Sunday 24 September 2017

Brendan Cummins: Players run risk of being another 'one-in-a-row' Tipp team

Cathal Barrett of Tipperary lifts the trophy following his team's victory in the GAA Hurling All-Ireland Senior Championship Final match between Kilkenny and Tipperary at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile
Cathal Barrett of Tipperary lifts the trophy following his team's victory in the GAA Hurling All-Ireland Senior Championship Final match between Kilkenny and Tipperary at Croke Park in Dublin. Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile
Tipperary manager Michael Ryan. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Brendan Cummins

Strong management and a line in the sand. That was my first thought when news broke on Tuesday evening that Cathal Barrett had been dropped from the Tipperary senior hurling panel.

Young Hurler of the Year in 2014, All-Star and All-Ireland winner last year, now on the outside looking in.

Only Cathal and manager Michael Ryan know truly the reasons behind all of this.

I played alongside Michael and, later in my career, he was also a selector when Liam Sheedy and Eamon O'Shea were in charge.

Having to sit down with Cathal and deliver that news is not a decision he would have taken lightly. It's possibly the most difficult thing he's ever had to do in hurling.

Since retiring in 2013, I've been involved with a number of county teams in a backroom capacity, but I've never had experience of a similar situation.

After all, Michael knew that Cathal was nursing a serious injury but still decided to drop him.

He would also have clearly understood the consequences but this is what separates Michael from the vast majority of Tipperary managers who have gone before.

He believes strongly in the values required to wear a Tipperary jersey and anything - or anybody - falling short of those will be dealt with, and swiftly.

I was never dropped from a Tipp panel but I do know what it's like to lose my place on the team.

When I was told that Gerry Kennedy was starting ahead of me against Limerick in 2007, I experienced an immediate, and violent, headache. I kept thinking that I'd wake up at any second, and that this was all just a bad dream.

My only consolation, however, was that I was still involved in the squad, and that was some consolation.

Cathal Barrett doesn't have that safety net right now. He's still a very young man, 23 years of age, and still coming to terms with the magnitude of the situation.

As the average age of elite inter-county players drops, they're expected to face up to adversity in various forms, all the while in the public gaze, and show composure beyond their years.

The vast majority can cope, because they're prepared to put themselves out there in the first place, in front of big crowds, but this is a test for Cathal.

The impact on the remaining players in the dressing room really depends on the character of the player who's dropped.

Conor O'Brien was omitted from our panel during the 2011 season and there was a genuine mourning period for two or three weeks.

While 'Foxy' wasn't guaranteed a starting place, his smile and attitude in training were infectious, and rubbed off on all of us.

When he was gone, we were a lesser group, trying to adapt to him not being there anymore, and it was tough.

Other players have been dropped but they were mostly distractions. Conor's the only player during my 20 years with Tipp who had a deep effect of that nature on the rest.

There was a marked difference in the dressing room when he was gone and it's no coincidence that he returned in 2012 and played on until last year, finishing his career with a second All-Ireland medal.

During times of 'crisis', I can recall being asked about fights in our dressing room, about lads drinking and general anarchy in the panel. The conversation normally began with 'I know for a fact that…' It wasn't only the players who were quizzed. Partners, siblings and parents were asked questions too.

As they try to regroup now, the remaining members of the Tipp panel met earlier this week, for what would have been a really tough gathering.

Our meeting after losing to Cork in 2010 didn't feel like too much of a watershed moment at the time, it was more like a tooth extraction without the anaesthetic.

Chairs were placed around the room in an open circle and just one rule applied - total honesty.

In this environment, some will shy away when, in fact, they are the ones you really want to hear from. I just hope that everybody had their say in Thurles on Tuesday night.

What Tipperary need to do now is circle the wagons, total lock-down, until the season ends.

Train hard, discuss tactics and find enjoyment in hurling again. They still have enough quality to get back to Croke Park in September and if that does happen, dropping Cathal will have been a key part of the learning process.

But if they lose again, they'll be remembered like the rest of us who wore the shirt. The one-in-a-row team.

Is there a way back for Cathal from this? Of course there is. What he's got to do now over the next number of weeks is to recover from his knee injury, and then train as hard as he possibly can.

He'll need to put in the hard yards that only he will understand - and wait.

Cathal has to make sure that every night, when he looks back on his day, that he's made winning decisions. The more winning decisions he makes in his life over the next few weeks, the better the chance he has to be reintegrated into the panel, because I'm sure that Michael Ryan's door will always remain open to hard-working and disciplined Tipperary men.

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