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Killer Kehoe hits hat-trick as Faithful depart

Shane Stapleton reviews Tipperary’s 32-point win over Offaly at O’Connor Park in the All-Ireland SHC preliminary quarter-final

Shane Stapleton reviews Tipperary’s 32-point win over Offaly at O’Connor Park as Mark Kehoe hit a hat-trick.

Tipperary 7-38 Offaly 3-18 All-Ireland SHC preliminary quarter-final
Quite simply, this ghastly result must end the link between the Joe McDonagh Cup and the All-Ireland senior hurling championship.

Tipperary brutalised Offaly in their own back yard, in a game that takes a lot of the gloss off what has otherwise been an encouraging year for the Faithful.

Their players don’t deserve it, the young supporters at the venue will take no inspiration from it, and the biggest lasting impact is injuries.

Craig Morgan came back from a cruciate but hurt his hamstring during the second half and will likely miss the Galway game, while Eoghan Cahill could be in bother for Birr’s county championship campaign after hobbling off with something similar.

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What other association in the world would draft a team wildly out of its depth into a competition when things are supposed to really be hotting up?

The FA Cup retains some measure of romance but the smaller teams tend to be eliminated from the outset, with the odd straggler going through. In the GAA, this nonsense is hurting players, supporters, and chances at promoting the game.

Mark Kehoe blitzed Offaly for 3-2 in what is another step in his maturation as a top inside forward, Jake Morris returned from injury in decent form, while Conor Stakelum filled his boots from midfield.

Liam Cahill’s men always knew this was 70 minutes in the way of a clash with the Tribe, and it will be interesting to note what rival manager Henry Shefflin took from the game.

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Jason Forde twice finished brilliantly and John McGrath knocked in another late in as Tipp shook off a disinterested second half to finish well.

It was a first half so one-sided as to drain the life from those in the stadium and at home.

The expectation was an early storm for Tipp to ride out before pulling away, but — just like the weather itself — there was no early gusts.

Offaly had two wides inside four minutes and that was unhelpful, of course, while the Premier clipped over 1-7 from eight attacks.

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The Faithful were locked inside their own half and couldn’t hold onto the ball as they looked to work it out.

Morris, Kehoe, Stakelum and Alan Tynan got among the hosts up the field, while there was little change to be had when puckouts went long.

Eoghan Cahill finished the half with 1-6 — including a penalty — but too few of his teammates were able to make an impact.

Charlie Mitchell won a ball or two, as did Paddy Clancy, Brian Duignan battled, but the middle zone was otherwise a massacre.

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The size difference between the two teams was obvious from the get-go, and while Tipp have all the skills, it is not in this area that the Faithful are lacking.

Having not come up against this level of intensity, this will have been a shock to the system for Offaly. Whether it is the hits, the movement, being punished for any mistakes, the interchanging — they have a long way to go.

While it is time to remove the Joe McDonagh runners-up from the back door — and perhaps the winners — Johnny Kelly will hope he can use this outing to get his players to put even more into their preparation.

A return of 3-25 from 37 attempts was decent sledding from Tipperary in the opening half, and some of the dirty petrol that may have accumulated since the Waterford loss will have been blown out.

Having ten different scorers on the board before the end of the first half gives a shot of confidence to plenty of players who have faced a backlash in recent weeks.

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The game gave Morgan an opportunity to test out his sea legs after nine months out with injury, Forde and Morris had game time, while Seamus Callanan returned to goalscoring ways.

He scored his 40th championship goal before the half-hour mark — all from open play — in what amounts to an incredible record that no other player in the modern game comes close to. Not Patrick Horgan, not TJ Reid, not Joe Canning — none of them.

Kehoe had earlier blazed home a nice goal after rounding two defenders, while Forde found the net at his ease after picking up a break from a long delivery.

Cahill buried a penalty after Cillian Kiely was slashed by Dan McCormack — with the Borris-Ileigh man shown a black card — and the Birr man clipped over a soft free just after.

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Jason Sampson and Charlie Mitchell had strong showings in the second half as manager Kelly ran the bench, but there was even more of a training-match feel after the interval.

Tipp’s hunger to run down the throat of the Offaly defence was evident throughout, and it is something they will hope to being into the clash with the Tribe.

Morgan had to go off but Gearoid O’Connor made a welcome return, and there won’t be too many sore bodies afterwards.

With Patrick ‘Bonner’ Maher, Cathal Barrett and Conor Bowe all in a race against time to be ready, Tipp could be on the cusp of something if they can get all their pieces in place for the quarter-final.

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