Who are the greatest mystery in hurling? Generally, the title is attributed to Galway. Over the last two seasons the same could be said for Clare, but now at Pundit Arena HQ, we think there is a clear answer to this question and that answer is Tipperary.
Tipp’s league game with Kilkenny was the most recent example that finally forced this writer to go beyond the realms of thinking. It was only the league but yet again Tipperary failed to win a game they should have won.
They dominated the exchanges against Kilkenny for large periods but fell short again. They showed a lot of their potential, put some excellent scores on the board, but they still managed to lose the game.
There are too many examples of this by now. They are becoming the most unpredictable team around. They must be the bookies’ and punters’ nightmare and now they are becoming a mystery.
The keyboard has been taken to before and Tipperary were almost written off after defeat to Limerick in 2014. They turned it around that year and while the margins were tight, an amount of humble pie was eaten.
A 2012 capitulation, followed by two defeats from two leading to a July exit in 2013, 2014 had to improve. But it looked like they could have another winless season. 2014 hung on the final 20 minutes of a qualifier with Galway. Tipp they trailed by six points and crisis beckoned but then they clicked into life.
Padraic Maher moved to centre-back and took over the game to lay a platform for the Premier men. Lar Corbett tipped over two vital points to give them the lead and Seamus Callanan went from having potential to being the best forward in Ireland.
Video via The Gaelic Gospel.
They then went on to account for Dublin and absolutely obliterated a fancied Cork team to get to the All-Ireland final. While they lost that All-Ireland final after a replay, Tipperary looked to be returning to the form of 2009 and 2010. They never really kicked on after winning the All-Ireland in 2010. 2012 and 2013 were two very poor years.
2014 began poorly but they turned it around despite their critics.
Then they entered the 2015 championship as most people’s favourites for the All-Ireland. They had a solid league campaign, then won the Munster championship without setting the world alight. They looked like they had plenty left in the tank and were well positioned to win the All-Ireland title.
They went into the All-Ireland semi-final against Galway, but put in a poor performance. They lost by the bare minimum, a single point, but they were beaten by a far better team on the day. Galway were full value for their win, and Tipp had flattered to deceive when the expectations were high.
Video via Kevin Murray.
Enda McEvoy’s recent article is the Irish Examiner asked a very interesting question. It asked if Tipp were overachieving or underachieving in their current state. They have lost a lot of games narrowly of late. Are they just not good enough to get themselves over the finishing line? Or should they even be getting that far? If they keep falling short, why can’t they find that extra bit?
But this writer is simply mystified by now when it comes to analysing the Tipperary hurlers.
One day they can look unstoppable. When their forwards perform, they are a joy to watch. The likes of Seamus Callanan and John O’Dwyer can score at ease. Add to this proven players like Noel McGrath and Patrick Maher along with the endless potential of forwards such as Jason Forde, Niall O’Meara, John McGrath and there are scores aplenty up front.
At the back they have players who have looked like the country’s best on so many occasions, most notably Brendan Maher and his namesake Padraic. Cathal Barrett could easily be classified as the leading defender in the country at the moment. James Barry, Kieran Bergin and Paddy Stapleton are more proven players.
They have lacked a dominant full-back since Paul Curran’s injury woes occurred. However most of players mentioned above could easily make any team in Ireland.
So why, or should we say, how are they not winning All-Ireland titles?
There are 13 players mentioned above who are all capable intercounty hurlers. Maybe the balance of those alerted is not perfect but somebody with enough capability should be able to mould those players into a successful unit. There are also players outside of those cited who have succeeded at colleges and underage over the last few years making the depth of talent larger.
The main conclusion is that their hurlers should be doing better. And their inability to secure All-Ireland titles is down to either poor coaching/management, an incorrect mentality between the camp or else, this writer is giving them too much credit, and they just aren’t that good.
The most recent loss against Kilkenny further emphasised these questions. Tipperary dominated the exchanges for long periods. They looked like the more free flowing team. They led the game right up until the last few minutes, until Kevin Kelly hit a late brace to secure a win for the Cats.
