Thursday 14 November 2019

Martin Breheny: Where were the critics when these men had their noses in January mud?

I don't know if it's planned to round up Declan Ryan, Tommy Dunne and the Tipperary squad, drag them into Liberty Square, Thurles, and bind them in stocks before beginning the bombardment with rotten eggs.

It seems that's what they deserve. One Tipperary fan, boasting a 40-year loyalty record, contacted RTE's 'Sport Around Seven Extra' on Monday to declare that the players should be ashamed of themselves, before lecturing on their responsibilities to the county and the supporters. There was no mention of the outraged one's whereabouts on cold, wet nights last January when the Tipperary panel had their noses stuck in a muddy training ground.

Anyway, who was the purveyor of such flinty edged honesty? We don't know because he/she remained anonymous, certainly to listeners. The identity of a few other complainants was narrowed down, admittedly not by much but, hey, we've got to be grateful for any concession to transparency.

So we were informed that Larry from Dublin thought Tipperary's tactics represented "stupidity beyond belief", while Joe from Limerick reckoned it was "a joke to watch and, into the bargain, their (Tipperary's) filthy tactics to go with it."

There were calls too for the end of Ryan's managerial reign. Again, no names, just empty blather best directed to the bin but instead treated as if it actually meant something.

Sport is all about opinions but if the holders are too cowardly to publicly identify themselves, best leave them to their sad sewer life beneath Troll Central rather being given recognition by the state broadcaster, where retaining standards should be a prime responsibility rather than an option.

Ryan and the Tipperary squad had every intention of retaining their high standards when they headed for Croke Park last Sunday but, for whatever reason, it didn't happen. They dipped alarmingly in the final 20 minutes, eventually leaving them with the sourest of tastes as they finished the season with an 18-point defeat.

Unfortunately for Tipp, it came at the knock-out stages of the championship, unlike the 10-point defeat by Cork in the Munster quarter-final in 2010. Severe criticism poured down on Liam Sheedy and the players then -- indeed in the pre-qualifier days, when that setback would have ended the season, it's unlikely Sheedy would have survived as manager. Instead, Tipperary got a second chance and come September were All-Ireland champions. Heroes all round then and not a mention of the nasty jibes directed at them a few months earlier.

Tipperary supporters are understandably disappointed by last Sunday's events but the level of criticism towards management and players is ridiculously unfair. High on indignant froth, low on reasoned assessment, it follows the easy route: winners always right, losers always wrong.

That applies outside Tipperary too. Much of the punditry world, which now has a high quota of former players and managers, backed Tipperary to win when the more compelling evidence stacked up on Kilkenny's side.

Everybody knows that on a general basis Kilkenny aren't 18 points superior to Tipperary. They are, however, better than Tipperary and have, with the exception of the 2010 All-Ireland final, proved it in all the big clashes over the last few years. As for 2010, it's quite likely that Kilkenny's dominance would have continued if they had Henry Shefflin guiding forward operations and Brian Hogan at centre-back.

Since then, Kilkenny have beaten Tipperary twice in the league by seven and eight points respectively and by four points in last year's All-Ireland final, a margin which didn't do full justice to their superiority. Given that sequence, there was no obvious reason to believe Tipperary would win last Sunday. There was, however, a strong likelihood that it would be a competitive contest, a scenario that still looked on after 49 minutes, when Kilkenny were only four points up.

And after that? Kilkenny drove on to what may have been the best 20 minutes they ever produced. Their superiority was almost freakish but then it's not the first time this year that Croke Park has delivered a wild, uncontrollable occasion which defied explanation.

Remember 30 minutes into the Leinster final? Galway 2-11 Kilkenny 0-1. That was just as inexplicable as the final 20 minutes last Sunday but since Kilkenny had a second half to begin repair work, prior to re-entering the All-Ireland race through the back door, there was no major harm done.

Unlike 2010, Tipperary have no opportunity to re-launch this season, so management and players can expect the vacuum to be filled with rant-filled, logic-free guff.

For the sake of decency, it's best ignored.

Irish Independent

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