Much was made of Liam Sheedy’s decision to start 11 of the players from the All Ireland final in 2016, preferring their experience to the use of the U21 All Ireland winners from last year.
Of those 11 players, five were involved in 2010 when Tipperary last won the All Ireland under the Portroe man – Brendan Maher, Seamus Callanan, Patrick ‘Bonner’ Maher, Noel McGrath and Padraic Maher.
All of those players are, or will turn, 30 this year apart from McGrath who is 28. The game of hurling has evolved since 2010 and many questioned the ability of these players to play the quick, running game that is required now.
It’s no secret that Tipperary had been training ferociously before and throughout the league to increase their fitness, including an intensive training camp in Spain, and it certainly showed on Sunday in Cork.
While a sharp John ‘Bubbles’ O’Dwyer was the star for the Premier County on the day, it was the class of 2010 that proved to be the backbone of the team and the stabling factor when leadership was needed.
In the first instalment of the Deep-Dive series for the championship season, we pick out a number of instances where Tipp’s old guard were highly influential.
Seamus Callanan Goal
A rare short Tipperary puckout was won uncontested by Noel McGrath in the half-back line. The ball was eventually aimed towards Jason Forde in the full forward line and he batted it down to the path of Bonner Maher and the challenging Christopher Joyce.
Callanan comes into the picture and is seen edging to the wing having been positioned in midfield when the puckout was taken. Tim O’Mahony has drifted off the centre-forward, following the flight of the ball.
The breaking ball is eventually gathered by O’Mahony who immediately comes under pressure from John McGrath with Callanan remaining in space rather than engaging.
A poor clearance is easily gathered by Niall O’Meara and is quick to spot the open Callanan who indicated for the pass as soon as possession was gathered. There are eight Cork jerseys in the picture when the ball is passed to the Tipperary captain yet they failed to spot his run.
By the time Daniel Kearney, Eoin Cadogan and Mark Coleman spot Callanan, they have no chance of getting to Callanan before the Drom & Inch pulls the trigger.
John McGrath Goal
John O’Dwyer and John McGrath will deservedly get the plaudits for the superb pass and laser-accurate finish to Tipperary’s second goal, but prior to that, it was the old guard that showed huge hunger and workrate to win possession from the puckout.
In the previous phase of play, Anthony Nash’s puckout had been won by Ronan Maher and the Thurles Sarsfield man returned a shot which drifted wide.
Nash then changed his point of attack to the other wing but it was, again, the wrong option as four Tipp men were stationed beneath the ball.
Brendan Maher tussled with Darragh Fitzgibbon for possession before Callanan and Kearney joined the pursuit. As more players arrived on the scene, Kearney looked to have gathered the ball but Tipp’s ferocious workrate was relentless.
Callanan eventually got a foot to the ball and beat Luke Meade to it. McGrath had been stationed in midfield anticipating the pass which he took before delivering a brilliant the ball to O’Dwyer who provided the last pass.
Noel McGrath Point
Noel McGrath looked like a man with a renewed sense of purpose in midfield for Tipperary at the weekend. In a superb first half, he scored two points and set up O’Dwyer for his second point of the game.
In the second half, McGrath and O’Dwyer once again linked up for one of the best points of the game, this time McGrath turned finisher.
The Loughmore Castleiney man took a short, quick sideline to O’Dwyer and he managed to take the ball and return it to the on-rushing McGrath despite being surrounded by three Cork jerseys.
The duo displayed exceptionally quick hands to perform another one-two before McGrath worked enough space to take the shot, despite the attempt at a hook from Seamus Harnedy.
Again, it was poor defending from Cork who had the two men well surrounded but yet failed to cut out the attack.
Brendan Maher Point
If ever there was a question over whether the older contingent could play high-intensity championship hurling for 70 minutes, Brendan Maher’s point in the 63rd minute answered it.
The Borrisoleigh man was so dominant in the half-back line alongside Padraic and Ronan Maher and he scored two points from play while the Maher brothers also got their names on the scoresheet.
However, questions must be asked as to why Nash continued to aim his puckouts on top of Maher when he was in such form under high balls.
This play came straight from Nash’s puckout following McGrath’s point. There were six Cork men in the area but they were all well marshalled from Tipperary jerseys. Maher rose above the head of Conor Lehane and won the ball cleanly.
Cork half-heartedly gave chase but Maher showed great strength and pace to power forward and take his point.
In total, Tipperary scored 2-20 from play. Of that, 1-11 came from the 2010 players while McGrath also pointed a 65.
Sheedy was able to introduce young players like Jake Morris, Mark Kehoe and Cian Darcy to inject more pace into the game late on and he seems to have gained a nice balance between the two groups.
It was certainly a positive start to the championship campaign for Sheedy but he was keen to stress after the game that all they have to their name is two points. They need to carry that momentum into their match against Waterford next week and come away with a win in Semple Stadium if they are to go further in the championship than they did in 2018.