Tipp taking route one approach back to top
New boss Ryan putting his own stamp on Premier with emphasis on more direct style
Published 19/02/2016 | 02:30
Last Saturday's game against Dublin was just five seconds old when Tipperary stated their main intent of the evening. Darragh Quinn won a scrambled ball from the throw-in, turned and launched it straight down on top of the square.
As soon as the ball broke off a handful of players, John McGrath picked it and went hunting for goal. His shot was well saved by goalkeeper Conor Dooley.
Tipp scored only one goal but they hit their attack with long ball all evening. A sustained aerial bombardment. Route one. No questions asked.
Tipp played 49 long balls into their attack. Twenty-four were either played straight down the central channel, or to the edge of the square.
That huge volume of long ball was largely the antithesis of the hurling Tipp played under Eamon O'Shea but Michael Ryan (below) is clearly trying to recalibrate Tipp's style to a more direct game.
Tipp kept lorrying long ball forward because it was working. They won 27 of those 49 long balls, most of which were secured right in the red zone: they mined 14 points from that possession.
Jason Forde was excellent, notching 1-5 from play. He has always been a bright talent but his feeding off long, breaking ball, coming at pace and at good angles, was a standout feature of Tipp's play.
Four of his scores originated from that source while Forde also set up John 'Bubbles' O'Dwyer for two points from a similar method of play.
Forde's running and movement was right out of the O'Shea playbook but Tipp's forwards had just never fed off so much long, breaking ball under their previous manager.
Conor Kenny was robust and busy as a target-man at full-forward, sniping three points from play. Immediately after Forde's goal, Kenny won a long ball from Michael Breen and his attempt for goal shaved the crossbar.
Maybe going so direct was just Tipp adapting to the wet conditions. The pitch was soft and cut up. Tipp kept a strong and solid defensive shape. Their half-back line was their launchpad.
Tipp reduced the margin for error by getting the ball forward as quickly as possible but that manner of transition from defence to attack happened so often that it's clearly going to be a signature style under a new manager.
Ryan has already gone looking for bigger, stronger players. Kenny is a prime example. So is Steven O'Brien, who quit the footballers to take up with the hurlers.
"With the modern players being incredibly athletic," said Ryan in December, "there was an emphasis on more strength around the middle third as well as adding freshness and a new style to complement what we have already got."
Tipp created their own identity under O'Shea, particularly in attack. Ryan was O'Shea's right-hand man but he was a completely different type of player, an uncompromising, tough, direct defender. Similar to O'Shea, his personality and coaching philosophy will be reflected in his team.
"A coach and manager always wants to put his own stamp on the team and Mick clearly is doing that now," says Eoin Kelly.
The Tipp attack at their peak in the 2010 and 2014 (drawn) All-Ireland finals was the outcome of O'Shea's brilliant vision. The attacking system Tipp developed was all about interchanging and the exploitation of space.
After O'Shea left in 2011, Declan Ryan and Tommy Dunne tweaked the system to become more direct.
In the Munster final against Waterford, that long-ball tactic yielded a dividend of 4-13.
Yet Waterford were naïve in their defensive set-up and Tipp's long-ball tactic didn't work against a compact Dublin defence in the All-Ireland semi-final, or against an aggressive Kilkenny in the final.
When O'Shea returned in 2013, it took the side almost two years before becoming comfortable again with a more measured passing and movement style.
"That game served Tipperary really well so I'd hate to see it all abandoned now," says Kelly. "You don't want to see Eamon O'Shea's great work washed away so you'd like to see a happy medium between direct play and good movement."
Tipp were trying to strike that balance last year. Noel McGrath's illness forced Tipp to rethink the make-up of their half-forward line.
Brendan Maher's redeployment offered more of a ball-winning option up front but his role was also flexible enough to allow Tipp greater tactical fluidity.
After playing as an auxiliary centre-back against Limerick, Maher man-marked Kevin Moran in the second half of the Munster final.
Tipp's constant forward movement in the opening 20 minutes of that match prised the Deise's defensive system open but there were stages when they were over-thinking their game, when they needed to be more direct.
When Maurice Shanahan picked off a short pass from Ronan Maher in the 24th minute and drove it over the bar, Brendan Maher instructed his namesake to go longer.
Tipp seemed over-protective of the ball, and almost over-programmed for Waterford, but they couldn't get Seamus Callanan on the ball.
Tadgh de Búrca was brilliant as the sweeper and Callanan only won one of the eight balls played into him during the 70 minutes. He didn't score from play.
When Galway set up more orthodox in the All-Ireland semi-final, Tipp loaded Callanan with long, direct ball and he cut loose.
His three goals stemmed from high balls lamped on top of the square, all of which he won cleanly.
Ryan will feel he has the players to play that direct game but he will also know the importance of tailoring that style to adjust to the opposition.
"Hitting long high balls in on top of Paul Murphy and Co will be a different matter," says Brendan Cummins. "But if it's a tactic, at least it's effective and Tipp have a way of playing other than just moving around the pitch.
"Eamon wanted players to take responsibility for how they moved. Mick probably recognises now that he has a younger team and that he has to have more of a hands on approach in telling them how they should play the game."
This team is evolving. Ten of the 20 players who featured last weekend are either in their maiden, or second season, on the team. Ryan will want his team working hard. He will want to imprint his own personality but he also won't want to restrict the expressiveness that was so evident under O'Shea.
Some Tipp players won't be fully comfortable with always driving long ball forward. Certain Tipp forwards won't want long ball continually bombed down on top of them all day.
If becoming more direct is going to be Tipp's template, Nowlan Park is the ideal place to road-test it. Kilkenny's defenders hold their positions. They want the opposition to go long and direct because they are masters at winning the aerial, and ruck, battles.
"Mick Ryan has gone for big men and a more direct approach but the ultimate test is against Kilkenny," says Kelly.
"Tipp were very physical against Kilkenny in the League last year too. I'm sure Brian Cody will remember that. So you'll have a right game teed up for Sunday."
If Ryan wants his team to be more physical and direct, Sunday is the ideal opportunity to see if he has the dogs of war required to carry it out.