Wednesday 18 September 2019

Colm Keys: 'Tipp's golden generation have titles their talents deserve'

Kilkenny 16-180 Tipperary 15-181

We’ll meet again: Tipperary defender Pádraic Maher shakes hands with Kilkenny manager Brian Cody after Sunday’s final in Croke Park. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
We’ll meet again: Tipperary defender Pádraic Maher shakes hands with Kilkenny manager Brian Cody after Sunday’s final in Croke Park. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

No, the above is not trouble with a keyboard on the blink, it’s the cumulative score in championship games between these great rivals in what we can loosely call the Cody/Sheedy era.

We say loosely because Liam Sheedy has only been on the sideline for three of the nine games, either side of a nine-year absence when the Tipperary management job was divided between Declan Ryan (2011-’12), Eamon O’Shea (2013-’15) and Michael Ryan (2016-’18).

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But his presence for Tipperary in this era has amounted to more than just time on a sideline. He created the terms and conditions for Tipperary to compete with the might of Kilkenny at the outset, halt the five-in-a-row and then return for a second helping last Sunday. Two of his successors, O’Shea and Michael Ryan, were members of his initial backroom team – Tipp’s very own ‘boot room’.

The scoreline paints a picture, somewhat at odds with the perception of how the last decade and a little more has played out, Tipp just two points off when the scorelines of the nine games are totted up.

Had it not been for the intervention of technology in 2014, the trade balance between them could so easily have tilted the other way in that period.

It’s been a decade when famines of varying lengths have been sated. Clare brought 15 years without an All-Ireland title to an end in 2013, Galway bridged a 29-year gap two years ago, while 12 months later Limerick brushed aside 46 years of hurt.

But the Kilkenny-Tipperary narrative has been the central thread through it and, in our mind, it is largely decorated in black and amber. The retribution for 2010 was four successive years for championship-ending defeats for Tipp at the hands of Kilkenny, a never-ending payback, it seemed.

All told, Kilkenny won four of the decade’s All-Ireland titles and by any equation, they have again been the dominant county, especially when their four league titles (2012, ’13, ’14 and ’18) are stitched in. If we can add in 2009 for the convenience of this era of Tipp/Kilkenny rivalry, the league and MacCarthy Cup haul is bumped up by one in each account.

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That was, of course, the first year of this new run of matches when Kilkenny came late for a five-point win.

At its worst for Tipperary was the 2012 All-Ireland semi-final which they lost by 18 points.

That defeat prefaced Declan Ryan’s departure and put the Tipp players on a collision course with their public for whom faith in them ebbed.

It seemed the core of these players were never quite trusted to back up their undoubted talent, that indiscipline and a less utilitarian approach to the game than their neighbours to the east would stall where they really should have taken themselves.

That vibe had surfaced again last year when they went through the new championship format without a win. But Sheedy’s second coming has aligned with the core group entering their most mature years.

His choice of Séamus Callanan, one of the fall guys for perceived under-performance post-2010, looks inspired now. A third All-Ireland title of the decade, a third medal for Brendan, Patrick ‘Bonner’ and Pádraic  Maher, Callanan and Noel McGrath elevates them to a special place in Tipp history, something Sheedy warmly embraced in his post-match interview.

In truth, they’ve never been far out of the slipstream of this Kilkenny team. Even in those league finals, the margins have been small, two going to extra-time before falling their way.

Take out that 2012 defeat by 18 points and the most the biggest margin of defeat was five points in 2009.

By contrast, their three All-Ireland final wins over Kilkenny have been by a cumulative total of 31 points. When the knife has been inserted, they’ve really known how to twist it.

Winning this All-Ireland title helps Tipperary to balance the books with Kilkenny considerably in this particular period. Overall, it brings better balance to their careers and their talent.

Achievement

It is not the Kilkenny team of old but that shouldn’t devalue the achievement for some in winning All-Ireland titles nine years apart.

For Kilkenny and Brian Cody, not everything can be framed by Richie Hogan’s sending-off. The road back won’t be easy but by reaching a final in the first place, they are on the right track.

In retrospect, though, starting Cillian Buckley, out of sorts with injury for much of the season, and Adrian Mullen, who had a bug in the build-up, may not have been the wisest choices.

Going direct and long with so much ball after half-time when reduced to 14 men looked the right approach as it should have played to Kilkenny strengths but rarely, if ever, has a Kilkenny team been beaten so comprehensively in an aerial battle and not deviating from that at some stage came at an even greater cost.

Sheedy’s second coming as manager has bookended the decade neatly for Tipperary and, all told, has been the thorn that continues to pierce Kilkenny hardest.

Irish Independent

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