Forde’s time on the big stage may have fi­nally ar­rived

Late de­vel­oper thriv­ing on ex­tra re­spon­si­bil­ity in Cal­lanan’s ab­sence af­ter years on the fringes

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Sport - - GAELIC GAMES - DER­MOT CROWE Ver­dict: Tip­per­ary

SILVERMINES is not a tra­di­tional hunt­ing ground for Tip­per­ary se­nior hurlers. Noel Sheehy had 11 years with the county be­tween 1986 and 1997, win­ning two All-Ire­lands, but the next player to make any kind of sus­tained im­pres­sion is the one be­ing talked of most in this year’s Na­tional League: Ja­son Forde.

Forde is seen in some re­spects as a late de­vel­oper but his ca­reer when he came into the squad was well on sched- ule. He made the Tipp se­nior panel at 19, and was a sig­nif­i­cant se­lec­tion by Ea­mon O’Shea in the Mun­ster Cham­pi­onship five years ago against Lim­er­ick when cho­sen ahead of the leg­endary Eoin Kelly. That spelled an ob­vi­ous chang­ing of the guard but Forde had to wait, pick­ing up a stom­ach bug the night be­fore the match and be­ing left off fol­low­ing consultation with the team doc­tor.

Kelly is one of the play­ers Forde has cited as an in­spi­ra­tion when he was younger. When his se­nior cham­pi­onship de­but did ar­rive in 2013 it was as a sub against Kilkenny in the win­ner-takes-all qual­i­fier in Nowlan Park. In the league fi­nal that year Kelly was re­called and Forde started on the bench, com­ing on af­ter 57 min­utes for Sea­mus Cal­lanan. They lost to Kilkenny, 0-20 to 2-17 at Nowlan Park.

It has taken Forde un­til this spring to re­ally blos­som, but that run has been with­out a test against Kilkenny. In the ear­lier meet­ing in Nowlan Park, which Tipp lost, he was be­ing rested af­ter play­ing in the Fitzgib­bon Cup the pre­vi­ous day. With John McGrath also com­mit­ted to UL at the time, Tip­per­ary will feel they have to de­liver on ex­pec­ta­tion this af­ter­noon, some­thing which has proved re­peat­edly prob­lem­atic against Kilkenny.

Last year, Cal­lanan, with 4-34, and McGrath, 5-27, were Tipp’s lead­ing scor­ers in the Na­tional League as the county’s for­wards were in full throt­tle un­til they ran into Gal­way in the fi­nal and lost by 16 points. Aside from is­sues with Kilkenny and their re­cent history of su­pe­ri­or­ity, that de­feat is an added mo­ti­vat­ing fac­tor today. An­other is that their last win in Kilkenny in the league at Nowlan Park was in the semi-fi­nal 10 years ago.

This year Forde has thrived in Cal­lanan’s ab­sence through in­jury. He is top of the league scor­ing charts with 5-60. TJ Reid is his near­est chal­lenger go­ing into the fi­nal, six points adrift on 1-66. Forde’s 2-11 in the semi-fi­nal is the sec­ond high­est in­di­vid­ual tally of the spring. He also had 2-9 against Wex­ford. But can he now do it in the fi­nal against Kilkenny in their own back­yard?

Rea­sons posited for his late-ish — he’s now 24 — emer­gence are man­i­fold. Not work­ing hard enough be­ing one. In­juries. The com­pe­ti­tion for places. His ver­sa­til­ity, hav­ing played in all for­ward po­si­tions for the county, as well as mid­field and also cen­tre-back, where he starred for UL in early Fitzgib­bon Cup cam­paigns. But for a num­ber of years Tipp’s at­tack re­volved around Cal­lanan, the star of their 2016 All-Ire­land fi­nal win over Kilkenny. With Cal­lanan in­jured Forde, brought on and later taken off against Gal­way in last year’s All-Ire­land semi-fi­nal, has re­sponded bril­liantly to the re­spon­si­bil­ity, which has in­cluded the free-tak­ing du­ties.

Last year was fur­ther com­pli­cated by the sus­pen­sion he served for his al­ter­ca­tion with Davy Fitzger­ald dur­ing the league semi-fi­nal win over Wex­ford. It led to him miss­ing the open­ing cham­pi­onship match against Cork. Hav­ing come into the team in 2013 he had a lim­ited league ex­po­sure in 2014 and didn’t fig­ure in the league fi­nal loss to Kilkenny that year, al­though he started the ear­lier reg­u­la­tion game in Nowlan Park won by Kilkenny 5-20 to 5-14, scor­ing a goal. In the later All-Ire­land fi­nal and re­play be­tween the coun­ties, he was a late sub­sti­tute.

In 2015 he started wing-for­ward in the Mun­ster fi­nal win over Water­ford, scor­ing two points, and hit 1-3 in the semi-fi­nal ham­mer­ing of Lim­er­ick. The fol­low­ing sea­son he didn’t start a cham­pi­onship game, the year of Cal­lanan’s corona­tion. Forde had to be con­tent with a string of sub­sti­tute ap­pear­ances.

Forde didn’t play any part against Kilkenny in the league at Nowlan Park when Tipp lost two years ago. He came on when the teams drew last year in Thurles. Today he will hope to make his mark. Kilkenny will test Forde and his team’s con­sti­tu­tions like no other. Were they to come up short it would not be the first time but Forde has never been in this kind of form or phys­i­cal con­di­tion up to now.

Tip­per­ary: D Mooney; A Flynn, J Barry, M Cahill; B Hef­fer­nan, P Ma­her, R Ma­her; B Ma­her, S Kennedy; S Cur­ran, B McCarthy, J McGrath; M Breen, J Forde, W Con­nors.

Kilkenny: Eoin Mur­phy; J Holden, P Walsh, P Dee­gan; C De­laney, C Buckley, E Mor­ris­sey; R Leahy, J Ma­her; M Keoghan, TJ Reid, J Don­nelly; B Shee­han, W Walsh, A Mur­phy.

Al­lianz NHL fi­nal Kilkenny v Tip­per­ary, Nowlan Park 3.30

Ja­son Forde: top of the league’s scor­ing charts

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