Penning the autobiography of Brendan Cummins with the man himself last year, one of the lines that got me most was his description of exactly what it takes to see off Kilkenny in an All-Ireland senior hurling final.
Before a team meeting ahead of the 2010 final, two-time All-Ireland winner Cummins spoke to his team-mates and delivered the following message:
“I made the point that we had taken Kilkenny to the edge of the cliff the year before and pushed them off.
“But what we hadn’t done was follow them all the way down to the bottom to make sure they were dead.
“When the moment came, which we were convinced it would, that they were vulnerable and faltering, that was the time to give them the shove.
“And when we gave them that shove, we had to tumble down that cliff with them to make sure that when they hit the ground, there was no way they were coming back up.”
For Cummins, Kilkenny represented his Everest. Succinctly, he described the early ascent as a time when you’re feeling good, you dare to dream and allow that glimmer of hope to filter in.
“But then you hit 60 minutes, or that 26,000 feet aptly known on Everest as the ‘Death Zone’.
“Your lungs burn, adversity becomes a foe and you lose the mental conviction to push on.
“You perish before the summit and the Monday headlines read: ‘Kilkenny – champions again’.
“You wonder how and why that happened.
“It had all been going so well but the ‘Death Zone’, that final ten minutes of championship hurling, has claimed numerous lives.”
And so, Tipperary must tumble down that cliff this afternoon at Croke Park and make sure that Kilkenny die before they do.
If they don’t, black and amber ribbons will adorn the Liam MacCarthy Cup again.
I co-hosted Tipp FM’s ‘Road to Croker’ preview show on Friday night, alongside Ronan Quirke.
The pervading mood in the room was one of optimism, some lazy talk of a comfortable win, but the real mood among those who’ve travelled back down the motorway far too often with heads full of shattered dreams is one of caution.
The closer it comes, more and more doubts surface. As the Tipperary players gathered at the Horse and Jockey this morning, it will have been the first time that the majority of them will have seen each other since the team announcement on Friday evening.
What they’ve done in the hours between those gatherings will have proven critical to their mindset. There can be no room for doubt – only belief.
But how can you believe when you’re facing a team that has won three of the last four All-Ireland final meetings between the counties?
You believe because defeat is not an option. It’s difficult to envisage a way back for Tipperary if they fail against Kilkenny, again.
Six years ago, Tipp were on the verge of something great. They would win the 2010 All-Ireland final, tumbling down that cliff with Kilkenny and making sure they were terminated, before the U-21s scorched Galway a week later.
There was loose talk of a five-in-a-row after Kilkenny had been denied the very same feat. Six years on, and Tipp are still waiting for another one-in-a-row.
The label ‘underachievers’ is a tad harsh on this group of Tipperary players, given that they’re operating in the same era as a team regarded as the greatest of all time. But to avoid that tag, they simply must push on past the ‘Death Zone’ and plant the flag.
No backward step, no margin for error. Follow them down and make sure they’re dead. The alternative? For Tipperary, it doesn’t bear thinking about.
Jackie Cahill, Pundit Arena