Tuesday 26 September 2017

Keeping calm in a storm

Brendan Cummins tells Colm Keys he considered calling it quits and admits Tipp owe their fans a response

Brendan Cummins celebrates defeating Dublin in the 2011 All-Ireland SHC semi-final
Brendan Cummins celebrates defeating Dublin in the 2011 All-Ireland SHC semi-final

In a time of crisis, it makes sound management sense to roll out your most polished hand to smooth things over.

So it was Brendan Cummins, their custodian for most of the last 20 seasons, who breezed easily through the doors of The Horse and Jockey Hotel this week to present himself for Tipperary's media briefing ahead of Sunday's showpiece Division 1 league match against Kilkenny.

Both have lost their opening games of the campaign, in Tipperary's case a 0-26 to 1-11 beating in Pairc Ui Rinn that no one saw coming and left them even more chastened with the weight of last summer's brutal All-Ireland semi-final defeat to Kilkenny.

In Tipperary hurling, it's a time for cool heads and some detached thinking.

Cummins, always a voice of reason, doesn't dress it up in ribbons and present their predicament as anything that it's not. Nor are there furrows in his brow with the weight of the world upon him.

He's easy listening as he guides you through the journey they have to take.

Yes, their confidence has been shaken by recent results stretching back to that calamity last August. But it's nothing that a good group of players who have been successful before and a smart coaching team can't work out.

DARKEST

Cummins takes you back to that day in August that is unquestionably, he admits, his darkest in those 20 seasons involved with the Tipperary squad.

As he gathered his hurls and headed for the Hogan Stand at the end he found himself looking around the place with a strong feeling that it would be his last time.

He found himself lingering to say goodbye to stewards that he had built up a rapport with over the years.

"I thought after the game, that could be the end of it. I even had a look around the place as I left. I said goodbye to the stewards and all the fellas I was good friends with over the years," he recalled.

It was the lowest point of a distinguished career.

"This team had won four of the previous five Munster finals and some of those comfortably enough, so we had a good generation of players. To see them go through that, to see the thing just falling asunder on the day..." he sighed.

"It shouldn't have happened to this group of players but on the field we have to take responsibility, the guys between the lines. Whether it's me letting 'Taggie' Fogarty's shot in or a player not hooking or blocking, we all have to take our share of responsibility.

"It's character building: your role as a player is to face up to these things, not to run away, and that's where we are at the moment."

In the days and weeks after, on the streets of Tipperary towns, Cummins believes the players got a sense of what responsibility there is when you wear blue and gold. More than ever they hurt.

"You are meeting people whose emotions are raw, no more raw than mine," he said. "You are representing Tipperary. When you have that jersey on and if you are not coming up to scratch, the Tipperary supporter has every right to ask you why you're not and what you're doing, and if that means someone stopping you on the street, that's fair enough.

"That's the responsibility that the jersey carries. I think players would have realised that after last August. It's not just us that we're representing as a group. You are representing Tipperary – and every man, woman and child that's in it.

"Really it's not a burden: it's something that should excite you and make you excel. We need to get to grips with that."

Slowly it dawned on Cummins that it wasn't the way he ever intended it to end for himself.

"I had always said I'd like to give the jersey back in better condition than when I got it and that, obviously, wasn't the way leaving Croke Park that day. It really hurt, it really smarted, I'll never forget it," he said.

The appointment of Eamonn O'Shea ensured that he would remain.

"Eamonn was offered the job, took it and suddenly the goalposts moved. Having worked with him before, he definitely made me a way, way, way better player than I thought I ever could be when he took it on in 2008.

"So the challenge is there now, can we get to the heights again? And that's what I want as a challenge."

The challenge to retain his No 1 position is also significant. As much as he likes the manager for what he did in the past, he knows that offers no guarantee for the future, with Darren Gleeson on his shoulder and getting the nod to start on Sunday.

"I believe in what Eamonn is doing, and what he is trying to achieve with the group, so the carrot was there to try and give it another go," he said. "The fight is on. I am no different to any other player coming in the door.

"You put your name in the hat to perform, and if you don't, you don't get the jersey. That's the competitive world we live in. I'm delighted that's the way it is."

Their opening league defeat has helped to crystallise just how far they have fallen and what they have to do to recover.

"It was probably a cross between loss of confidence among the players after the thrashing we got from Kilkenny last year in Croke Park, then we had the Waterford Crystal game, where we were trying players out and then Clare gobbled us that day in the final," said Cummins.

"Then we rolled down to Cork and they were very good on the night, to be fair. But we do have a lot of work to do, we realise that, and we're on the way to doing it."

Cummins is adamant that no panic buttons have been hit since last week and no voices have been raised.

"We'd all question each other and going back on the bus we had a chat among each other saying this isn't where we want to be again, how are we going to fix it?" he said.

POSITIVE

"You could go into a room and blow the heads off each other but in reality the problem is still there when you leave.

"So training was very positive on the Tuesday night after Cork, there was a good reaction, that's what you are looking for – actions rather than just a big chat and it all falling apart.

"You have to say it out loud, that you just have to build confidence again, and that is done is minute by minute when you are on the training pitch.

"You can't be scared of words like 'our confidence has taken a bit of a hit at the moment'."

A response on Sunday is a necessity, he admits.

"God, you would (expect it) for the Tipperary people going to the game, there are people putting hard-earned cash into going to watch us and we're putting a lot of time into this thing, so it is important that we perform.

"We're in that process now. It's a slow and steady thing but these players are all high achievers. Paudie Maher was above in Dublin collecting provincial player of the year. Lar Corbett hasn't become a bad player because he has had rocky six-month period.

"These guys have it and ability is always going to be there. It's just a matter of bringing it out of ourselves. It will be done, there is no doubt about that."

Irish Independent

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