MAYBE it’s that simple in the end.
When Niall O’Meara got behind the Kilkenny defensive line in the first half of the All-Ireland final last Sunday, not many people watching would have instinctively thought there was a definite goal chance on.
O’Meara’s movement from receiving the ball suggested only one thing, twisting and turning his man to get inside to blast a low shot past Eoin Murphy and alter the flow of the game completely.
The second and third goals had that same moment where a defining decision was made — the third especially where, for a second, everyone wondered what Seamus Callanan was up to and then realised oh, ok, there go Tipp again with their ability to create goals that seem obvious but that only Tipp really would score.
Maybe despite all the measurements and tactical analysis and sweeper systems, there’s still an awful lot riding on a willingness and ability to score goals, that the difference-makers in the end are the players and teams who can spot the opportunities and take them.
Kilkenny had that knockout in them in the past and though they’ve lost none of the competitiveness and intensity, there’s a lack of that killer burst that did for teams in the past.
There was one small situation in the first half where Richie Hogan tapped a point when maybe Colin Fennelly was in on goal. It wasn’t completely obvious, but neither was Tipp’s goals. Sometimes it’s there in the movement of players into certain positions even, like when John O’Dwyer drifted into that space in front of goal to be picked out for Tipp’s third. Most players in most teams wouldn’t have made that movement, but Tipp can find angles and combinations for goals that other counties just don’t see happening.
It’s not as straightforward as that, of course. Both hurling semi-finals were won by the team with fewer goals.
Cork have gotten plenty stick for a weakness in properly attacking goal chances — they got three against Kilkenny and Patrick Horgan ended championship with as many goals as Seamus Callanan, and still they ended up losing. Yet you can’t dismiss their importance.
Tipp head into the U20 final this weekend after a ridiculous eight goals against Wexford, and it was interesting to hear Denis Ring talk of the essential task of stopping Tipp’s green flags. Jake Morris’ goalscoring talent was the difference in the Munster final.
Goals win games. Tipp score goals with an ease. It’s hard not to link this kind of ability as an indicator that effects big games at the elite level.
It’s not just the hurling. It was interesting to hear Michael Murphy refer recently to a target of 2-20 for beating Dublin, which seems high, but if Kerry are to take Jim Gavin’s men out, you’d imagine two or three goals at the right time will be a huge part of it.
The closest Kerry have come over the last few years was the 2016 semi-final where they clearly had a plan for pilfering green flags. They grabbed two in a short spell and had Dublin rattled by their ability to make and take goalscoring chances.
Look at the semi-finals a few weeks back. Dublin huffed and puffed for long spells of the first half without penetration and then Con O’Callaghan became the game-changer with those two goals early in the second half. O’Callaghan has a history of this, sucking the life out of the 2017 semi-final against Tyrone with an early goal. It was funny to hear Mickey Harte sort of criticise O’Callaghan afterwards like he was cheating by being too confident.
He caught Mayo early in the final that year as well by taking his man on and heading straight for goal at a time in the game when nobody expected such abandon. The first goal against Mayo in the semi-final altered the flow of the match as it gave Mayo a reminder of what they were up against.
The second goal was an absolute killer, but captured perfectly the mentality of a player who got the ball in a one-v-one situation near goal and just didn’t care that Lee Keegan was facing him up, as he dipped the shoulder and went by him anyway. Usually teams and players would try and find mismatches — for O’Callaghan, everyone is a mismatch in this situation.
Cork were right in it at three points down in the Super 8s until O’Callaghan passed up a handy point from right in front of the posts, somehow spotting space even though there were several Cork defenders.
He gave a little dummy and burst through to work a goal for Niall Scully. It’s hard not to see O’Callaghan’s breakthrough as a moment Dublin took another step towards being almost invincible.
Kilkenny, Mannion, Costello, Rock all have serious talents, but instinctive goal-getting isn’t top of the list.
Kerry had it too against Tyrone. That vital Stephen O’Brien goal needed the awareness of Paul Geaney, who could just have snapped a point, and the movement of O’Brien into the open spaces when he might have just sat back.
Cork aside here, the U20s showed potential. Mark Cronin looks to have a natural way of finding goal positions. If the goals in the All-Ireland final had that element of necessity (and yes, desperation initially), there was still a natural movement, in goals one and three especially, where a goal was actively sought by a player who spotted and then created the chance.
This is important.
Every year there comes a stage when we worry about goal ratios and teams not targeting goals, until the time naturally comes when the ability to recognise and exploit goal situations becomes a huge factor in the winning and games, and championships.