Tipp must change to get back on top - Stapleton
Some traditionalists say that you should never change a winning combination. Don't deviate from what has brought you success and stick with the tried and trusted, but there's a fine line between consistency and predictability.
Former Tipperary defender Paddy Stapleton feels an absence of change ultimately led to the Premier's downfall last season as they failed in their back-to-back All-Ireland SHC title bid.
What had worked to perfection as they crushed Kilkenny in the 2016 decider would no longer suffice. Different year, largely the same Tipperary but Stapleton sees ample evidence of manager Michael Ryan already acknowledging that this season.
All-Star centre-back Ronan Maher has shifted to midfield during the league, regular midfielder Michael Breen is operating on the inside forward line, while the returning Cathal Barrett is enjoying the freedom of the park, far removed from his usual home of corner-back.
"He's definitely trying to freshen it up and what needed to be done last year is probably being done this year. If you look at the full-forward line last year, it was the same trio of 'Bubbles' (John O'Dwyer), Seamus Callanan and John McGrath two years in-a-row," Stapleton says.
"The whole thing was the same and I personally think players need a bit of a stimulus and a bit of a challenge, even if they play bad in another position, they get a run somewhere different and they're thinking differently.
"Then when they go back to their natural position they're fresher. Tipp's strongest lines were obviously their half-back line and their full-forward line and when other teams catch on to that they start targeting those positions and covering them off.
"When that happens, you're in trouble and the energy went out of the team after the league final last year, they found it very hard to get that rhythm back."
While Brian Cody was afforded the luxury of having one the greatest squads in living memory at his disposal during Kilkenny's unprecedented run of success during the noughties, a subtle feature of his team selection didn't go unnoticed by Stapleton.
The 11-time All-Ireland-winning manager had no problem changing things without any apparent need - for example All-Star corner-back Jackie Tyrrell's spell at midfield during the 2008 Leinster SHC - and it helped his side stay hungry and motivated.
"The other team shouldn't know what way they're going to be playing. You saw that with Kilkenny for years. Henry Shefflin could go to town at full-forward the first day out and then three weeks later he's on the wing.
"It's just putting off the opposition defence because you can't visualise who you're going to be marking and what job you need to do. I thought Tipp would have done it last year but I definitely see it happening this year."
Ryan has experimented in Tipp's opening two league ties with the likes of Alan Flynn and Paudie Feehan impressing but changes to the Munster and Leinster championships leave two-time All-Ireland winner Stapleton wondering "whether the league really counts" anymore".
With four provincial games in as many weeks, the ball game has changed. Developing a panel is the main objective and the Borris-Ileigh clubman, who retired at the end of 2016 following 10 years of inter-county service, feels hurling's demands now require deeper reserves.
"I don't know if Tipp had enough players that were able to come in off the bench and make a difference last year, sometimes you might actually need one of your better players to come in with 20 minutes to go because they mightn't get the space in the first 50 minutes," he says.
"It's like what they did with 'Bubbles' a couple of years ago, I think that could come into it. You're seeing less and less space in the early stages of games and it was only the last 15 minutes when Joe Canning got going against Tipp last year.
"Most lads will do that hard tackling for 45 minutes, you might need someone else to come in for the last few minutes and do a bit of damage. I think the psychology is changing a good bit, you could get away with 16 or 17 players before but not now."
As Tipp welcome unbeaten Wexford to Semple Stadium tonight (7.0), Stapleton - who will once again run his popular Easter Camp from April 3-5 in Thurles - reckons the question marks and criticism hanging over Ryan's side could "give lads the extra gee up that they need" for the year ahead.
"It gives lads that extra hurt and it's a stimulus, the more hunger you have, the more you're on it, especially in a game like hurling," he outlines.
"There should be skelps going in training because you know they're not the finished product and there's at least one position up for grabs in every line of the field."
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