Tipperary hurlers were written off and hugely criticised over the last eighteen months, and now they find themselves in an All-Ireland final. It has been a remarkable turnaround.
Tipperary beating Cork may not have surprised everybody but the manner of the defeat was a real shock. Most people would have anticipated a shootout where a high scoring feast would have just edged in the way of either Tipperary or Cork, but nothing of the sort occurred.
Tipperary hammered Cork. It was a massive disappointment for Cork and some people will criticise them for their performance but more credit should be given to Tipperary. It was a top class performance. All over the field, they completely dominated their opponents. Mark Ellis was the one Cork player who came close to winning his battle, in the other fourteen areas; Tipperary comfortably held the upper hand.
They have shipped heavy criticism since their 2012 All-Ireland semi-final defeat to Kilkenny. They lost heavily that day and their performances directly afterwards were well below par. Everybody knows about their 2013 championship season, and their start to the 2014 league did little to encourage their followers. Some people did not see them as a threat or a contender for the All-Ireland title this year, now only one team lies in their way.
The turnaround has been highly admirable. It is easy to forget that Tipperary trailed Galway with fifteen minutes to go in their qualifier and it looked as if they were going further down a slippery slope. They were low on confidence following their loss to Limerick but they managed to dig themselves out of a hole and keep their season alive. And just look at where they are now.
Their championship season has been quite reminiscent of their league campaign. A poor start led to a ‘make or break’ game where a win would give them a hope and a loss would have led to unthinkable consequences. But they edged these games, Dublin in the league and Galway in the championship, and they have gone onto build momentum from these victories.
One of the main things that Tipperary appear to have shown is that players do not become bad players overnight. They have also shown that people can write players off at their peril, but may easily have to eat their words at some stage. Huge credit must be given to Eamon O’Shea and his players for proving a lot of people wrong.
Tipperary have finally started to play hurling like they did back in 2009-2010. Their lack of a game plan was quite evident last season. They were playing a very direct game which did not suit their personnel and therefore came up short in games. They are now playing to their strengths again and the results have followed.
One of the main criticisms, or more like weaknesses pointed out was their inability to win their own ball or their own individual battles. When Tipperary were coming back to form in 2009 they were playing a great brand of free flowing hurling where the combination of youth and experience saw them dethrone the great Kilkenny side and prevent them from securing five All-Irelands in a row.
This free flowing style of play compensated for their lack of ball winning ability. Lar Corbett was the best example of this. Corbett has never been a top class ball winner, but at his best he was running into spaces that were being created, getting into positions to receive ball and more importantly showcasing clinical finishing. Now while Corbett is still in the side, these roles are being more prominently filled by Seamus Callanan and John O’Dwyer.
Patrick Maher has also returned to form this year and this has had a major influence in their turnaround. Bonner is the one natural ball winner that the Premier have in their forward line and he has added a lot to his game this year. His effectiveness totally dried up last season, but now he is more than just effective. He is top class. He has added a scoring touch to his game and has terrorised defences so far this season.
Padraic Maher is possibly the best example as a template for Tipperary’s comeback. Having burst onto the scene in 2009, he was very poor in 2013 and for the league in 2014. Even the way he played the game was an example of Tipperary failing to play to their strengths. His high and aimless clearances did nothing to provide good possession for the Tipperary forwards and it made Tipperary much easier to play against.
His performance against Cork was immense. He showed all of his qualities and capabilities that make him one of the best hurlers in the country on his day. He had been regressing at a rapid rate but has come back stronger this season and is showing what he can do. This could also be said for the whole Tipperary team. Shane McGrath would be another example of a player who had failed to perform for the best part of two years, against Cork he was also back to his best.
The main thing that is standing out is the style of play. Their movement up front and the way they are passing the ball around is how Tipperary play their best hurling. Seamus Callanan is being isolated inside and is finally showing his best form. The Cork game was a huge test for Callanan and he duly delivered. John ‘Bubbles’ O’Dwyer is picking off a huge number of scores through movement and support play.
Noel McGrath is further out the field and is one of their main playmakers. The defence was like glue against Cork. Cathal Barrett and James Barry have been excellent additions to the team while the two Mahers, Padraic and Brendan, were outstanding. The half-back line set the platform for success, while the full-back line gave very little away.
It was an excellent performance from Tipperary and now a big test lies ahead against their neighbours and arch rivals Kilkenny. At this moment in time it has already been a successful season for the Premier but they will not accept this as success. Now that they are in the final, they will be desperate to win. They have a good chance and the pens are ready to write another chapter on the great Tipperary-Kilkenny rivalry.
Sean Cremin, Pundit Arena