Holding back the tide


Conor McKeon

WITH Kilkenny's achievements breaking so much ground over these last five years, searching for localised comparison is futile. The one possible benchmark, of course, is from another code: the All-Ireland football decider of 1982 or 'The Seamus Darby Final.'

It had all the ingredients of a classic story. The all-seeing/all-conquering and by extension, innately cocky Kerry taking on the unfancied, unfashionable minnows, Offaly. One push in the back later from Darby and the five-in-a-row dream is dead.

You wouldn't call this current Kilkenny team cocky, certainly not within earshot of Nowlan Park. Nor would any sound-minded individual label Tipperary as minnows but there are parallels.

Brendan Cummins, for instance, attended the '82 football decider as a blow-in Kerry supporter and, on Sunday, he'll be hoping his presence on such potentially historic days is somewhat of a five-in-a-row deterrent.

"I was above in the Hogan Stand sitting on my Dad's lap crying like the rain when Kerry got bet," remembers Cummins. "I could remember sitting looking at it when Seamus Darby pushed him the back. I was in bits. I'll never forget it.

"Kerry were a team I loved. They were Manchester United. They were flamboyant and they were winning everything. And then Offaly went and ruined it. I was scarred for life!"

Childhood trauma notwithstanding, Cummins has gone on to become perhaps the most talented of hurling goalkeepers in a golden era for small ball custodians, yet he always sees room for improvement.


When Cummins started out with Tipperary, a goalkeeper was saluted for being equipped with the longest puck-out whereas now, the emphasis is on accuracy and pinging restarts short to the team mate best placed to snaffle possession.

In that regard, his strategically shot deliveries to his corner backs against Waterford demonstrated how Cummins has evolved with the tweaking of systems and formations further out the field.

"We have done a bit of work on that," he acknowledges. "The last day against Waterford, the way Waterford play the game it leant itself to giving the short puck-outs most of the time. But it's something we have now in the armoury if we need it.

"But I don't think that, like Cork, it's going to define the way we play the game. But it's something that we know is there if we need to use it.

"It's a huge thing. Donal Óg (Cusack) in Cork has been the benchmark for me and somebody I would watch very closely. I would try and emulate the confidence that he has. He's fantastic and I'm a long, long way from where Donal Óg is, to be honest.

"Certainly you do have to open your mind to all these type of things. Like, you have a free puck of the ball against the best team in the country, you have to make sure it hits a blue and gold jersey or at least give him a 60/40 chance of winning it."

Whereas the short puck outs were pre-meditated for the Waterford game, Cummins will likely adopt a 'wait and see' approach to Sunday's match. Kilkenny will re-organise quickly after the ball goes dead so as to minimise the scope for shorter deliveries.

On top of that, their midfield tend to drop deep in order to aid a half-back line adept and noted for their aerial prowess. Cummins then, will need to improvise.

"Whatever way the game pans out, my experience is there to judge what way we need to go," he says. "You just can't go lobbing high balls down on top of these guys because they will just keep gobbling them up. No matter who they're marking. Over the years, they have marked the best half-forwards and centre-forwards in the country and these boys are coming out with the ball and winning All Stars."

Yet the stats show that Tipperary won more ball off their own and Kilkenny's puck-outs in last year's final than the Cats did. In that regard, a heightened aptitude to turn possession over and, more importantly, utilising their own ball properly, is the upmost priority for Tipp.

"Once you get the ball down on the deck, it's what happened next," says Cummins. "Kilkenny out-hooked and out-blocked us last year so they're work rate was better than ours. When the ball is in general play, how you can take it off the man who has it, is also a huge thing."

Sunday will be Cummins' 62nd championship appearance, a notable haul by modern standards though he admits that he, like all Tipperary players, will be judged on success rather than longevity when they finally pack up.


"In a quiet moment whenever I finish, I'll say 'yeah, that was a good record.' But a statistic that more concerns me is that I've played 61 times for Tipperary and I've only one All-Ireland medal. That's disappointing, to say the least.

"That's why I'm coming back every year. All-Ireland medals in Tipperary are the only currency and unfortunately, I've only one."

A second on Sunday would be all the sweeter for its context. One thing to win an All-Ireland, quite another to achieve it by denying Kilkenny a fifth All-Ireland on the trot.

For that, Cummins and his team mates will be remembered long and fondly by their adoring public.

"History will set up it's own way," he says. "But this is just a final for us. If you ask any of the Kilkenny players, that's what they understand more than any other team. They don't get caught up in history or what people are writing or saying about them. I think that's the space we're in now. We just want to win on Sunday. If people want to talk about history after that ... that's up to them. But we just need to perform."