Tuesday 16 January 2018

Cyril Farrell: All the aces still very much in Tipp's pack

Ryan's men have proven themselves at a level Cork still struggling to reach

'Michael Ryan is as shrewd as they come but if a certain mood takes over in a county, it can be hard to control.' Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile
'Michael Ryan is as shrewd as they come but if a certain mood takes over in a county, it can be hard to control.' Photo: Diarmuid Greene/Sportsfile

Cyril Farrell

Watching Tipperary struggle through the league final last month as if they were ankle-deep in treacle, I was reminded of the contrast in the method they applied compared to their previous game in Limerick.

That was in last year's Munster final when, much as Galway did to them four weeks ago, they blew Waterford apart. One major difference in Tipperary's approach stood out between the two games.

Against Waterford, their forwards didn't go out to catch everything in the air all the time. Instead, they were happy to bring the ball to ground and battle for it there. It worked well. Quick and nimble, and with support pouring through from midfielders, Michael Breen and Brendan Maher, they destroyed Waterford, whose system collapsed under the constant pressure of Tipperary's instinctive hurling.

Against Galway, Tipperary played a different game in attack. They tried catching the ball most of the time, which ideally suited Galway's physically powerful defence. The pattern was set and Galway powered on to the easiest of wins. Why the difference in Tipp's approach? Okay, so conditions were vastly different (Munster finally day was wet) but there may be a little more to it than that.

It was as if Tipperary wanted to swashbuckle their way to victory in the league final. Their supporters expected it after a campaign where the team played exceptionally well in the early games. Michael Ryan is as shrewd as they come but if a certain mood takes over in a county, it can be hard to control.

That's why the league final may turn out to be very helpful for Tipperary this summer. Yes, it was a jolt and a painful one at that. But it carried valuable lessons and when they came together afterwards, each and every member of the panel had digested a large dose of reality.

It will have done them good. It's back to basics and the things they did so well in last year's championship. If they were going in as league champions tomorrow, the hype would be roaring through Tipperary but now the backdrop is more muted.

The underlying confidence is still there - as it should be - but there's a context to it. Tipperary know they are capable of retaining the All-Ireland but they also know that margins at the top are so fine that they have to get everything spot on all the time.

combative In fairness, there was more to their bad league final performance than an attacking wipe-out. The semi-final had been a fiercely combative affair as Wexford imposed the Davy Fitz brand of intensity on proceedings.

Tipperary worked their way through it in the end but it probably took a lot out of them just a week before the final against a Galway team that weren't half-tested by Limerick in the other semi-final.

The pressure will be on Tipperary tomorrow but I expect them to respond well.

Cork will be encouraged by their league win, even if Tipperary had already qualified for the quarter-final, and by Galway's demolition job but this is very different.

Cork came to Thurles last year with a plan which was alien to them, playing a sweeper to bolster the defence while the rest of the formation was pretty straight up. It was never going to work and it didn't.

They were nine points down at half-time and already on their way to the qualifiers. They will play their more traditional game this time but the question is - are they a better team than last year?

The attack certainly has potential but the defence still looks vulnerable. That problem has been with them for quite some time and could be their undoing again.

One bad performance doesn't change everything about Tipperary. I expect them to return to their ground war strategy and march on to a semi-final clash with Waterford.

Irish Independent

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