Sunday 26 February 2017

'Keep Bubbles on ice to bring magic when it really counts' - Tipp legend says O'Dwyer shouldn't start final

Lar Corbett reckons 'game-changer' is best used off bench in Cats showdown

Michael Verney

John O'Dwyer of Tipperary celebrates after scoring his side's first goal
John O'Dwyer of Tipperary celebrates after scoring his side's first goal

The temptation to restore John 'Bubbles' O'Dwyer to the Tipperary starting 15 for Sunday's hurling showpiece would be resisted if it were up to Lar Corbett, as keeping him in reserve could help deliver the "magic" required to dethrone Kilkenny.

Corbett has witnessed O'Dwyer's undoubted class up close after sharing the Premier attack with him during the latter stages of his inter-county career and knows exactly what the Killenaule sharpshooter is capable of.

Having seen red after a moment of madness against Limerick, the All-Star attacker was suspended for Tipp's Munster final mauling of Waterford and was only sprung from the bench in the semi-final when Galway were threatening to deny them a final place for the second year running.

While struggling to reach the pitch of a frenetic encounter upon his introduction, O'Dwyer helped turn the tide when firing a goal of pure genius by somehow angling the sliotar past Colm Callanan with his feet barely inside the end-line.

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Widely acclaimed as one of the most technically gifted players of this generation, O'Dwyer's inclusion is the source of great debate in hurling circles, and a severe headache for Tipp boss Michael Ryan, but former Hurler of the Year Corbett would hold fire.

Former Tipperary hurler Lar Corbett at yesterday’s launch of the ‘eir Sports Book of the Year’ Picture: INPHO/Morgan Treacy
Former Tipperary hurler Lar Corbett at yesterday’s launch of the ‘eir Sports Book of the Year’ Picture: INPHO/Morgan Treacy

If you were asking me, I wouldn't start Bubbles, you need someone like Bubbles when the game goes into the melting pot just after half-time. When he came on the last time we all knew something magic was going to happen," the former Tipp star says.

"And we believed ourselves it was going to happen. And when you believe like that, players believe it as well, so it's a lift. We all need a bit of a lift so when he came on it created a bit of magic."

Corbett values having a "game-changer" to make an impact, much like Seamus Callanan's two-point cameo in their 2010 All-Ireland triumph, and feels O'Dwyer would be best utilised off the bench against the unflappable Cats.

"Now if you want to start the bit of magic, who is going to come on to do a Bubbles job? We do have players on the sideline, but do we have someone with that bit of experience? Do we have someone who we believe is capable of doing that job coming on?" he asks.

"So if you start him, he's your trump card. I'd like to say that the team that started the last day did very well for a certain period of time before Bubbles came on. I'd rather hold out. I'd rather see how this thing is going to line up.

"And I always know that I have the bit of magic that you do just need in an All-Ireland, and he is capable of doing it. I always believe that your first forward coming on should be better than your last forward starting.

"You want him as a game-changer, you want him to do something that maybe hasn't been done in the first 40 minutes. What this thing is going to come down to is one ball, it could come down to one opportunity.

"And you want the man who is thinking the best, who is the safest pair of hands, you want the man who you know has done it already, and he has done it. He's definitely good enough to start. The whole country knows that, but I'd hate to use my game-changer before the game starts."

Having called time on his Tipp career last November, this week is a strange experience for the three-time All-Star but there's no regrets. He's glad he quit while he was ahead and feels a string of winter retirements have actually forced others to stand up and be counted.

James Woodlock, Shane McGrath, Conor O'Mahony and Corbett all hung up their boots in the off-season and while many expected the Premier to go through a transition under Ryan, new leaders have quickly emerged to steer the ship.

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"Michael Breen (above), Ronan Maher and John McGrath have really stepped up to the plate and taken over and you can see they are leaders there. Sometimes lads like myself, that are inside in dressing rooms, were we in the way for a year or two?" says Corbett.

"These lads look like they are there more than the time that they are there. That's a big thing in sport and a thing I would have been conscious of, 'are you holding here too long? Are you in the way?'

"The whole team is after changing and it's a fair point that the aggression levels this year of Tipperary are something that we've never seen before, so the whole thing has changed."

One thing that hasn't changed, however, is Kilkenny's dominance over Tipp in the last decade, most recently with a smash and grab victory in the league, and Corbett has been on the wrong end of some heart-breaking defeats to hurling's aristocrats throughout his days in blue and gold.

And despite the fact that Brian Cody's men are chasing three in a row, the champions are coming to Croke Park this weekend with little fanfare and the popular view is that Kilkenny, particularly without their midfield powerhouse Michael Fennelly, are more beatable than previous years.

Corbett doesn't agree and believes it's a trap Tipp would best avoid.

"That is the rock that Tipp could perish on. And the reason I say that is the amount of people I have met up and down the country who say this is not the same Kilkenny team. I can't understand that," he says.

"If Tipp think they have an advantage because Michael Fennelly is not playing, that is another rock they could perish on because there are players who will step in to fill that gap. Kilkenny are coming back in under the radar.

"That is what people are thinking around the country. Brian would love to hear that. They are the best team in the country for the last three years, and nothing has changed. If anything, I think they are getting a little stronger.

"Kilkenny are in a great position, everyone in Kilkenny is talking their team down, people in Tipperary are talking our team up and the momentum seems to be with Tipperary, even though Kilkenny are going for three in a row. It is a great place for them to be."

A hat-trick from Corbett was the difference between the two sides six years ago, and the Thurles Sarsfields poacher has been impressed with Tipp's goal-scoring threat, with green flags needed to lift Liam MacCarthy.

"The last day John McGrath got the ball 30 yards out and you can see his mind changing, 'there's something on here'," Corbett recalls. "There was no goal opportunity, he could have tipped it over but he brought it on and handpassed it out to Bubbles and created a bit of magic."

Irish Independent

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