Tipperary have fallen by the wayside since their great 2009 and 2010 seasons, writes Seán Cremin.
Tipperary are currently the biggest underachievers in hurling. Having been the first side to threaten Kilkenny’s growing dominance in the mid noughties, they have really fallen by the wayside. They were part of two epic encounters with Kilkenny in 2009 and 2010; they were unlucky not to stop Kilkenny’s four-in-a-row, but they successfully blocked the “drive-for-five”.
2014 is a huge season for Tipperary hurlers. Their season was finished on the 6th of July last year. The draw hadn’t been overly kind to them, but a team of Tipperary’s pedigree should not be using that as an excuse. There is no doubt that they’ve regressed over the last two seasons and they need to change their ways.
In 2009 and 2010, there was purpose to their play. There was intensity and intelligence in the way they did things. Noel McGrath pulled the strings, chances were created for Lar Corbett to finish, Eoin Kelly played a captains role, Brendan Maher was all over the middle third, their subs made an impact from the bench and their goalkeeper Brendan Cummins had an influence on the way they played. These players have shown a huge drop in form over the last two seasons.
We haven’t seen Lar Corbett run at defences, Patrick ‘Bonner’ Maher’s effectiveness has totally dried up and John O’Brien has also taken backward steps. They brought forward play to a new level when they worked as a unit and kept defences guessing but there now appears to be six individuals up front. Players like Pa Bourke, Seamus Callanan and Brian O’Meara have failed to deliver following multiple chances; the consensus with these players is that some of them maybe just aren’t good enough.
To the observer, it seems that Tipperary have failed to play to their strengths. A player like Noel McGrath looks wasted at corner-forward and they appear to be obsessed with trying to match Kilkenny in the physicality stakes. The last few years has shown that they don’t really have the players to adopt this style. In 2013, both Cork and Clare showed that teams need to create their own template; neither were blessed with size and strength so they adapted their game to suit their players. Tipperary simply haven’t done this. They have reverted back to the old-fashioned ‘hit and hope’ or ‘let the ball do the work’ mentality.
The shortcomings of this were very clear in the qualifier defeat to Kilkenny last year. Players like Padraic Maher and Conor O’Mahony repeatedly played long, high deliveries into their forwards only to see Brian Hogan, Jackie Tyrell, J.J Delaney, Paul Murphy or Kieran Joyce completely dominate in the air. It was a huge difference from the sides that ran defences ragged only a small few years ago.
Whether it’s down to poor coaching, a lack of quality or players just not putting in enough effort, Tipperary definitely have a lot of work to do if they are to return to the heights of 2010. This was a team that dominated a great Kilkenny side in two All-Ireland finals (despite only winning one). The manager of that side, Liam Sheedy, stepped down in 2010. Possibly they are missing his leadership and he was the key component.
They came close to winning back-to-back All-Ireland titles in 2011. They did underperform in that final, but it was still a game they could have won. Since then though, they have plummeted downhill. 2012 did see them claim another Munster title but the way in which they capitulated in the second half of the All-Ireland final against Kilkenny is a truer reflection on their current standing. Even performances such as last year’s league opener against Cork must have people wondering where the problems lie.
The one consolation for Tipperary fans must be the talent that is at their disposal. There is no doubt that there are good hurlers in their squad and good young players coming through. Up front, John O’Dwyer and Jason Forde have shown huge potential so far and should start to make their mark on the senior side very soon. James Barry is another name; he has hurled very well at half-back for UCC.
The core of their team is still relatively young. Michael Cahill, Padraic Maher, Brendan Maher, Patrick Maher and Noel McGrath should be the spine of Tipperary’s side and these are hurlers that would make almost any team. A big question must be asked about Tipperary’s ‘top two inches’. Their mentality may be the main barrier in front of them. It’s one of the more obvious explanations for their downfall.
The fact is that what had the potential to be a golden period for Tipperary hurling is in danger of going head first into the canvas should they continue as they have been going. There is a big challenge ahead of them and we will learn a lot about the individual and collective character of this Tipperary side in 2014.
Pundit Arena, Seán Cremin.