Davy spits the dummy The Big Picture

Davy spits the dummy

Tipperary and Galway will renew their rivalry once again when they meet in the Allianz Leagues hurling decider on Sunday after both sides cruised to victory in their respective semi-finals. However, it was Wexford manager Davy Fitzgerald, no stranger to controversy over the years, who stole the headlines once again.

We’re down to just two – Tipperary and Galway. The old rivals have fought some titanic battles over the past few years and Sunday’s league decider at the Gaelic Grounds promises to be no different. Tipp are the reigning All-Ireland champions after edging out the Tribesmen by just a single point in the semi-final last year, a replay of the previous year where Galway triumphed by the same margin after an epic encounter. These old foes know each other well and will be relishing another high profile meeting so early in the year as they prepare for the serious business of the championship to come. We’re in for a great contest.

Galway suffered the ignominy of relegation last year, but were one of the pre-season favourites to bounce back to the top flight before a sliotar was pucked back in February. But they had to be content to play second fiddle to a resurgent Wexford team who swept all before them as they secured promotion to Division 1A with some inspired displays. It was disappointing for Michael Donoghue’s men, but good performances against Waterford and Limerick in the knock-out stages has given them a chance to make amends in the best way possible.


The Tribesmen easily saw off Limerick by 1-21 to 1-11 in their semi-final. It was a game that never really got going and was low on quality from the start, although a strong breeze certainly didn’t help matters for either side. The Treaty men were disappointing, posting a whopping 17 wides in all, and although they got back to within three points early in the second period, Conor Cooney’s goal sealed a comfortable and deserved victory for Galway in the end. Limerick manager John Kiely will feel that there is a lot of work to be done ahead of their Munster SHC semi-final meeting with Clare in June, with their 2013 provincial title feeling like a very distant memory now.

The other semi-final was a far better spectacle as Tipp finally saw off a determined Wexford side by 5-18 to 1-19 at Nowlan Park. Michael Ryan’s side have shown a steely edge throughout this campaign and have only lost once since their league quarter-final defeat to Clare over a year ago. Wexford were looked upon a potential banana skin following their deserved win over Kilkenny at the same venue a fortnight ago. But it proved not to be the case as two early goals settled Tipp’s nerves and established a lead that they never relinquished. They were below par for much of the contest, but got scores at crucial junctures to keep a very game Wexford side at bay.


If there can be any criticism of Michael Ryan’s team it is that they failed to put the result beyond doubt sooner. They were profligate at times and it wasn’t until the final ten minutes that they finally cut loose and sealed victory. With just two points between the sides, they registered 2-04 without replay in six minutes to finally put clear daylight between the sides. They may not be afforded that luxury on Sunday. Having said that, they will take heart from the fact that they scored 5-17 from play, with nine of their number registering on the scoresheet, including 2-02 for the McGrath brothers Noel and John.

Both sides will welcome a competitive encounter ahead of the championship. Tipp begin the defence of their All-Ireland crown against Cork on May 21st, while Galway face Dublin in the Leinster SHC a week later. Tipp will be without forward Seamus Callanan on Sunday after the Drum-Inch man suffered a broken thumb on Sunday and he now faces a race to be fit in time for the meeting with the Rebels next month.

Controversy

While most of the talk will about the quality of hurling on show from both sides, there was one unedifying scene that simply shouldn’t happen in a GAA match at any level let alone a league semi-final. That was the sight of Wexford manager Davy Fitzgerald running onto the pitch to remonstrate with referee Diarmuid Kirwan for not awarding a free out to his side in the build-up to Tipperary’s second goal. When asked (probably not too politely) to get off the pitch by Jason Forde, he proceeded to square up to the much larger and younger Tipp player before trying to barge him out of the way. He’s lucky he wasn’t flattened for his trouble – it would have been no more than he deserved!


