men in blue and gold look more and more like an irresistible tide. But are Tipp really coming in this year? Are Kilkenny really going out? Questions to savour.

Anything to put yesterday out of the mind: those familiar with Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane will remember the scene in which Kane’s girlfriend makes her opera-singing debut; the camera tracks upwards from the stage to a pair of stagehands far above, listening to her murder the aria from Salaambo. One stagehand simply looks at his comrade and then holds his nose.

There was a lot of that going around yesterday.

Twenty questions (and one for luck)

1. What gives between the Olympic Council of Ireland and the Irish Sports Council? Remember that this summer?

2. If Darren Sutherland is the Dazzler, is Kenny Egan the Kezzler? Would Paddy Barnes be the Paddler? Would Roy Keane be the Rozzler? (Stop that now — Ed)

3. Having spent an hour in the man’s company during the week,
is Pádraig Harrington the nicest human being in Irish sport?

4. Then again, does he have much serious competition?

5. Now that Roy Keane has shaved off his beard, can we expect the hairy cornflakes of the Tyrone football team to do the same? And is that a good or a bad thing?

6. If Usain Bolt is the fastest man in the world, then why can’t he tie his laces? Or put another way, is he the fastest man in the world because he doesn’t tie his laces?

7. Has anybody now or ever given a good reason for the continuing ties with the AFL or the International Rules apart from a) those involved getting a nice freebie to Australia or b) taking free-kicks from the hand instead of off the ground?

8. The Gaelic Players Association
is offering associate membership — is it worth joining up?

9. Has Jamie Carragher done the unthinkable and created something even rarer than writing the Great American Novel and written the
Actually Interesting In Certain Parts, Amazingly Enough, For A Footballer’s Autobiography?

10. Is the Munster version of the Haka the Muka or the Maka?

More seriously, if there are New Zealanders playing for Munster, why don’t they do that dance before every game?

11. If someone else in the pub says “I’ll tell you something, there’s going to be big changes in sport because of the recession, mark my words,” are you going to stop rolling your eyes and leave immediately (by way of the off-licence)?

12. Eduardo’s leg against Birmingham: you winced, didn’t you? But then you had to have another look, didn’t you?

13. You don’t really know what to make of Declan Kidney yet either, do you?

14. If, as some people are predicting, the Cork hurling team is beaten into the second division of the NHL next year… and if the team suffers accordingly in the championship itself… are we likely to see them demoted to the Christy Ring Cup, with attendant irony?

15. Admit it — deep down you secretly admire the jerseys of Stade Francais, complete with those freaky-looking queen faces (the 13th-century heroine Blanche de Castille, the wife of Louis VIII and heroine of all of Paris, fact fans): you’d love to have the guts to wear one, wouldn’t you. Or, to be strictly accurate, you wish you didn’t have the gut to wear one?

16. Michael Phelps. The food. Remember? (http://www.youtube.com/
watch?v>WouDOVWjfdo if you don’t).

He eats 8,000 to 10,000 calories a day; why is it that he looks like a Michelangelo statue on that diet and your columnist looks like Orson Welles? (And don’t say the training)

17. Exactly how big is Lewis Hamilton? He’s young, rich, talented, cool, famous: can I at least console myself with being taller than him?

18. What is it with Ger Loughnane and priests? Was he a Cromwellian soldier in some past life? Or — slightly more plausible — Martin Luther (“I’ve got 95 Theses, but I’ll only
tell you what they are just before the throw-in”)?

19. Does anyone else think that the build-up to the Lions tour in South Africa next year seems to have been going on since the mid-seventies?

20. Finally, having written a sports book this year, why was this column not forewarned about the irrational hatred suddenly felt towards anybody else who has a book out at this time of the year?

The antipathy towards colleagues who are in direct competition on the sporting front we could have guessed at, but the psychotic bubbling of rage towards the likes of Julie Walters and Dawn French — even if we’re not all appealing to the same constituency — came as a surprise.

Is that normal?

21. Or is it just me?

contact: michael.moynihan@examiner.ie