Henry Shefflin: 'Bubbles' embodies everything that was different about Tipp men in 2016
Published 05/09/2016 | 02:30
John O'Dwyer is a snapshot of what was different with Tipp this year. Dropped for the semi-final after coming back from suspension, he got a massive kick up the backside and fulfilled his limitless potential on hurling's biggest stage yesterday.
Mick Ryan has instilled that steel into Tipp to cast adversity aside and deliver the best performance of the year when it's needed most. 'Bubbles' has been a work in progress all year but he embodied everything that was good about Tipp.
Seamus Callanan was unbelievable and to score nine points from play in an All-Ireland final is unthinkable but 'Bubbles' was typical of Tipp; he was winning hard ball, breaking tackles, and was more physical than I've ever seen him before.
At one stage he was down - and I don't recall ever seeing him down before because he loves open play, but yesterday he got down and dirty as well as doing his usual business in front of the posts.
People talk about intensity and that's all about getting the best out of yourself. We've always known that Bubbles, Noel McGrath and Callanan can make the ball talk but doing skillful things is not getting the best from yourself.
Putting in the work while doing the skillful things is getting the best from yourself and Tipp combined the two all over the pitch from start to finish. The concern for me now is not so much Kilkenny but Tipperary because they're coming into their prime.
'Bonner' Maher, Callanan, Brendan and Padraic Maher amongst others are at the stage in their careers when they're at the peak of their powers - they're not young and naive U-21s player like six years ago.
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They're grounded and mature with more experience of life and sport in general, and you could envisage them being around for a good few years.
With Mick Ryan at the helm, they're going to be a tough nut for any one to crack.
I said that Mick was under pressure at the start of the year because he's been around the Tipp scene for a while and I thought they needed someone fresh - how wrong I was. What they needed was new ideas and he brought that in a very simplistic way.
They looked so fresh, worked ferociously hard, and the quality of ball going into the forwards was magnificent. As a forward that's what you dream about and it allowed Bubbles, Seamus Callanan and John McGrath to turn dreams into reality.
Tipp were on top everywhere and should've been even further ahead at the break but for their shooting. They rectified that in the second half and there was only one team in it. Kilkenny just couldn't live with them.
Kilkenny were putting out fires everywhere but the dam is eventually going to burst, and only for Eoin Murphy's couple of saves it could have been over a lot earlier. This Tipp have left a lot of tears of hurt in Croke Park, six years for some, and that all came out yesterday.
There was no way they were going to be beaten. Their semi-final performance was a stick for Mick Ryan to beat them with and they responded like champions.
Putting aside my Kilkenny colours, as a hurling man it was great to see some of the scores that were taken. I always ask young kids what the most important attribute is - it's skill - and Tipp showcased that. Quality rose to the top.
I think the Waterford replay left its mark on Kilkenny - they were flat and Michael Fennelly's absence was noticeable. We really struggled in the middle third. We needed his physicality there to barrel through challenges and help stem the tide but instead Tipp's half-back line dominated.
Ronan Maher, Padraic Maher and Seamus Kennedy won a mountain of ball and dominated that critical area but the great thing about Kilkenny is their never-say-die attitude, they never gave in.
Everyone knew the result with 15 minutes to go and they could've easily tapped one or two points over the bar. Instead they kept going for goals and that's a credit to them. Their touch was just a bit off and we saw uncharacteristic things happening.
TJ being turned over, Kieran Joyce picking a ball off the ground and Paul Murphy walking out over balls - we're not used to seeing that. They just weren't on their game but credit for that goes to Tipp.
Our firepower was greatly reduced, however, and losing Richie Power, Ger Aylward and Michael Fennelly this year was too steep a mountain to climb. I could see Brian and the management team having a meeting with 15 minutes to go but we just don't have the panel of players like in the past.
I don't think anyone can afford to have those losses and just move on. Your panel is tested most when you're standing in Croke Park in September and our panel just hasn't been as strong as previous years.
There is concern whether those fringe players can step up to be top players but I wouldn't say Kilkenny are gone. Our biggest asset is that Brian is still there, still the man leading the Kilkenny charge and he will always get the best out of what he has.
They won't want to hear it but they don't owe the Kilkenny public anything. What they've done, the way they dug out that semi-final against Waterford is a testament to the character of those players. That's more important than anything.
I know what they're going through right now but it's an experience for some of those youngsters that could mean more than any win. They won't want that experience again.
The 2016 Championship started on a somewhat negative note for me with talk of systems and sweepers and to see a full-forward line score 2-15 from play is great for the game. Hopefully other teams will follow suit.
That's how you win an All-Ireland.