'I don't see Tipp being complacent this year' - Stapleton
Despite walking away and hanging up his inter-county boots after collecting a second All-Ireland medal, Paddy Stapleton's decision wasn't taken lightly with the knowledge that something special is brewing in Tipperary.
There were similar expectations after the Premier's second-half demolition of Kilkenny in the 2010 hurling decider, followed six days later by All-Ireland U-21 success, but they were unable to offer an encore until last September.
That resulted in one of the most complete performances in recent memory as they hit the Cats for 2-29 and unlike six years previously - John O'Dwyer's post-match interview faux pas aside - there was an immediate sense that this time it would be different.
The young blood which Liam Sheedy injected into his side to help them reach the holy grail at the start of the decade had matured and the likes of Pádraic Maher, Noel McGrath and Seamus Callanan were now seasoned veterans, despite still being in their 20s.
There was a different air about them in the aftermath. Having had the hurling world at their feet before a series of near misses dashed their dreams, there was no appetite to endure more heartbreak and Stapleton (right) feels they can make up for lost time.
"It's more of a motivation thing than losing the run of ourselves," Stapleton says when asked if their initial success went to their heads. "Nobody's personality changed, it's just people weren't as motivated. Aside from Kilkenny, when you get to the top it's very hard to stay up there.
"But it's a lot different now, our young players were having their first experience of winning a senior All-Ireland, which is a huge thing, and it's not easy to put that hunger back into yourself again. That shouldn't be a problem this year.
"You're six years trying, six years getting near the top of the hill and not making it. In all those close calls you'd be thinking, 'God if I ever got up there again I wouldn't be letting it go as easy'. I think that's something going through lads' minds.
Ingredients "I hope it is anyway. The younger players then are now the mainstays and they have that attitude filtered down to the rest of the team and that coupled with the competition are the ingredients that make the team at the minute."
The 31-year-old thrived on competition throughout his ten-year Tipp career and believes Michael Ryan's no-nonsense style has created a winning culture which is underpinned by no player being assured of his place, regardless of who they are.
"Definitely," he says when asked whether players have a fear of the axe if standards drop.
"In Mick's view there isn't a big gap between being on the team sheet and saying, 'If this man isn't doing it we're going to take him off'. If somebody looks like they don't have their head in the game like they should he wouldn't lose any sleep by leaving them off the team and players know that, when they know that they'll be on their toes. He'll tell you what he sees, regardless of whether it's good or bad, he'll tell you.
"Mick is as friendly as anyone but he's also very honest and if your attitude isn't right he'll let you know. If he sees the effort isn't there or if you're not working, he's liable to change you because it's attitude for him and he thinks if any 15 Tipperary lads go out on the pitch with the right attitude, they've a very good chance of winning every day."
The teak tough defender had started in all four of Tipperary's final appearances up until last September and despite battling back to full fitness from hip, groin and back injuries, he was unable to force his away into the match-day 26 for their nine-point mauling of Kilkenny.
It was a culture shock for the Borris-Ileigh clubman to not be involved but it highlighted a squad depth which compares favourably with 2010/'11. "You'd nearly be trying harder to make the panel than when you were in the team," Stapleton says. "When you have that level of competition it just filters all the way through. Suddenly a lad that wasn't in the 26 the last day is having a good game at training and that filters down to the lad on the bench and he has to play better and then the lad on the team is looking over his shoulder.
"It has a domino effect. You're only as good as the weakest link and at the moment there aren't too many. A lot of players could fit into a lot of positions and the squad looks stronger than the last time we won it.
Disappointing "It mightn't seem like much but from the league all the way to the All-Ireland there was serious competition to even get into the 26 and it's probably more disappointing not to make the 26 than to not make the team.
"If you're losing games that can turn into a mutiny and players become disgruntled but Mick was on the right side of the coin and the team was winning and on a roll, there's not much that can be said to a manager when a team is playing well and winning.
"So it really turned into something that was competitive. Lads were nearly taking the heads off each other to get into the 26, it's all a plus after that."
He's enjoying the "freedom" of being away from a training ground where Callanan and 'Bubbles' often tormented him and is keeping busy with Paddy Stapleton Fitness Plus classes and his Kids Summer Experience camps, as well as teaching PE in Coláiste Mhuire Co-Ed. Tipp's attitude has impressed him thus far in this year's league and ahead of the visit of 2013 All-Ireland champions Clare tomorrow, he expects his former team-mates to make hay while the Premier sun shines.
"I'm not one bit surprised that they've hit the ground running, there was a lot of talk after the final and Mick would have said it pretty quickly that there's still a footnote and that is only one year's championship," he says.
"Many teams have taken the foot off the pedal and gotten complacent after winning but I don't see it happening this year."
Tipp's history of back-to-back titles is not flattering but they may finally be ready for a sequel.