Tuesday 19 June 2018

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Comment: Tipperary are living through their own version of Groundhog Day, but without the laughs

Tipperary manager Michael Ryan. Photo by Ray McManus/Sportsfile
Tipperary manager Michael Ryan. Photo by Ray McManus/Sportsfile

Eamonn Sweeney

The team Michael Ryan picked for Tipperary's game against Limerick seemed not so much a selection as a cry for help.

A new goalkeeper, a new full-back, an entirely new midfield pairing made up of two championship newcomers, five players starting a first championship match, no Brendan Maher, no Michael Breen, no Seamus Callinan.

It all appeared to indicate not just worry about the league final performance against Kilkenny, but something close to outright despair.

The manager won't be feeling any better this morning. Tipperary were terrible against Limerick as Ryan's selection failed completely.

As failed gambles go it was up there with the time God decided to play the Devil at poker for the soul of a Spanish railwayman.

It could be argued in the manager's defence that when he did introduce Maher, Callinan and Breen, things got even worse for Tipp. But the die had been cast at that stage and Limerick handed their opportunity.

Tipperary are living through their own version of Groundhog Day, but without the laughs.

Last year the All-Ireland champions breezed into the league final amid much confident talk about Ryan's ability to prevent the kind of second season slumps which had left Tipperary without a two-in-a-row since 1965. Cue a league final trouncing by Galway, followed by a shock loss to a young, enthusiastic and unfancied Cork.

This year saw some more breezing and confident talk. Cue a league final trouncing by Kilkenny followed by a shock loss to a young, enthusiastic and unfancied Limerick.

Tipp managed to recover somewhat from last year's double whammy. A single-point defeat by a terrific Galway team in a classic All-Ireland semi-final was no disgrace.

On the other hand, they were much worse in Limerick yesterday than they were in Cork last year.

Tougher, quicker and more intelligent, the home team would not have been flattered by a double-digit winning margin. Only a couple of goals and some awful home shooting kept the favourites in the game for much longer than they deserved.

You kept waiting for a Tipp push that never came. In recent years few major teams have so often wilted in big matches.

They've done it in successive league finals, against Kilkenny in a notorious All-Ireland semi-final, against Cork on a couple of occasions in Munster.

It's odd considering the Premier's self-image as the home of hard men descended from John Doyle and his Hell's Kitchen comrades.

There was a spell of play in the 19th minute which looked at the time as though it might be significant.

Limerick hounded Tipperary, producing two great blockdowns and a hefty shoulder charge to send the crowd into raptures. But the passage ended with John McGrath hitting the post and Dan McCormack burying the rebound.

That was what we'd expected to see, Limerick's determination set at naught by Tipperary's class. Yet as the game wore on we saw much more of the former and much less of the latter.

The manager's immediate response to this defeat has been to impose a media ban on himself.

He's apparently staying schtum till the end of the Munster Championship. Those of you who lust for Michael Ryan quotes will have to seek other sources of stimulation until June 10.

His reaction seems a classic example of turning a drama into a crisis.

Tipperary were awful yesterday, but should still emerge from Munster. Two wins in their remaining three games would probably suffice. That should be well within their compass, especially if the temptation to make utterly insane team selections is resisted.

Ryan's sudden silence is strange because he has received so much admiring coverage portraying him as a chilled-out guru of positive hurling.

He's no media whipping boy. It's hard to escape the conclusion that he simply couldn't face answering questions about the weirdness of yesterday's selections.

The few minutes of discomfort involved would apparently have been too much to endure. One wonders if the silence will be broken should Tipperary get back on track and the manager feel all justified once more.

Then again, the decision, following last year's defeat to Cork, to suspend Cathal Barrett from the panel when the player was out injured anyway suggested a certain peevishness of character.

Tipperary seem peculiarly dogged by rumours about internal dissension and managers losing the dressing room. There's a simple explanation for that.

Logic

There have been too many performances which, given the talent of the players involved, seem to defy logic. You don't need to be a conspiracy theorist to find it strange that the Tipp attack, with all its firepower, could manage to put over only five points from play in 70-plus minutes.

It may turn out that Tipp are so lacklustre at the moment because they've chosen the right way to pace themselves through a restructured championship with novel physical demands.

For all their faults they cannot be discounted as All-Ireland contenders. This is not a bad team. It's a very good team playing badly at the moment.

The players must take some responsibility for yesterday's debacle, but the manager's team selections and post-match reaction have put them under pressure.

It's not the media who picked Willie Connors ahead of Brendan Maher at midfield.

Even the best players need to feel that the man in charge knows what he's doing.

The fault, dear Michael, lies not in your stars, but in yourself.

Irish Independent

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