Sport Hurling

Wednesday 18 October 2017

What next after Tipp's winter of discontent?

Former coach Dunne admits last year's thrashing by Cats led to 'soul-searching,' but insists Premier back on track

Tipperary's Tommy Dunne
Tipperary's Tommy Dunne
Tipperary manager Declan Ryan with Lar Corbett
Tipperary manager Eamon O'Shea issues instructions to Lar Corbett

Colm Keys and  Donnchadh Boyle

The morning after the day before. Tommy Dunne has seen some epic backlashes in his time as a Tipperary player, supporter and coach.

But the reaction that greeted their All-Ireland semi-final defeat to Kilkenny last August was "for certain" the worst he had ever encountered. That he was in the eye of the storm as coach, under manager Declan Ryan, served to compound the anguish.

Reliving the experience isn't easy but, as Tipperary step back into action this weekend with their Munster semi-final against Limerick, Dunne has acknowledged that the defeat shook his "fundamental belief" about what they were trying to do.

They hadn't seen it coming – neither the defeat nor the reaction to it. The criticism flowed.

Whether it was fair or not, or had crossed a particular line that shouldn't have been crossed "doesn't matter" to Dunne now.

Acknowledging that the way Lar Corbett was deployed was a "big factor" in the torrent of criticism that flowed, Dunne said he, too, would have been disappointed with the performance if he was a supporter.

"If you were to put yourself in the position of being a Tipperary supporter in the crowd that day, I wouldn't have been happy with what I'd seen either," Dunne candidly admitted at the recent opening of the extension of the GAA Museum.

"But that's the nature of sport at this level with criticism all the time and you have to take it in on chin. Sometimes it's abhorrent and sometimes it's unfair, but it's out of your control so you can't do anything about it.

"All you can do is analyse what you have done yourself and try to take solace out of it – that you've done everything to the best of your ability – and try to live with it like that.

"It was just massively disappointing, given the level of effort and commitment on everybody's part. And then to go out and not perform anywhere like you know you can."

"When you're involved with management and coaching, it just leaves you with a lot of questions and shakes all your fundamental beliefs about what you're trying to do.

"So you can imagine then all the soul-searching that goes on after that."

Dunne admits that Tipperary supporters are entitled to high levels of expectation, but acknowledges that often there is no middle ground between their elation and despair on these days.

"Since 2008, 2009, Tipperary have been at the high end of the championship every year, competing with Kilkenny and beating them on some occasions.

"So, with expectations based on that, it would have been realistic to think that we could beat Kilkenny every year that we go out. And that's the way Tipperary supporters feel about their team and I suppose there's almost a demand there that you give a certain level of performance every time you take to the field. I think that's fair and reasonable.

"It's the age-old thing in the GAA with players – they're amateur players trying to hold down a job – and the level of scrutiny and criticism when it's not a professional sport, that's always there."

The arrival of Eamon O'Shea as manager and a healthy league has helped to rinse the memory of last August, even defeat in the league final to Kilkenny last month was accepted as a means to moving forward and restoring belief again.

"I think the league will have done a lot to actually help rebuild their confidence," said Dunne. "They played some really good games during the league and were back scoring a lot of goals.

"I think they have a really easy relationship with Eamon as well and that seems to be working well.

"Pretty quickly, they seemed to have a bit of momentum built up and to be moving fairly well."

Dunne senses that careful management of some of their more experienced assets will be prioritised in the weeks and months ahead.

"The likes of Eoin (Kelly), John O'Brien and Larry (Corbett) are still hurling fairly well, but you need them injury-free and it's debatable whether you can get 70 minutes out of all of them anymore," he said.

O'Shea has gone about his work impressively, reconnecting the team with supporters after the fallout from last August, making firm and public statements on the requirements from discipline and responsibility from all squad members and ensuring that everyone gets to play a part.

For instance, when recently has their replacement goalkeeper, Darren Gleeson in this case, really felt that their challenge to Brendan Cummins was a realistic one?

The decision to give Gleeson more game time in the league than Cummins and select him for the league final was an elevation beyond what anyone could expected.

Cummins is still expected to get the nod as the No 1 choice goalkeeper ahead of a 20th championship season, but Gleeson's deployment in the league was an indication of the genuine open mind that O'Shea has taken into the job.

The players respect him, and wanted him back, but he has left no one under any illusions that, as manager, he will be the same man he was as coach from 2008 to 2010.

Five key selection questions for Tipp

Brendan Cummins v Darren Gleeson

Cummins is in the middle of his 20th season as goalkeeper and for most of that period he has been Tipp's No 1 choice. For the league, though, he had to sit out four of Tipperary's seven games as Eamon O'Shea gave Gleeson much more sustained exposure than he has had before. He acquitted himself well, but Michael Fennelly's second goal in the league final won't have sat easily with him. It's hard to see Cummins being displaced.

Keep Padraic Maher on the wing at all costs?

The temptation to move Maher into centre-back on a more permanent basis has been there for a few seasons now, but his involvement has been so much more pronounced when he's stepping in off the wing and reading the play so well. Holding down the middle for much of the league final curbed that influence a little.

Can Shane McGrath regain form at midfield?

Shane McGrath is a popular choice for the captaincy and there was obvious method in making the appointment to try and get more from a player that has the potential to offer such energy and dash. But he has yet to regain the form that promised so much in 2009. Noel McGrath could be an option, and James Woodlock has been getting it together.

Is it better to finish with Eoin Kelly on or off the field?

Eoin Kelly has showed some impressive form during the league and his touch looks as good as ever, but there is obvious question marks over his staying power for the full 70 minutes. Would it be best to bring him on as a substitute and so have him on the field for the conclusion of critical games where his experience and craft would be so telling.

What to do with Noel McGrath?

The league final underlined just what an asset Noel McGrath is in the middle third as he worked well as an extra midfielder. Wherever he is deployed, he has a capacity to deliver and is arguably now Tipperary's most important player. Is it time to make midfield his permanent base?

Irish Independent

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