Fitzgerald is the manager of a senior county side. He is a high profile figure. His actions set a very poor example to young children, the spectators who go to watch these games, players and managers alike. Fitzgerald’s position means that he is a role model whether he likes it or not and he must act accordingly or face the consequences. Saying afterwards that you were angry and that you wear your heart on your sleeve, that you wanted to gee up your own team and that you wouldn’t do anything different if you had the chance to do it all again simply isn’t good enough. It certainly isn’t an apology at a time when one was badly needed the GAA must now act quickly and decisively. What is required here is a clear message that this sort of behaviour is unacceptable and won’t be tolerated. The censure must be severe.

But perhaps the remarkable aspect of the entire incident was that it went completely unpunished at the time. With a referee, two linesmen, a fourth official and four umpires supposedly monitoring the field of play, surely someone must have seen what happened? The truth is that they did see what happened - everyone did – you couldn’t miss it but it was so extreme that they failed to act. Fitzgerald was simply encouraged to leave the field so that the game could continue. The enormity of the incident was such that it rendered the officials helpless. It was beyond anything they’d ever seen before at this level and they were unable to deal with it. Perhaps that is understandable, but it is still a failure and cannot be allowed to happen again. The GAA must take matters in hand to protect the reputation of its sports. There must be clear direction for officials in such instances to apply appropriate punishment there and then.

Rugby

Leinster and Munster secured home semi-finals in the PRO12 play-offs next month after recording crucial victories at the weekend. It sets both sides up nicely for their respective Champions Cup semi-finals. Munster play holders Saracens at the Aviva Stadium on Saturday (BT Sport 3, 14.30), while Leinster travel to Lyon to take on Clermont-Auvergne the following day.


Munster overcame Ulster 22-20 in a tight and often fractious encounter at Thomond Park (although neither coach attempted to get involved). Ulster had harboured hopes of a home semi-final of their own, but needed a win to stay on track for a top-two finish. However, despite Rory Best’s early try, they were forced to settle for a losing bonus point as the hosts fought their way back into the game. After a bright start the error count climbed steeply in the second period and Munster head coach Rassie Erasmus will know that his side will have to do far better if they are to get past Saracens at the weekend. They may also be without several key players on the day, with doubts over Conor Murray, CJ Stander, Rory Scannell and Darren Sweetnam. The only consolation for Ulster, meanwhile, is that their losing bonus sees them reduce the gap to fourth-place Ospreys to a single point with two games to go. They travel to the Liberty Stadium in a fortnight’s time before finishing against Leinster at Ravenhill on May 6th. Ospreys face third-placed Scarlets in their final game, so there is still plenty to play for.

Leinster exacted some revenge for their defeat in last year’s PRO12 final, running in five tries as they beat Connacht 37-24 at the Sportsgrounds on Saturday evening. It was skipper John Muldoon’s 300th appearance for the Westerners, but a mainly second-string Leinster side crashed the party with a clinical display to leave the hosts with it all to do to retain their place in the Champions Cup for next season. Pat Lam’s side are currently a point behind Cardiff Blues in eighth place following the Welsh side’s bonus point win over Ospreys at the weekend with games against Scarlets in Galway and a trip to Munster to come. It’s a tough challenge for them.


Leinster face a daunting task themselves as they prepare to take on Clermont at the weekend. However, they draw inspiration from the memory of their 2012 exploits when they won 19-15 in the semi-final in Bordeaux on their way to winning the tournament for a third time in four years. They will be without Dave Kearney who joins brother Rob on the sidelines after suffering an ankle injury against Connacht. However, Jack Conan has returned to training following a neck injury suffered against Ospreys. Long term absentees Jamie Heaslip and Jordi Murphy are expected to miss out yet again, but Adam Byrne, Cathal Marsh and Dominic Ryan are all expected to be fit for selection.

There were no Irish teams in the knock-out stages of the Champions Cup last year. Now we have the possibility of an all-Irish final. It may be a victory for optimism over reality, but it proves that 12 months is a long time in sport.

Images: INPHO/Getty

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