Friday 19 January 2018

Martin Breheny: Lessons from 2010 crucial in Premier's re-launch

Tipperary’s Noel McGrath is put under pressure by Cork trio Colm Spillane, Shane Kingston and Bill Cooper during Cork’s shock victory. Photo: Ray McManus/Sportsfile
Tipperary’s Noel McGrath is put under pressure by Cork trio Colm Spillane, Shane Kingston and Bill Cooper during Cork’s shock victory. Photo: Ray McManus/Sportsfile
Martin Breheny

Martin Breheny

The self-analysis is underway in Tipperary, with the chief explorer and his acolytes knowing there are several layers that need to be peeled back and scrutinised in minute detail.

They were all packed to symmetric perfection five weeks ago, but now they are jagged and uneven after being hit by a Galway bomb and a Cork rocket.

"Some soul-searching to do," said manager Michael Ryan after watching the All-Ireland champions being hit for 2-27 by Cork in what was Tipperary's biggest giveaway in Munster SHC history.

"Cork dictated the game. We didn't want to get into a shoot-out with them because they are very dangerous," said team captain Pádraic Maher.

"We can get back to Dr Morris Park and work our socks off. We have to come up with something new for the rest of the year," said Michael Breen, who scored six points from open play last Sunday.

It's all so very different to five weeks ago when Tipperary were on course to complete and All-Ireland and Allianz League double (in that sequence) for the first time since 1964-'65.

The talk for much of the spring had been of how well they came out of the winter break. They won their first three League games by an average age of 10 points, leaving their confidence tanks over-flowing when they faced Kilkenny under lights in Thurles on March 11.

And when Niall O'Meara scored their second goal, opening up a 2-7 to 1-2 lead after 22 minutes, Tipperary's rating as hurling's superior force soared well above last September levels.

That was as good as it got. Kilkenny wiped out the eight-point lead to earn a draw and, for the first time this year, little doubts began to creep in about Tipperary. A defeat by Cork two weeks later was put down to Tipperary having already qualified for the quarter-finals. In hindsight, there may have been more to it than that.


The 5-18 to 1-19 scoreboard looked impressive in the semi-final win over Wexford, but it didn't tell the full story. Wexford, much less experienced and still trying to build confidence, were only two points behind after 60 minutes, having matched Tipperary in all facets before running aground late on.

A week later, Tipperary were embarrassed by Galway, losing by 16 points. So if the quarter-final win is discounted - and given Offaly's weaknesses, it must be - Tipperary had various problems in their last four League games.

The difficulties reached cataclysmic proportions against Galway on a day when their defence was destroyed and their attack placed under lockdown. Despite that, there was a widespread assumption that once the championship bugle sounded, Tipperary would return to 2016 form. They didn't.

The attack scored more than enough on Sunday to win most games, but the defensive leaks sprung against Galway pumped even faster, eventually drowning out Tipperary's prospects of remaining on the direct route in their attempt to retain the All-Ireland title.

Ryan has nearly six weeks to work on corrective measures before re-entering the race, via the qualifiers, a period in which every detail of Tipperary's approach will be stress-tested.

The usual reaction to a first-round defeat for All-Ireland champions is to claim that they either had an off-day or they were over-valued in the first place.

The 'off-day' explanation won't hold, since it was the second successive game where Tipperary didn't reach anything like 2016 heights. Also, there were parts of their other games in the second half of the League which raised questions too.

As for the 'over-valued' theory, it's a more accurate assessment. Tipperary deserved to win last year's All-Ireland but, contrary to much of the analysis which followed, there was no clear evidence that they were set to embark on a lengthy empire-building project.

In fairness to Ryan - and indeed the players - they never made such claims. Indeed, Ryan took every opportunity to cool down over-heating expectations.

Despite that, a consensus developed which held that Tipperary were in an eminently better place than their rivals.

Now that they have been drawn into the pack, rather than leading it, the pendulum has swung. The criticisms will be many and varied, totally ignoring the reality that several teams are capable of beating each other on a given day.

Just as Tipperary weren't as good as the hype suggested up to five weeks ago, they are not as bad as some would now have you believe. Yes, they were dreadful against Galway but they led Cork after 65 minutes and were only two points behind after 73 minutes. Ryan, Pádraig Maher, Brendan Maher, Noel McGrath, Seamus Callanan and 'Bonnar' Maher were down this road before in 2010 after Tipperary lost the Munster first round to Cork in late May, so they know what's involved in the re-build.

The situation looked a lot more serious then as Cork won by 10 points but, by September, Tipperary were All-Ireland champions. In July 2012, Kilkenny lost the Leinster final to Galway by 10 points but recovered and won the All-Ireland.

Ryan will be telling his players that while the road ahead may be different to last year, the destination remains the same. Ensuring that he gets the map right is his challenge.

Irish Independent

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