By Peter McNamara
All-Ireland SHC semi-final: Tipperary v Galway (3.30pm, Sunday, Croke Park)
Ever since Séamus Callanan was denied a potentially title-defining green flag from a penalty against Kilkenny in the All-Ireland SHC final last year, there has always been the sense the Drom & Inch clubman was bound to be on a mission this term.
He has been. And it has epitomised the attitude and focus of the entire Tipperary unit.
Their journey to the last four of the All-Ireland series has been understated off the field and emphatic on it.
Limerick were swatted aside as if a virtual non-entity while Waterford were subsequently worn down, eventually, by the experience of the Premier County men.
Presently, Eamon O’Shea’s brigade are one leap from another September showpiece with Kilkenny.
Galway, a reconfigured outfit and one that has expanded its scoring capabilities beyond a certain attacker by the name of Joe, represent the blockade to Tipp’s ambitions of lining up alongside Brian Cody’s side once more on the biggest occasion of all.
The westerners have been relentlessly bullish regarding their Championship prospects.
In an unusual twist, Anthony Cunningham and co have opted to talk themselves up to the breaches of Cloud Nine and have, thus far, generally backed up their confidence with performances of substance.
Of course, the words ‘Galway’ and ‘substance’ rarely align in any one sentence but maybe the Tribesmen are sick to their teeth of hearing phrases such as ‘perennial underachievers’ and ‘also-rans’. Maybe!
And if so, who could blame them?
Yet, as refreshing as their brazen approach has been, bare form may not be entirely on their side.
Galway dismissed Dublin, in a replay, and Laois but were fended off by Kilkenny before defeating Cork.
However, Dublin’s subsequent exit at the quarter-final juncture to a Déise outfit that would be dumped out by Cody’s charges suggests Cunningham’s team may not be able to take as much from beating the Metropolitans as first thought.
Additionally, the distinct lack of intensity in their game with the Rebels may count against them while tasked with shoving Tipp to one side.
Attackers such as Johnny Glynn and Jason Flynn have alleviated the scoring burden from Canning.
Andy Smith and David Burke are energetic and marshal the middle-third effectively too.
Still, on Sunday Galway will encounter a challenge unlike what they have seen before, a Tipp side blessed with a balance of power and grace only Kilkenny can match.
O’Shea, particularly, has an unrivalled ability to concoct offensive tactics that has left even the best of Kilkenny’s rearguard baffled previously.
Therefore, it would not surprise one iota to witness Galway’s defenders struggling to come to terms with the interchanging movements of their direct opponents.
Outside of the aforementioned Callanan, John ‘Bubbles’ O’Dwyer and Jason Forde have too responded to O’Shea’s tactical requests and Patrick ‘Bonner’ Maher will run himself into the ground again, no doubt.
The background presence of Noel McGrath, a player that could feature at some point at headquarters, will only serve to intensify Tipp’s motivation levels as well.
If, as he is expected to do, McGrath enters the fray, the stand covers at Croker will be blown off as Tipp begin to turn the screw on Galway.
Cunningham has assembled an outstanding team, and a robust one at that, but Tipp are still further down the road in terms of their collective development.
“We live in the now because it’s the only time we have,” O’Shea has interestingly said today.
Tipp are one step from a coveted final spot. And their time is about to arrive.
Key men: Séamus Callanan/Pádraic Maher