WHEN Seamus Callanan was fouled for a penalty in the 46th minute of last year’s Munster final, the Tipperary management immediately got a message into John McGrath to go for a goal.
Tipp were 11 points ahead. Waterford were wounded and staggering but Tipp had the scent of blood in their nostrils and they wanted to make sure of the kill.
When Tipp hit five goals, they became just the third team to raise five or more green flags in a Munster final over the previous 30 years. They only scored four goals in their following two games against Galway and Kilkenny but Tipperary could have raised five green flags in the All-Ireland. They would have only for some brilliant saves by Eoin Murphy.
After scoring three goals against Waterford, John McGrath very nearly repeated that feat in the All-Ireland final. He scored one goal but two superb saves from Murphy denied McGrath another hat-trick in September.
In an era defined by a lack of goalscoring, Tipperary are the one team who continue to buck the modern trends. During the league, Tipperary registered 16 goals in eight games. Nine of those came in the quarter and semi-finals against Offaly and Wexford but Tipperary were still the highest goalscoring team in the regular Division 1A campaign.
They have certainly taken over that mantle from Kilkenny as the top goalscoring team in the game. Green flags often represented the poison on the tip of Kilkenny’s blade but their goalscoring rate has dropped considerably in the last two seasons. In their last eight championship matches, Kilkenny have raised just ten green flags. During the spring, Kilkenny managed just five goals in six matches, three of which came in one game against Tipperary, two of which were TJ Reid penalties.
Tipp failed to score a goal in the league final. They only got off two shots at goal, one of which was blocked, the other was a John McGrath effort which flew over the crossbar late on when Tipp were scratching around for scores.
Failing to register a green flag against Galway will have disappointed Tipp but it will have given them the motivation to go more for the jugular against Cork on Sunday.
When the sides met last May, Tipp didn’t score a goal. They didn’t need to because they were so comfortable in the match. Cork also played with a sweeper that day, which further limited Tipp’s capacity to generate goal chances. Yet with Cork highly unlikely to play a sweeper on Sunday, Tipp will believe that the opportunity is there to kill Cork swiftly and early with green flags.
Tipp have serious firepower but that lust for goals has made them different because Tipp continue to follow the Eamon O’Shea philosophy - that a scoring chance is often also a goalscoring chance.
Nobody embodies that more than John McGrath, who scored 10 goals in his last ten league and championship games stretching back to last summer. If there is even a sniff of a goal 30 metres from the target, if McGrath half senses the opportunity is on, he will go for it.
McGrath is so confident too with his finishing that he often strikes higher than the other Tipp forwards, going for the roof of the net as opposed to the floor. His first goal against Wexford in the league quarter-final was driven high past Mark Fanning but McGrath was so close to goal that power was always going to beat the goalkeeper. McGrath’s second goal was a far more clinical finish, hammered into the ground, a style which defined Tipp’s goalscoring that day.
That is surely something Anthony Nash will have studied ahead of Sunday. Tipp know that Nash is a brilliant shot-stopper so they will be keen to take the ball as close to the target as possible, before slamming it into the turf to give him less reaction time. If Tipp are in that kind of goalscoring form, the best chance a keeper has of stopping those shots is to get his body in front of the ball before it has a chance to take off.
The beauty of Tipp’s threat though, is the variety to it. McGrath and Callanan are their main assassins but John ‘Bubbles’ O’Dwyer is another clinical finisher. His tennis volley goal against Galway in last year’s All-Ireland semi-final, from such a tight angle, underlined his finishing class.
His goal in the final against Kilkenny showcased his game-intelligence. McGrath struck from distance, 16 metres, but he used Joey Holden as a screen to wrong-foot Eoin Murphy.
Tipp’s goalscoring spread further underlines their threat. Jason Forde, Niall O’Meara, Steven O’Brien, Paul Flynn, Brendan Maher and Noel McGrath also scored goals during the league. Michael Breen showed his goalscoring potential from deep runs last summer with three goals against Limerick and Waterford.
Kilkenny were hammered last September for not playing a sweeper against Tipperary but Brian Cody felt that the problems originated further out the field than just in the Kilkenny full-back line.
With Cork likely to play with just five forwards on Sunday, with Bill Cooper probably dropping deeper into that middle third, Cork’s starting principle will be on reducing, and contaminating, the supply going into the Tipp full-forward line.
If that inside line gets enough quality ball, they’ll have goals on their minds. Tipperary scored three goals against Cork in the league and Cork still won, without even needing to raise a green flag.
But if Tipp hit three or more goals on Sunday, it’s curtains for Cork.