Brian Barry previews Tipperary’s chances following a turn-around in fortunes in the second half of the league.
Going into the final round of Division 1A, Tipperary faced Dublin, knowing that only a win would save them from a relegation play-off. Less than two months later, things are looking up for Eamonn O’Shea and Co., and enter the summer in healthier shape.
Dublin travelled to Thurles with all the pressure on Tipp. Three consecutive losses saw the Premier rooted to the foot of the table. But it was not merely the results which disgruntled the majority of Tipperary supporters, it was the manner of these results. There were calls that the players were not showing the heart nor the hunger associated with the blue and gold. A rake of changes in the starting 15 changed the situation however. Tipp edged Dublin in an entertaining game, to consign the Metropolitans to a relegation decider against Waterford the following week.
Things have gone up and up since then. Wins against Cork and Clare brought the pep back to the premier step. Seamus Callinan led the charge as they stormed their way to the league final against Kilkenny. In an enthralling final in Semple Stadium, the Cats edged it, but Tipperary will be just as happy coming out of the game. It could have swung either way, but they will not dwell on this. Bigger challenges lie ahead.
A grudge match with Limerick is next up on the 1st June, and Eamonn O’Shea will know not to take the Treaty for granted this year. Going by the league, this is a game that Tipp should win. Limerick’s summer preparations have been far from ideal, having flattered to deceive in the league before Donal O’Grady walked away after falling out with the county board. Also, Limerick are not entering this game under the radar like last year. Tipperary will be ready for them, eager to avenge last year’s semi-final defeat.
Beat Limerick and the championship opens up. A Munster triumph would be a big boost after last year. But this team are interested in one thing; standing in the Hogan Stand on the first Sunday in September.
Eamonn O’Shea has been a big part of the turn in fortunes, and there is a feel good factor around the camp. Padraic Maher spoke about the effective communication with the squad, something which may have been lacking in previous campaigns. “He’s a brilliant manager. He’s a great man-manager. He’ll talk to each player individually. He’s very good at getting his point across.” But a loss against Limerick will quickly reignite memories of 2013. Despite two respectable losses, Tipperary found themselves dumped out of the Championship in early July. The new-found competitive nature of the hurling championship forces teams to be on their toes, and O’Shea will have to prepare the team to start out against the Treaty at a million miles per hour.
Having fallen just short against the Cats in the league decider, there was a sense that something was missing. 2010 Hurler of the Year Lar Corbett may well just be that missing ingredient, and having made his comeback with Thurles Sarsfields last weekend, he played the full 70 minutes in a challenge game against Waterford during the week. If the All-Ireland Finals in 2009 and 2010 weren’t ample evidence that this is the man who Tipp need to improve their record against Kilkenny, last year’s qualifier is another indicator. Corbett’s injury took the wind out of the Premier’s sails, as Kilkenny pushed home their advantage in the second half. Corbett is the man who makes the Tipp forward line tick. Seamus Callinan and John O’Dwyer have been causing problems for opposition defences, but Lar is still the man.
Tipp are looking resemble a different team from two months ago. The hunger is back. Don’t be surprised if they are still in the hunt going into September.
Brian Barry, Pundit Arena.