Wednesday 22 November 2017

John Mullane: The biggest threat to Tipperary is Tipperary themselves

Premier men have their sights set on a League, Munster and All-Ireland treble - and if they are  tuned in, it's difficult to see anybody stopping them

Tipperary’s Pádraic Maher and manager Michael Ryan show their relief after victory over Galway in last year’s All-Ireland SHC semi-final and the two teams may well meet again in the league final. Photo: Sportsfile
Tipperary’s Pádraic Maher and manager Michael Ryan show their relief after victory over Galway in last year’s All-Ireland SHC semi-final and the two teams may well meet again in the league final. Photo: Sportsfile

John Mullane

As Tipperary chase a clean sweep of National League, Munster and All-Ireland titles, manager Michael Ryan will be delighted with how the year has panned out so far.

Tipp last won 'the treble' in 2001 but the main aim is to win back-to-back All-Ireland titles, a feat not achieved by the Premier County since 1964/65. And winning silverware before September is the right way to go about it.

Ryan has found a couple of new players, and he now has cover for virtually every position on the field.

Players who have caught my eye are Darragh Mooney in goal, Donagh Maher, who is unfortunately injured now, Tomás Hamill and Steven O'Brien.

Tipp now have the luxury that Kilkenny had in the 2000s, when Brian Cody could afford to wait until the younger players coming through were physically and mentally developed enough for inter-county hurling.

Tipp find themselves in the last four of the League having played some champagne hurling but I also feel that, at certain times, they were holding back and playing in second gear, with one eye on the summer.

They remain focused on what lies ahead, and the big difference to the last All-Ireland defence, an unsuccessful one in 2011, is that everything is geared towards retaining the Liam MacCarthy Cup.

It's reflected in the demeanour of Ryan, who has effectively gone underground since last September's win.

The older players are more focused and driven because they see that this is their time to create a legacy: they want more titles and medals.

We're now five weekends away from Tipp's Munster quarter-final against Cork and I wouldn't be surprised to see Ryan's men go up a gear against Wexford at Nowlan Park tomorrow.

It shouldn't be forgotten either that Tipp had a new manager, Declan Ryan, in 2011. Liam Sheedy stepped away after plotting 2010 glory but Michael Ryan's decision to stay on after last year provided real continuity.

It sent out a message that not only were the Tipperary players eager to push on and win more, but Michael was too.

During the close season, players knew what was coming down the road in January. Familiarity, in this case, certainly does not breed contempt. A new manager would have brought new ideas and a new approach. Change would have upset players so used to doing what they have been doing with Ryan.

Players are creatures of habit: you only have to look at Waterford during their first year under Derek McGrath, in 2014. They were relegated. And what happened to Galway in Micheál Donoghue's first year, in 2016? They were relegated.

It does take time for a new manager to put his stamp on things, and while Davy Fitzgerald has bucked that trend in Wexford, Clare are another prime example of how patience is needed. Gerry O'Connor and Donal Moloney took over from Davy and they were lucky to avoid relegation this season.

I firmly believe that if Tipperary are mentally right, focused, particularly as we approach the knockout stages, they're going to be very difficult to beat.

When Tipp were trying to defend the All-Ireland in 2011, Kilkenny were still a vicious animal.

There's no vicious animal like that out there any more to take Tipperary down, but there is one team that don't seem to fear them at this moment in time - and that's Galway.

The Tribesmen made a huge statement in this past week, with confirmation of Johnny Glynn's return.

Johnny Glynn is unlikely to rejoin the Galway hurling squad in the short term. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

Donoghue would have thought long and hard about an approach for Glynn but he weighed it up and made his move.

Galway have had two promising summers, beating Tipp in the 2015 All-Ireland semi-final by a point before losing by the same margin a year later.

They were in a very strong position approaching half-time last August, until Adrian Tuohy and Joe Canning were forced off at the break with injuries.

I just felt that Galway didn't have the real depth to compensate for those losses but now Donoghue is bringing back Glynn, a colossus of a man, and he's found a couple of new players in Thomas Monaghan and Sean Loftus.

Donoghue is building a panel and Galway are the one team that could really trouble Tipp.

The big question for Wexford in tomorrow's encounter is whether Shaun Murphy and the sweeper system hold up against Tipp, who are well capable of dealing with whatever is thrown at them.

Kilkenny seem to struggle against sweeper systems but Tipp don't, and they've accounted for teams in the past who've employed this strategy.

Still, Tipp won't need reminding that they fell against Davy and the sweeper system in last year's League quarter-final, when he was in charge of Clare.

But they'll also remember the 2014 National League semi-final, when Clare were All-Ireland champions, and how they ripped the sweeper system to shreds, with Patrick 'Bonner' Maher leading the charge.

Wexford bear similarities to the Waterford of 2015, in that they're young, fit, play to a similar system and are eager to impress their high-profile manager.

It's the perfect fit at this moment in time, and massive excitement is building in the county. We'll see evidence of that tomorrow, with a bigger travelling contingent.

The pressure is off and Wexford are in bonus territory for the rest of 2017 but knowing Davy, he'll be eager to keep the momentum going with a decent Championship campaign.

Davy got his match-ups right against Kilkenny, and that had a major effect. You'll see very similar again, I predict. I'd expect James Breen to pick up John McGrath, Damien Reck on John 'Bubbles' O'Dwyer (although there's a question mark surrounding the Tipp forward's fitness) and Liam Ryan marking Seamus Callanan.

I don't envisage Tipperary giving up the amount of space that Kilkenny afforded Wexford, when Conor McDonald, in particular, profited.

Tipp will field a strong team but Wexford seem to play well in Nowlan Park and will bring that massive crowd.

It's crucial that Wexford avoid a heavy defeat but I don't believe that will happen.

Wexford are very fit at the moment, probably the fittest team in the country, and they'll have grown in confidence following the Kilkenny win.

Damage limitation won't enter their minds - they'll be coming to win the game and if that's to happen, they'll need McDonald and Lee Chin to have big games again.

When these two perform, Wexford roll, and let's not forget that Jack Guiney is waiting in the wings too. He's probably not fully fit yet and might need a couple of extra weeks of training, but he's a great option to have off the bench, and Wexford still have Liam Óg McGovern, Eoin Moore, Shane Tomkins and Andrew Shore to return from injury.

Long term, the signs are positive but short term, Tipperary is a bridge too far, and the Premier should prevail by three or four points.

In the other semi-final, you would think that Galway will have the measure of Limerick.

The pressure's off for both of these teams as they've succeeded in getting another valuable game under their belts in their respective quarter-finals, ahead of the Championship start. Limerick have home advantage but Galway are buoyant following that comeback victory over Waterford.

Canning is still the man for Galway, an exceptional talent, but what Donoghue will look for is a greater spread of scores among his forwards, rather than Joe hitting 1-10 or 1-12 on a given day.

It's a bit like the TJ Reid factor with Kilkenny, in that if he's held, they struggle.

That brings me back to Glynn and why I think his return is so good for Galway. Glynn has a big, physical presence and while Galway possess players with speed and skill, Glynn brings that element of strength.

Mix those three components together and Galway's summer cocktail could taste very sweet indeed.

But for now, it's all about the League, and it's a Tipp-Galway final for me.

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