What must worry Tipp and their supporters, is that losing this game in the latter stages was not a major surprise. Despite dominating the first twenty minutes and maintaining that lead for large parts of the game, part of people would have expected Tipp to still find a way to lose.
It really is a mystery.
Being away from home and playing in Nowlan Park is not a sufficient reason for losing. OK, Seamus Callanan was missing through injury but Richie Hogan’s loss for Kilkenny pretty much evened this out. And granted, it was the league, but these defeats are occurring far too often and should concern the Premier.
It is so hard to pinpoint Tipp’s failing when it comes to winning the big games. It is hard to believe that they are just not good enough when you look at their team. So if it’s a mentality issue, it is crazy that is hasn’t been identified and solved, adding further to the mystery.
It could be a mental issue. If it is, that is a major concern. Is there a mental block that prevents them from winning major silverware? Do they lack belief and confidence? When the pressure comes on, are they too used to losing?
They often get accused of not having enough physicality in their side and this leads to them being labelled as ‘windy’ or ‘flaky’. This then leads to further accusations of Tipperary lacking heart and passion and rolling over too easily in big games.
It is a harsh accusation to make of any player. And everybody knows how passionate Tipp people are about hurling making this point a difficult one to fathom.
If this were to really attempt to pinpoint the Premier’s issue, a lot of their failures would be attributed to their coaching and their game plan. A lot of their best players have alerted to high standard of coaching when they won the All-Ireland in 2010, and this looked to be reflected on the field of play.
Their movement up front and the way they opened defences up was very easy on the eye. The likes of Lar Corbett and Eoin Kelly thrived in the space created by their movement of their forward sextant. The ‘Bonner’ Maher and John O’Brien brought the ball-winning and physicality to the table while Noel McGrath was the creative link, pulling the strings from centre-forward.
This was coupled with endless collective energy around the middle third and a strong platform built from the half-back line through the likes of Padraic Maher and Brendan Maher. These were Tipp’s strengths, and when they play to these strengths they are a formidable outfit who are almost impossible to stop.
Whenever Tipperary lose a game, they never play to their strengths. They resort to playing a very direct game when it is clear that they lack ball winners. They allow themselves to get dragged into dog fights, which doesn’t suit them as they are not the biggest or most physical side.
Tipp’s strengths are their pace, movement and skill. The directives to use this need to come from the line and players also do need to take more responsibility on the pitch. Their forwards need to be dragging defenders all over the place. Noel McGrath needs to be further out the field and not stuck inside in the corner.
They need to cut out the long deliveries and look to create more space for their forwards through movement and possession retention. Their back line need to build a strong platform and if Tipp can do this regularly, they will be hard to stop as there is no doubt that some of their players are the best in the country on their day.
But that day needs to be the All-Ireland final. They need to deliver on a more consistent basis and they need to win an All-Ireland.
In this writer’s opinion there is one person who sums up the current Tipp hurling team and that is Padraic Maher. When he is at his best, he is a colossus and the best half-back in Ireland. But he plays too many average games. He loses discipline within games and resorts to hitting wild and aimless clearances. And when he does this, Tipp fail to get the best out of their forward line.
It is harsh enough to single one player out, but it is very accurate; a world-beater one day, a failure the next.
So this may been seen to be a bit all over the place, but that should be understandable taking into account the mystery or confusion this writer has surrounding the current fortunes of the Tipp hurlers.
A lot has been said about Tipp getting more physical. It’s not that easy, people are either naturally physical players or not. It is a very hard trait to build into a player.
Tipp should look to play to their strengths and that is building a strong platform from their half-back line, playing with very high energy levels as well as moving and creating space up front. This is said simply because Tipp look almost unstoppable when they do the above.
And their inability to consistently perform like this is what has made them a mystery.
One team that they could easily be compared to is Arsenal. They look like such a talented bunch, they have a number of proven players on some of the biggest stages but they never manage to build on their potential and secure the big wins.
This is not an attempt to write off Tipperary. It is basically an attempt to figure why they are failing to get the best out of their potential.
So step aside Galway, ye have lost the title that ye hated to have for so long.
Tipperary are now the biggest mystery in hurling.
Sean Cremin, Pundit Arena.