By Mike Fitzpatrick
This senior hurling game had everything. A nail-biting first half where Westmeath held the lead and were, unbelievable as it may sound, the better side for long periods. Yet this was but the start of a hurling thriller which Sunday’s crowd at Gaelic Park were surely fortunate to witness.
Possessing a 4-point lead thanks to Damian Cleere, Westmeath looked to be something of a potential party pooper for this Tipperary side, which may go a long way this season, having already clinched the knockout cup.
Having seen this Tipperary side win three times in the last 10 days, this reporter is convinced that they have what it takes to go all the way this year. And yes, I have heard of a side known as Limerick.
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Cleere proved that he was not out to play second or third fiddle to more recognized attackers such as an on-form Brian Daly of Westmeath, or Tipperary’s Kevin Kennedy. Cleere hit all but one of Westmeath’s seven first-half scores, with Daly notching a solitary point for Westmeath to go in at the break trailing by just two points.
This was where the predominant difference lay between the two sides: Tipperary hit nine scores in the first half hour, and these were attributed to four different players, banging in scores from all types of positions throughout the field. A 2-point deficit at the half is a regular occurrence at Gaelic Park; what happened next, however, really had to be seen to be believed.
Tipp went wild. Owen Cummins, back to his best following a lengthy injury layoff, hit a fine personal tally of five second-half points from his halfback position, and Liam Cahill went on a rampant streak, scoring a goal and four points for Tipp.
Add to this, efforts over the bar from John Madden, Mark O’Leary and substitute Michael Carroll, and Westmeath were truly shaken.
The difference between the sides was phenomenal. Every effort Tipperary struck seemed to register on the scoreboard, while Westmeath could just sit and wonder what on earth had happened.
A sending off for Westmeath’s John McDonald did not help matters, his side truly missed his scoring talents upfront.
A couple of changes in personnel on behalf of the Tipperary selectors proved beneficial, with substitutes Paul Hogan grabbing two goals, and veteran Tony O’Brien hitting another for his side.
Brian McCabe was, arguably, Westmeath’s player of the game, but even his talents could do little to prevent this amazing Tipperary side. Tipp greedily refused to let up, still going for scores when the game points were so obviously theirs. Late points from Owen Cummins, Cahill and Kennedy sealed an important victory for Tipp, and on their recent performances, I wouldn’t bet against them going a lot further this year.
Westmeath: Mark Briody, Peter Dalton, Robbie Kennedy, Jimmy Hughes, Brian McCabe, Alan Barclay, John Constantine, Kevin McGinlay, Dan Doran, John McDonald, Colm Reilly, Brian Daly (0-1), Damian Cleere (1-5).
Tipperary: Ian Duggan, Donal Cummins, Jim Lyons, Alan Slattery, Owen Cummins (0-5), Shane Ryan, John Madden (0-1), Keith Hennessy, Mark O’Leary (0-6), Mike Kennedy (0-1), Kevin Kennedy (1-1), Liam Cahill (1-7), Declan O’Meara. Subs.: Paul Hogan (2-0), Tony O’Brien (1-0), Michael Carroll (0-2), John Slattery.