Sunday 19 November 2017

John Mullane: For Tipp to be classed in same bracket as Cats, they must retain All-Ireland crown

Kilkenny manager Brian Cody. Photo: Ray McManus/Sportsfile
Kilkenny manager Brian Cody. Photo: Ray McManus/Sportsfile

John Mullane

Saturday night provided a sharp reality check for Tipperary, and brought them back down to earth. Much of the pre-match talk centred on how they were going to become the next Kilkenny, hurling's new dominant force.

I'm still not ruling this out and let's not forget that they remain unbeaten since last April. For me, they remain the team to beat and there's certainly no shame in drawing against Kilkenny.

They're forewarned now, too, that if they're to beat Kilkenny again in the summer, it's going to take a massive performance. That's a good thing, and will keep the lid on any hint of complacency.

Tipp went through some of those lull periods again on Saturday evening, a feature of their game that tripped them up in the 2015 All-Ireland semi-final defeat to Galway.

That's one thing that could prevent them pushing on and delivering on their vast potential but if I was Michael Ryan leaving Semple Stadium on Saturday evening, I'd have been happy enough.

We won't really know how good Tipp are until they push on and achieve what no team from the county has managed since the mid-1960s - back-to-back All-Ireland titles.

It's a feat the current crop is very much capable of and the age profile is perfect.

While people may have suggested that Saturday presented the ideal chance to lay down an early-season marker against Kilkenny, some perspective is needed. After all, it's still only March.

Ryan's rotating his squad heavily and you saw John O'Keeffe getting a start. Working with a panel of 41 players, Ryan is keen to give everybody a chance during the league and one thing that strikes me is his ruthless streak.

Brian Cody had it in the late 2000s, most notably, when Kilkenny were at the peak of their powers.

If you're not cutting the cheese, you'll be taken off. Ryan withdrew Seamus Kennedy before half-time in the Clare game and Michael Breen didn't survive the first half on Saturday.

What that does is increase competition for places and no matter who you are, you know that you're not guaranteed a starting spot.

That's healthy for Tipp because if they go below the bar they set last year, they'll be caught, and Kilkenny proved that.

Tipp still have Patrick 'Bonner' Maher, Brendan Maher and Cathal Barrett to come back, and if that game was a couple of years ago, they may have lost. They could have won, too, as John 'Bubbles' O'Dwyer flashed a couple of efforts wide and Eoin Murphy made a superb save from John McGrath.

As for Kilkenny, I believe that Michael Fennelly is their key to success this year, if and when he comes back from injury.

What's also evident is Cody's determination to get his full-back line right, a line taken for 2-15 from play in last year's All-Ireland final.

But I got a sense from interviews in the wake of last year's success that Tipp want more. They want to reflect upon a haul of medals in years to come, not just one or two, but that question mark will remain until they retain the All-Ireland.

They're good enough to do it - but doing it is another question entirely.

Irish Independent

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