After a shock defeat in their championship opener, Tipperary have regrouped and are still standing. With this in mind, we have to ask, does the back-door route suit this Tipperary side?
The obvious statistic here is that Tipperary’s two most recent All-Ireland titles have come via both routes. They overcame Kilkenny via the back-door in 2010 and took the direct route to defeat the same opposition in last year’s final.
But, there is a difference. Tipperary have won Munster titles on four occasions in this decade. So how does their form compare in these years to others?
Having captured Liam MacCarthy through the qualifiers in 2010, the Premier took the direct route in 2011. After steamrolling their way through Munster, Declan Ryan’s side never recovered from the break.
Tipp struggled past Dublin before once again failing to reach their potential in the All-Ireland final. It’s safe to say the four-week break hindered them on this occasion.
Twelve months later, 2012 saw Tipp successfully defend their Munster crown, admittedly in less impressive fashion. However, the four-week break proved a hindrance once more as Kilkenny blew them away in an All-Ireland semi-final.
The Premier’s next Munster title arrived in 2015, with Tipp proving too strong for their Munster counterparts once more. Again, Tipp fell at the semi-final stage in a thriller to underdogs Galway.
Again, for the final time to date of this decade, Tipperary were Munster champions in 2016. For large spells in their repeat fixture against Galway however, they struggled again.
Many would point to the huge loss of Joe Canning as a crucial turning point in this victory. Michael Ryan’s side hit peak form in the same year’s All-Ireland final and dismantled Kilkenny.
The gap between Munster final and All-Ireland semi-final final means Tipperary’s efforts in Croke Park have been erratic. But how does it compare to their back-door form?
Well, as we all know, Tipp captured the All-Ireland through the back-door in 2010. This came having lost to Cork in Munster in the first round.
That year, their rediscovery of form came against Wexford, Offaly, Galway and Waterford. Though it must be said they only barely scraped past Galway, while their six-point victory over Offaly wasn’t majorly impressive. That said, the qualifier route allowed Tipp to play themselves back into form – like what they have done this year against Westmeath and Dublin.
The qualifier route didn’t provide any success for Tipp in 2013. However, they fell to Kilkenny in Nowlan Park – possibly the toughest draw anyone can get in the championship.
The next year, 2014, once again saw Eamon O’Shea’s Tipperary side take the back-door route. After losing to Limerick for the second year in a row in Munster, Tipp were under serious pressure to perform.
The first round of these qualifiers saw a real do-or-die moment for O’Shea. Trailing by six points to Galway with 20 minutes remaining, Tipp rallied together to outscore Galway 2-10 to 0-1.
From here, Tipp proved too strong for Offaly, Dublin and Cork to once again reach the All-Ireland final. This was their first since 2011.
Again, playing the Leinster counties allowed the Premier to find their form and recover from a hiccup in the provincial championship.
Hawkeye would deny John O’Dwyer and Tipperary glory in the drawn All-Ireland final, a game which is considered by most as the greatest ever.
Still kicking and defending their tag as the greatest team ever, Kilkenny strangled out a two-point victory in the replay. However, the back-door route had almost seen Tipp claim another All-Ireland.
Which brings us to 2017: After a shock defeat to Cork in the first round of the Munster championship, Tipp struggled past a brave Westmeath outfit.
However, last time out, Michael Ryan’s side flexed their muscles and blew Dublin out of the water. It does appear as they are coming into form once more.
Victory this weekend would see Tipp face either Cork or Galway. Neither side will be eager to face a recovering Tipp side, and you can be sure neither side will be feared by Ryan’s men either.
Galway in many people’s eyes are favourites for the championship, but my own prediction would still be Tipperary. They’ve been here far more often than any side remaining in the championship.
In John McGrath, John O’Dwyer and Seamus Callanan they possess the most lethal trio in inter-county hurling. If these guys click, there will not be a full-back line in the country to cope with them.
As of now, the question as to whether this route suits this Tipp side is debatable. This year will tell a lot in this regard.
If they are to claim Liam MacCarthy in 2017, the case will be stronger that this Tipperary side are suited to week-in, week-out nature of the qualifiers.
Kevin Daly, Pundit Arena
Listen to the latest episode of The 16th Man, where we spoke to former Tipperary midfielder Shane McGrath ahead of this weekend’s All-Ireland quarter-finals.