Tipperary opened brightly when Owen Cummins drove over a second-minute free from long range to set Tipperary on the road to this Sunday’s Senior Hurling final against Connecticut, which advanced by beating defending champions Limerick. Cummins, who has battled injuries this season, was in fine form, particularly in an impressive first half.
Tipperary stretched their early advantage to 0-3 to 0-0 on a point from Robbie Ryan and on another long free from Cummins. Ryan lined out at the center forward position, but almost immediately went corner forward in a switch with Tipperary’s home county man Cormac Gleason.
Westmeath got on the board in the fifth minute via Paddy Barry’s stylish point. A Martin Finn free, set up by some good work from Lorcan Coll, brought Westmeath within a point and the match was on.
At times this match resembled a sports highlight show, as neither side ever seemed to miss a shot. Gleason and his fellow weekender and Tipperary county star Liam Cahill each pointed, but Westmeath struck back with Martin Finn’s equalizing goal. John Shaw and Robbie Nolan combined beautifully to send Finn in on goal and he made his chance count.
The scores came fast and furious from both teams in a highly entertaining first half. Neither club were interested in playing a spoilers role and skill took precedence over the rough stuff and the spectators were the winners.
Westmeath center fielder Paddy Barry was in brilliant form, dominating possession and urging his team forward at every opportunity. Barry scored one point seemingly without looking for the goalposts; he just knew where they were.
Robbie Ryan’s two first-half goals were matched by Westmeath three pointers from Finn and his dangerous strike partner Gavinda Geoghan, but Tipp carried a 2-11 to 2-9 lead into the intermission. Westmeath missed a golden chance when Finn’s penalty shot was expertly turned aside by defender Sean Quirke.
The second half seemed almost certain to be a letdown, but both sides came out determined to prove that theory incorrect. Positional switches abounded as the second half unfurled and with a berth in the finals at stake, the tackles became a bit rougher, but the scores kept flying over the lathe.
Liam Cahill closed the first half with a Tipperary point and he signaled his intentions with an excellent point to start the second half. Brendan Murtagh, Westmeath’s outstanding home county defender, and Finn combined well to set up Geoghan for a goal for the Leinster men, but Cahill and Tipperary bounced right back. Three Tipperary points, two for Cahill and one from Kevin Kennedy, cancelled out Geoghan’s effort and Tipperary looked to take control.
But Westmeath were having none of it. Richie Mullaly, another Westmeath home county player, joined Barry at midfield at the half and he began to combine with Barry to turn the tide in Westmeath’s direction. Veteran Brian McCabe dropped into the defense and marshaled the Westmeath defensive effort as the Lake County crew drew level on 0-3 straight points, from Finn, Jamie Shaw, and Barry.
Again, Cahill led Tipperary on the comeback trail with another trio of points, but Westmeath refused to wilt. Three points on the trot from Finn, including two frees, knotted things yet again at 3-16 to 2-19, with seven minutes and a trip to the finals still to play for.
Tipperary’s great veteran, midfielder John Madden, came to life in the game’s final quarter and Tipperary benefited from the extra possession. Substitute Pat Walsh tied it up again after Finn’s fourth point gave Westmeath the lead. Then, the lanky substitute found Robbie Ryan and the New York County man shook the twines for the third time in the match.
Another Tipperary point, this one from Tom Walsh, left Westmeath staring at a 0-4 deficit with only four minutes on referee Vinny Norton’s watch. Finn had one last chance but Tipperary keeper Tim Cullen turned his shot aside and propelled Tipp into yet another Senior Hurling final.
Men of the Match: Robbie Ryan of Tipperary, Paddy Barry for Westmeath
Tipperary: Tim Cullen, Jim Lyons, Sean Sheppard, Owen Cummins (0-4), Sean Quirke, Mike Kennedy, John Madden (0-1), Kevin Kennedy (0-2), Robbie Ryan (3-2), Tom Walsh (0-1), Liam Cahill (0-8), Cormac Gleason (0-1). Subs: Tomas Keane, Pat Walsh (0-1).
Westmeath: Darren Fitzpatrick, Peter Dalton, Brendan Murtagh, Collie Reilly, Richie Mullaly (0-1), Jamie Shaw, Paddy Barry (0-4), Brian McCabe (0-1), Robbie Nolan, Lorcan Coll, John Shaw (0-2), Martin Finn (1-7), Gavinda Geoghan (2-1