Tipperary hurlers have been criticized by a number of people for the last two years or so. Their heart and appetite has been questioned along with a lot more, but are they underachievers or just simply not that good?
When Tipperary won the senior and under-21 All-Ireland titles in 2010, it looked as if they were about to embark on a period of domination. They stopped Kilkenny’s ‘drive for five’ and many felt that it was now going to be Tipperary’s turn to go and win multiple titles. The Premier county have failed to kick on and build on their success leading to more questions being asked.
2013 saw them exit the championship in early July. It was a relatively tame exit, playing and losing two games. They looked a shadow of the side that were the best in the country only a small few years ago. Eoin Kelly looked to be past his best, Padraic and Brendan Maher were no longer up there with the countries best, Shane McGrath struggled; these are just a few players and examples of those that were vital to their previous successes. Very few of their players were performing and results were not coming. A lot of people struggled to put a finger on where it was all going wrong.
This year’s league did little to boost their spirits but there was a turnaround leading to heavy optimism ahead of the game with Limerick. They were favourites, coming into the game with momentum and also having home advantage. It was a massive game for both sides. Last season showed the dangers of losing in the early rounds and both Tipperary and Limerick were desperate to win. Limerick edged a great contest leaving Tipperary in another tough position. The same questions are being asked and very few are being answered. But there could be a very straight forward answer that not enough people are pointing to; Maybe Tipperary just aren’t that good.
While they excelled in 2009 and 2010, some of the players that are no longer playing haven’t been adequately replaced and they are a team of significantly less quality now. Brendan Cummins, Paul Curran, Declan Fanning and John O’ Brien are four names that haven’t featured this year and their losses have been felt. Replacements have weakened the side and Tipperary are not the same team that they were a few years ago. There are a number of factors to Tipperary’s downfall, people point to their lack of physicality and some have questioned their desire to win but Sunday’s game just pointed out that Tipperary are no world beaters.
Tipperary played well against Limerick and still managed to come up short. The majority of the players played to the best of their ability, they showed spirit, they showed heart, they showed determination and yet they were still beaten. At times they looked as if they may win the game comfortably. Gearóid Ryan’s goal at the start of the second half gave many onlookers the impression that it could have been a steady second-half for Tipp. Then Lar Corbett was sprung from the bench to lift the crowd and freshen up the Premier attack. They got the rub of the green from Barry Kelly’s decision to disallow Graeme Mulcahy’s goal. But in the end, Limerick still came back to win the game by two points.
Tipperary didn’t do a whole lot wrong. The one mistake that could possibly be pointed out was the decision to take off John O’Dwyer who had scored four points from play. Looking at their side though, most players performed against Limerick. Cathal Barrett, Patrick Maher, Brendan Maher, John O’ Dwyer, Conor O’ Mahony, Gearóid Ryan, Michael Cahill, Niall O’ Meara all played very well against Limeirck. When over 50% of a team perform, teams are generally close to winning games but Tipperary could not defeat Limerick and tactics and lack of heart weren’t the main problems, they just couldn’t do enough to win.
The one tactic that may have gone against them was the deep positioning of Brendan Maher but like often happens in centre-back/centre-forward contests; the defenders need to hold the centre of the defence can lead to a centre-forward getting loose and firing over scores, which Donal O’Grady did at two vital stages of the game. But overall Tipperary’s downfall came from an inability to win individual battles. They couldn’t keep the ball up-front and in the end conceded too many scoring chances. They couldn’t win enough ball and the changes that they made ended up weakening the side and we all know the end result.
Séamus Callanan has ability but the Limerick game again showed his inability to deliver on the big day. He wasn’t terrible, but when the game was really in the balance he was nowhere to be seen. Any team relying on a player like this may struggle. Padraic Maher is another player who seems to be proving out to not be that good. In 2009-2012 he looked like one of the country’s best and seemed to be a special talent but he simply isn’t influencing games anymore and continues with his ‘over the shoulder’ clearances that make life very difficult for his forwards and significantly easier for opposition defenders.
So for all the questions and criticism that have been fired at Tipperary, there have been plenty of different answers. People have different opinions. To the majority it has been an impossible question to answer. Myself, I have questioned a lot about Tipperary thinking that they were a poorly coached team who have failed to play to their strengths but my opinion has now changed. Last Sunday’s game just made me think that Tipperary aren’t actually good enough to win an All-Ireland title at the moment. They peaked in 2010 and the players that they have lost haven’t been replaced. 2013 wasn’t a blip, they just lost two games that they weren’t good enough to win and it could be another early summer for the Tipp hurlers again this year.
Sean Cremin, Pundit Arena