Saturday 21 April 2018

Vincent Hogan: Rebel legs march Tipp down the rocky road of qualifiers

Cork’s Michael Cahalane and Tipperary’s Padraic Maher
rise for a high ball. Photo: Ray McManus/Sportsfile
Cork’s Michael Cahalane and Tipperary’s Padraic Maher rise for a high ball. Photo: Ray McManus/Sportsfile
Vincent Hogan

Vincent Hogan

Michael Ryan comes to the interview room with the low, subliminal vexation of a man being grilled by insurers while the shell of his house is still smouldering.

He announces that he'll stay standing, if we don't mind. Whatever gets placed under a forensic lamp here will be fleeting, superficial. Above all, he wants us to acknowledge Cork's role in the story. "Look, this is Cork" he declares. "This time last year we were here saying, you know, that they weren't themselves. But I'll tell you, they're back.

"I think we can take that as a certainty!"

It isn't Ryan's way to be sullen or smart and he isn't here. But the floor has fallen out of Tipp's world and, for all of Cork's majesty on this blustery May day, there is a sense that that narrative seems every bit as compelling now as the resurrection of a noble tribe.

What on earth has befallen Tipp this last month?

After the League final hammering, Ryan (right) referenced concerns about the "load" imposed on his players. They'd played eight of ten Sundays up to that collapse against Galway and, in the four weeks since, two rounds of their club championship.

Tipperary manager Michael Ryan. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Tipperary manager Michael Ryan. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

"Look every county's got a unique situation there, but we've certainly got something that we need to look at" he explains. "Are our boys allowed enough time in terms of preparation?

"And it's a very delicate balance between club and county. We've got to be fair to everybody here. But for me, going home, I'm just concerned for our boys. They've been on the go and on the go and, to me, they certainly didn't look fresh enough out there."

Ryan believed his team lacked the legs to go with Cork here, which is certainly how it looked to the naked eye. But the story of the day might well have been how they lacked the hurling too.

All week, the neutral benedictions for Cork landed with all the subtlety of a cattle-prod. They were designed to provoke, maybe even to goad.

The time had arrived, apparently, for them to drop all that regal, to-the-manor-born self-regard and locate some semblance of outrage. Cork needed to hurt Tipp (literally), that was the bottom line. As a rule, hurling people find forgiveness in their hearts for plenty. But they'll seldom indulge a diffident team.

Remember Johnny Glynn's early goal against Cork on this field two summers back? Their rearguard couldn't have been more accommodating had they waved him by on a sedan chair through an avenue of bowing courtiers, fanning the big Galway man with ostrich feathers.


Cork were, essentially, being told they needed to stop being passive.

It was daft and hopelessly simplistic stuff really, this idea that anger alone might bridge the gap to Tipp, that starting a row could, somehow, re-invent them.

Tipp, it can be said now, would have been far happier had Kieran Kingston followed that advice, had Cork picked a fight when everything in their DNA programmes them to dance. So much simpler to cope with a team doing what doesn't come naturally (last year's sweeper for instance) than one trusting what's in their bloodstream.

Yesterday, Cork remembered who they were.

Just nine minutes in, two of Tipp's full-back line were already walking tightropes because of the pace and sagacity of Cork's attacking movement. Indeed, Cathal Barrett might have joined James Barry and John O'Keeffe as a yellow card recipient too when he hauled Conor Lehane down just short of the half-hour.

Lehane has always been a speed merchant, but "a sleeping giant" too as Diarmuid O'Sullivan averred after. His contributions tended to be spectacular, but fleeting. Here, he kept his foot to the floor, seeing Ronan Maher moved out of harm's way before exposing brother Pádraic to an equally unhappy stint as emergency centre-back.

As the elder of the Thurles brothers admitted afterwards, Cork had a clarity to their hurling that the champions could not match.

"They dictated the game from the very start" reflected Pádraic. "They made us chase all over the field. They've a lot of pace, but that's nothing we didn't deal with before. Just today they had a bit of a plan and they worked it off to a tee. I felt we were chasing all over the place.

"Like we said we didn't want to get into a shoot-out with Cork because they're very dangerous. That's what they want. And that's what I mean about them dictating the game, they turned it into a shoot-out."

Maybe ten seconds after the resumption, Dan McCormack bounced Lehane into touch under the Kinane Stand and the jitterbug reaction of Ryan and Declan Fanning on the line told you that this was the temperature they wanted Tipp to hurl at now. But Tipp couldn't sustain that.

Not even Seamus Callanan's wondrous pass for John McGrath's 56th-minute goal could ignite the power in them that, a month back, everybody took to be their calling card. Almost instantly, Lehane and the terrific Shane Kingston replied with points at the town-end and, long before Michael Cahalane pretty much clinched things with Cork's second goal, Tipp looked laboured.

Michael Breen's accumulation of six points from midfield might, on another day, have had people singing ballads in his name. Not here, though. Not given Tipp's difficulties no matter where they looked.

What could they do now to recalibrate their season?

"Work-rate is the only thing we can do" reflected the Ballina man. "We can get back to Dr Morris Park and just work our socks off. We've an X on our back now and we have to come up with something new for the rest of the year. Today wasn't good enough.

"Cork were just in our faces the whole time."

That they were, but they were also in Tipp's minds. Because Cork's hurling was everything they'd been told it simply couldn't be. A blur of powerful hydraulics and treacherous wrists. Every selected forward got the better of his marker, who saw that coming?

And, suddenly, an idea beginning to occupy Rebel minds is that this young team might now just keep on running to September.

"They're a match for anybody that's out there" suggested Ryan. And his own boys? Long shots now to bridge that 52-year gap to Tipp's last successful All-Ireland defence?

"We now find ourselves on a very scenic route and God only knows who the opposition will be" he conceded. "Some soul-searching to do!"

Irish Independent

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