Wednesday 18 September 2019

Donnchadh Boyle: 'Premier class of 2010 still standing'

For the past decade, a special generation of hurlers has shaped Tipperary's ambitions

Noel McGrath and Padraic Maher celebrate at the end of the 2010 All-Ireland SHC final victory over Kilkenny. Photo: Sportsfile
Noel McGrath and Padraic Maher celebrate at the end of the 2010 All-Ireland SHC final victory over Kilkenny. Photo: Sportsfile
Donnchadh Boyle

Donnchadh Boyle

Rewind back to mid-September 2010.

Tipperary have just halted Kilkenny's 'Drive for Five' and the county is still digesting that excitement when, just six days later, their U-21 side lay waste to Galway.

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That All-Ireland decider was unusual for being played in Semple Stadium - Tipp's back yard - but such was the Premier side's dominance that home advantage mattered little.

In that moment, Tipperary looked to have the hurling world at their feet. Five of that U-21 team - Michael Cahill, Pádraic Maher, Brendan Maher, Noel McGrath and Patrick 'Bonner' Maher - started the senior final that year.

Seamus Callanan and Seamus Hennessy came off the bench to chip in with three vital points in Croke Park. Brian O'Meara was also on the bench for the seniors and netted in the U-21 final after just 29 seconds.

Another talented forward by the name of John O'Dywer goaled after three minutes as Tipp ran riot against a Galway team that included the likes of Johnny Coen and Joseph Cooney - their victory by 25 points eclipsed the record winning margin in an U-21 decider that had stood strong for 40 years.

Noel McGrath and Padraic Maher embrace after beating Cork in this year’s Munster SHC opener. Photo: Sportsfile
Noel McGrath and Padraic Maher embrace after beating Cork in this year’s Munster SHC opener. Photo: Sportsfile

Tipp were rising and the Irish Independent report from that game reflected the mood of the time: "This is an exceptional U-21 team, the reason why even the most discerning Tipperary supporters are giddy at the prospect of what the next five years will bring."

As it turned out, the next five years brought three Munster titles but Liam MacCarthy was conspicuous by his absence.

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Instead of being cowed by the emerging challenge from their neighbours, Kilkenny redoubled their efforts and picked up four of the next five All-Irelands, beating Tipperary in two finals.

In 2016, under Michael Ryan, they found their groove and many of the same players that lit up 2010 picked up their second Celtic Cross. Once again, they looked well placed to push on.

However, Tipp have a poor record at defending All-Ireland titles and 2017's campaign came to an end with a piece of brilliance from Joe Canning who steered over a 74th-minute sideline cut.

The following year, Tipp exited the championship at the earliest possible stage. The long-serving Ryan stepped down. The county's U-20s claimed an All-Ireland title and the class of 2010 was less noticeable in the senior ranks.

Injury and retirement played its part and it wasn't straightforward for those still standing either. By that stage, Noel McGrath had come through a battle with testicular cancer, Callanan had a serious back injury and Brendan Maher was laid low by a cruciate knee injury.

From the outside looking in, there was a growing feeling that group was running out of road.

Liam Sheedy thought differently. And before agreeing to take over Tipp for a second time, he sat down with outgoing boss Ryan to see what sort of shape the old guard were in following a bitterly disappointing season. And he left him in no doubt that there was more to come.

"Not surviving to fight beyond the round-robin was really difficult for that Tipp team, and for me I just felt that it wasn't the measure of where they were at," Ryan said.

"They have not regressed permanently to that. It was completely accurate for the time we were in, we didn't win our games and didn't deserve to go forward - end of.

"But it doesn't describe the quality that was in that Tipp squad as far as I was concerned." Once Sheedy's second coming was confirmed, he looked to cajole more out of that group, some of whom he won an All-Ireland minor title with in 2006.

Patrick 'Bonner' Maher's season was cut short by a knee injury while the luckless Michael Cahill swapped a cruciate injury for a broken kneecap, but others carry the torch.

Pádraic Maher, Brendan Maher, Noel McGrath are all in the All-Star conversation. Callanan, who was a sub on Sheedy's minor team as Tipp halted Joe Canning's drive for a third consecutive minor medal, has scored seven goals in seven championship matches and is, once more, in the running for Hurler of the Year.

Eoin Kelly, who captained the Premier men in 2010, isn't surprised that that group is still going strong.

"They've matured into some of the best hurlers that have ever played for Tipperary," said the Paddy Power ambassador who also works with the Premier hurlers as a free-taking coach.

"Their consistency is no mean feat. For some of them this will be their seventh All-Ireland final, ironically all against Kilkenny between replays and all that.

"That's from 2009 to 2019, that's in a 10- or 11-year span to contest seven All-Ireland finals, that's fair consistency for me now.

"Right, you haven't won them all but to get to that final day, just the maturity they've shown and the condition that they're in and the hunger that they still have at 29, 30, 31, 32 - whatever ages they are.

"The few older boys that were there in '09 when I came into the squad, it's great what they've done for Tipperary and what they will continue to do.

"One memory I have of them young lads is with Lar Corbett around 2008, 2009, just saying, 'We need to hang in here for a few years now because these are special players that are coming along.'

"They weren't your ordinary Tipperary player, they were special players, successful players - they won two minors in '06 and '07.

"In fairness they've backboned a serious Tipperary team over the last 10 or 11 years. You'd see them now passing on their experiences and their encouragement to the younger guys that Liam Sheedy has brought in.

"They seem to have a nice mix in the dressing room between the U-21 team last year, the U-20s that are involved in the final this year and then those experienced guys."

Once tipped to bring glory for the next five years, Tipp supporters' only worry right now centres on the next five days.

The class of 2010 is still standing.

Irish Independent

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