Sport Hurling

Sunday 21 September 2014

Time for Tipperary to restore balance to great rivalry

Padraic Maher insists Premier rebirth 'pointless' unless Cats conquered

Published 19/08/2014 | 02:30

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TJ Reid gets ahead of Michael Cahill and Brendan Maher during Kilkenny's victory over Tipperary in this year's League final. Photo: Ray McManus / SPORTSFILE
TJ Reid gets ahead of Michael Cahill and Brendan Maher during Kilkenny's victory over Tipperary in this year's League final. Photo: Ray McManus / SPORTSFILE

What have Brendan Maher, Padraic Maher and Noel McGrath all got in common, apart from their status as leaders within the Tipperary hurling team?

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All three made their debuts in 2009 and yet, six years on, Kilkenny remain the only team to bring their Championship interest to a conclusion.

Ryan, 'Bonner' Maher and Michael Cahill also fall into that category of only ever being shown the door in a Championship by Kilkenny.

That can't change now until 2015 at the earliest after the renewal of the most dynamic hurling rivalry of more recent times was cemented on Sunday.

Greatest

For all their apparent imperfections, for all the trust that seems to have been lost with the Tipperary public and the perception that they have not fulfilled potential, a hardcore group, arguably at the halfway point of their careers now, can reflect on the journey travelled and content themselves that only the game's greatest ever team have consistently been a step ahead of them.

Cork in 2010 and Limerick in 2013 and 2014 are the only other teams to enjoy Championship success against Tipperary on the watch of the Mahers, McGrath et al.

It has been an unusual reference point for Tipperary positivity in difficult times over the last 12 months.

And as the season heads towards a conclusion, it has reinforced the belief among players that they are nowhere near as ordinary as they have been portrayed.

But while that record against Kilkenny can be used as a blanket of comfort in one respect, it is something they urgently need to bring some redress to.

The All-Ireland final next month will be the seventh national final, between League and Championship, out of a possible 12, that Kilkenny and Tipperary will have met in since 2009.

Kilkenny have won the 2009, 2013 and 2014 League finals and the 2009 and 2011 All-Ireland finals, Tipperary have just the 2010 All-Ireland final to reflect on with complete satisfaction.

Kilkenny have been dominant in recent meetings too, winning the last four since Tipp's 2013 League win in Semple Stadium, the Premier County's only win over their great rivals in nine games since 2010.

During Brian Cody's tenure as Kilkenny manager he has enjoyed 19 wins from 26 League and Championship games against Tipp. Every statistic shouts loud that a Tipp win is long overdue.

Restored to the half-back line where he delivered a towering performance on Sunday, Padraic Maher can see clear comparisons with 2010 when they came through the back door.

Maher is adamant that their recovery from that Munster championship defeat to Limerick will count for nothing if they don't end their losing sequence against Kilkenny now.

"You could say we are going the same route but it is definitely tougher this time round compared to what we went through before,"he said. "It's all well and good but we have to go on and win it now,.

"So we are going to have to bring a performance and that comes from the next three weeks in training."

Maher always felt a big performance was coming from Tipp since the latter stages of the League.

His manager Eamon O'Shea had a glint in his eye when he told of a training match in recent days that had surpassed all expectations.

"You could sense it in training, we knew we were capable of a big performance," said Maher.

"Ever since the Clare League semi-final, we've been training very well. Unfortunately things didn't go our way in the last few minutes against Limerick.

"We kept doing what we're doing and thankfully we started getting results and reaping the rewards.

"We have to up it again somehow in the next few weeks. There is a big test awaiting us again and we have to go on again. There's no point in all of this unless we win it."

As a group of defenders Maher admitted they have collectively felt pressure because they have conceded so many goals all season.

The desire to keep a clean sheet for the second successive match, having shut out Dublin in the All-Ireland quarter-final, was evident.

"That's why we were disappointed to give away the goal (Rob O'Shea struck late for Cork) because we were playing really well as a unit," said Maher.

"Everyone was covering for one another and the midfield were magnificent as well covering back."

Credit has been flowing to Darren Gleeson for his performance, not just for the quality of his saves but the accuracy and thought he put into his restarts too that gave Tipperary such a platform.

Gleeson has come in this season as Brendan Cummins' replacement and, as in any walk of life, stepping into the shoes of a legend can be difficult.

With Tipperary conceding five goals against Kilkenny, four against Clare and Cork in other League games and four more against Galway in the Championship, the Portroe man has felt a fair degree of heat coming his way.

"I was delighted for Darren," said Maher. "I said it to him that he pulled off a nice few saves.

"Some (players) might tune out when they are so far ahead but he kept tuned in and pulled off a few vital saves.

"He has been waiting in the wings over the last few years with Brendan in front of him but he has got his chance this year and he has taken it.

"Some people have been critical of him over the last few weeks for conceding the goals but he didn't have a hope with any of them."

There are areas of improvement for Tipperary, and widening the spread of scorers in attack is a starting point.

Lar Corbett, Gearoid Ryan and, for the first time in this Championship, 'Bonner' Maher didn't score, while Noel McGrath didn't find his range until the second half.

'Bonner' Maher was still a huge influence in other aspects of the game, especially when he moved inside to the full-forward line and provided an outlet that Cork found difficult to deal with. Finishing the match with a damaged rib - there was no confirmation yesterday that it was broken - only embellishes his status among the Tipperary public.

Ryan was also a key provider but Corbett's record, apart from a goal in the Nowlan Park Championship match in July 2013, has not been good since the 2010 All-Ireland final.

Once again there is the prospect of Tipperary denying Kilkenny some history, just as there was in 2010.

Henry Shefflin's bid to become the only hurler to win 10 All-Ireland senior medals may not be near the scale of five-in-a-row but it is a significant milestone that provides Kilkenny with an extra incentive - if one is even required - to see this home.

"Look, these are just two teams having a go and let's see what happens," said Eamon O'Shea with quite a bit of understatement after Sunday's match.

Except it's never been 'just between two teams.' Their rivalry is too entrenched for that.

Irish Independent

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