Defending champions Tipperary come into this Sunday’s All-Ireland semi-final as underdogs as they prepare to do battle with Leinster champions, Galway.
The sides last met in April in the National League final in Limerick, where the Tribesmen ran out 3-21 to 0-14 winners.
Hurling followers expected a backlash from the Premier as they entered the Munster Championship, however, Tipp’s defence was again exposed as they lost to Cork in a shoot-out.
Since then however, Michael Ryan’s side have quietly gone about their business. A somewhat favourable draw in the qualifiers saw Tipp beat Westmeath and Dublin in low-profile, non-televised games.
With a couple of positive results under their belts, the Premier faced Clare in the quarter-final in the new-and-improved Páirc Uí Chaoimh. Again, Tipp got an important win. However, they were weaknesses in Tipp’s game – namely the full back line.
In the wake of this win over the Banner, Ryan insisted that there would be no return of Cathal Barrett in 2017.
While keeping an All-Star defender in the shadows is head-scratching to some, it is a vote of confidence to that much-criticised back three of Donagh Maher, Tomás Hamill and James Barry.
The fact that Ryan has put his faith in the trio is a brave call – especially when you consider the strength of the Galway attack.
The three players are all good defenders, so it isn’t beyond the realms of possibility that they will come good on Sunday. However, Maher, Hamill and Barry need to play better as a unit, and may need the half back line to drop deep.
This will be the key for the champions on Sunday – they need this half back line to get their hands on the ball. Clare tried the short puck-out to avoid these players (a tactic that didn’t work out too well) so expect Galway to have a plan to keep the sliotar away from Ronan and Paraic Maher. The pair are both strong in the air and also the launch-pad for the Tipp attack when they get their hands on the ball.
This is where the game will be won and lost for Tipperary. They need to get good ball into their lethal sextet of forwards.
And this is very achievable. With Noel and John McGrath, Dan McCormack Patrick Maher, Seamus Callanan and John O’Dwyer, the Premier are going to put up a big score. Tipp only managed 0-14 in the league final, but scored exactly double that against Clare last time out.
They also put up a big score against Cork, albeit in defeat.
In Galway they face a team who have also put big scores on the board – 0-33 against Offaly and 0-29 in the Leinster final.
However, Tipp, even when struggling at the back, are better than those teams. They also have a more positive approach to the game. The aforementioned half back line are strong in attack – adding another dimension that the Galway half forward line have yet to see in this year’s championship.
There has been a lot said about Galway so far this season. However, they enter this game in the unfamiliar situation as being Leinster champions.
Tipp on the other hand, have had a steady stream of matches in the last six weeks. The public fall-out after the loss to Cork is consigned to the past as they have given their response on the field.
Galway are expected to win this one, but don’t overlook this Tipp side. They are All-Ireland champions for a reason – and they won’t give up their title without one hell of a fight.
They are getting better as the year progresses – and they are ready for one big effort to reach another All-Ireland final.
Joel Slattery, Pundit Arena
Check out the latest episode of The 16th Man where we look ahead to Tipp vs Galway as well as all the weekend’s football action.