Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Kelly Answers Babs' Prayers

It was a weekend for one-man bands. If Steven Gerrard's Boy's Own exploits in clawing his crippled Liverpool team towards the F.A. Cup were not enough for you, then Eoin Kelly, the Michael Jordan of Mullinahone, underlined the value of having even one good 'un in your ranks, no matter what your prospects beforehand were.

Tipperary have fairly bounced out of Sunday's victory over Limerick. The line is that Babs, Gandalf-like, has ridden in on a white steed to restore the proper order of things. Going to Mass in St.Patrick's College, then beating Limerick again. "Old values were restored today" said Keating, and all Tipperary surely howled its approval.

Still, when Babs kneeled down to pray on Sunday morning with his players, he will have offered a special invocation to the hurling gods regarding the form of his number 15. Eoin Kelly's haul of 14 points, nine from play, was highly impressive in itself. The fact that, on another day he could have had 2-14 (he had one shot brilliantly saved by Limerick keeper Brian Murray, and another disallowed after Redser O'Grady was adjudged to have picked the ball off the ground in the build-up) renders his performance as truly spectacular. His points tally was probably commensurate with the number of times Limerick changed his marker, with Mark Foley, TJ Ryan and Damien Reale all vainly having a go.

Make no bones about it, for all the rabble-rousing talk afterwards, Kelly was the single most important factor in Tipp's win, and he stood so far above those around him, both friend and foe, that he may as well have had a beatific glow, such was his unearthliness. Maybe those prayers worked after all.

All the same, in a 15 man game, no matter how outstanding the leading man, there has to be supporting players. The anomaly of the opening minutes aside, in which the two Limerick goals which prevented the scoreline from depicting the drubbing it should have were scored, the intensity and sharpness of Tipperary around the field were in stark contrast to their opponents, who appeared paralysed by their early lead.

Tipp captain O'Grady, John Carroll, Diarmuid Fitzgerald and Declan Fanning all stood out, and Fitzgerald, in particular, played a huge part in the latter stages in quashing any fightback momentum Limerick might have been summoning. In general, however, the Tipp gameplan is redolent of Brian Clough's instructions to Nottingham Forest's erstwhile record signing Trevor Francis: "Don't worry too much about what to do, just give the ball to John Robertson and he'll do the rest."

Using words like 'intensity' and 'sharpness' in discussing a side's victory in a championship match is pretty de rigeur, and Tipperary's performance on Sunday is proof, were it needed, how dispensable league form is in plotting the expected course of championship games. That Tipp side on Sunday, for all Limerick's rabbit-in-the-headlights bamboozlement, was so unrecognisable from the one which lurched through the league and provoked multitudinous doomsday scenarios for Tipp hurling, as to make league performances seem as useful for predicting Munster championship results as the old pin-and-blindfold method is for tipping Grand National winners.

So what of this Tipp team then? Is a Babs resurgence afoot - a spot of late 80s nostalgia? Steady on now. Some other team will mark Kelly even a little bit better than Limerick. Or, maybe, he might just not have as good a day at the office the next time. Even if, like Gooch Cooper, you can never totally mark him out of the game, the inevitable day that Kelly only finishes with a meagre half-dozen or so points, and the slack is demanded off the lesser lights around him, will see a proper evaluation of this Tipp side.

With only a sorely depleted Waterford awaiting in the semis, we will likely have to wait until the Munster final on June 25th for the results of that particular reckoning.


Blogger Damian said...

Eoin Kelly has probably secured himself an All-Star with that performance alone. He is, by far, the best forward in the country. And Babs is the most charismatic manager.

Tipp will now probably go on and beat Waterford in the semi and we'll hear no end of chat about the tradtional order being restored.

10:09 a.m.  

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