Monday 27 January 2020

Vincent Hogan: 'Six All-Ireland defences and six defeats - can Sheedy Tipp the balance in 2020?'

Liam Sheedy will look to defend his title after Tipperary’s triumph last year. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Liam Sheedy will look to defend his title after Tipperary’s triumph last year. Photo by Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Vincent Hogan

Vincent Hogan

'Instead of going back to the Sixties all the time, maybe we should talk about this decade!' - Liam Sheedy, August 18, 2019

History's shadow stretches stubborn distances across the Tipperary hurling landscape where more than half a century has now passed without a successful senior All-Ireland title defence.

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Lar Corbett battling JJ Delaney in the Premier’s 2011 final defeat to the Cats. Picture credit: Ray McManus / Sportsfile
Lar Corbett battling JJ Delaney in the Premier’s 2011 final defeat to the Cats. Picture credit: Ray McManus / Sportsfile

A great, gaping aberration in the county's story is how they see it; one, no doubt, salted with added potency by the modern stockpiling of Kilkenny under Brian Cody. In 1965 after all, as Tipp were crowned champions for the fourth time in five years, they headed the All-Ireland roll of honour with 21 titles to Cork's 20 and Kilkenny's 17.

Today, their tally of 28 leaves them third in line, eight adrift of Kilkenny, two of Cork.

Six times since '65, the Premier's attempts to retain the Liam MacCarthy Cup have fallen short, hence that resilient pre-occupation with an era when their mastery of the game looked so assured. And Tipp people have a name for being uniquely hard on their own, something Sheedy has witnessed at close quarters.

Some of the men he guided to a success in 2010 that many presumed would preface a new generation of dominance encountered often withering commentary as expectation duly curdled, Cody's team winning four of the next five.

Then manager Nicky English congratulates Brian Cody after Tipp’s semi-final defeat to Kilkenny in 2002. Picture credit; Damien Eagers / Sportsfile
Then manager Nicky English congratulates Brian Cody after Tipp’s semi-final defeat to Kilkenny in 2002. Picture credit; Damien Eagers / Sportsfile

So it wasn't hard to trace the genesis of his comments immediately after last August's 14-point destruction of Kilkenny. Knowing how quickly glory gets forgotten in Tipperary, Sheedy was quick to remind assembled media that the Premier County had now won three titles in the decade, anchored by "some of the best players ever to wear that blue and gold jersey".

He hadn't stayed around to oversee a title defence in 2011 that only came unstuck at the final hurdle, but he will be there in 2020. For Tipp people, that brings some re-assurance. But as the county prepares for another All-Ireland title defence, 55 years after it last managed a successful one, it's probably worth revisiting the stories of those who tried before and failed.

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1971 All-Ireland final:

Wexford manager Davy Fitzgerald tussles with Jason Forde in the 2017 league semi-final, the fall-out would prove a distraction for Tipp later that summer. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Wexford manager Davy Fitzgerald tussles with Jason Forde in the 2017 league semi-final, the fall-out would prove a distraction for Tipp later that summer. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Tipperary 5-17 Kilkenny 5-14

1972: There was nothing to indicate that that day of what Micheal O'Hehir referred to as "the barefooted wonder" would preface one of the bleakest stretches in Tipperary's hurling history.

Michael 'Babs' Keating would be named Texaco Hurler of the Year in '71 but is maybe best remembered for an extraordinary decision to discard both boots and socks in that year's final against Kilkenny.

Perhaps complacency was at the root of what befell the county after Tadhg O'Connor had lifted the Cup that day.

Babs Keating on the sidelines in 1989. Picture credit; Ray McManus/Sportsfile
Babs Keating on the sidelines in 1989. Picture credit; Ray McManus/Sportsfile

Tipp after all, having then fallen to Cork in the '72 Munster Championship, claimed their eighth Oireachtas title that autumn and would avenge that loss to Cork one year later.

Truth to tell, they never saw the collapse coming then.

Yet, incredibly, as Seamus Leahy writes in his book 'The Tipp Revival,' "Many in the ('73) crowd would never again see Tipp beat Cork - or anyone else for that matter - in a championship game."

Beaten in that year's Munster final by a Richie Bennis 'seventy' for Limerick, Tipp went win-less through the next decade of Munster Championship hurling.

It would actually be '87 before their next championship win against Cork (and next title), Richie Stakelum famously proclaiming "the famine" over after a Munster final replay win in Killarney.

 

1989 All-Ireland final:

Tipperary 4-24 Antrim 3-9

1990: In popular folklore, Babs' line about donkeys not winning derbies hopelessly sabotaged Tipp's chances in the 1990 Munster final.

It was a contest Cork won comfortably, the previously unheralded Mark Foley their hero of the hour with a personal tally of 2-7. But the truth about Tipp's fall to Father Michael O'Brien's Rebels was a little more prosaic than that.

A poor National League campaign, much of which they contested with under-strength teams, brought four defeats and, eventually, a concluding draw against Kilkenny in Nowlan Park that somehow allowed them avoid relegation. The year would also bring a terrible hammering by Galway in the Oireachtas final.

So Tipp were never moving with great conviction in '90, even their six-point Munster semi-final defeat of Limerick asterisked by what many considered a harsh 17th-minute sending-off of Limerick full-back Mike Barron.

Worse, Tipp were still carrying a catalogue of injuries into the provincial final. But then a TV interview that Keating, Tipp's manager, gave to RTÉ's Ger Canning would find infamy because of one single, entirely innocent line.

As Leahy explains in his book, asked for his opinion on the Cork management team of Fr O'Brien and Gerald McCarthy, Keating actually described both as hugely talented men but then, playing down the broader role of management (his own included), remarked.

"Several managers in recent weeks got credit for being great motivators".

Keating's essential point was that, without outstanding players, management teams were largely helpless.

But his taste for racing terminology then got him into the deepest water. "Donkeys don't win Derbies" he told Canning.

Within the Cork camp, that line would be conveniently recycled as an incendiary assessment of their hurlers. As it happened, Tipp initially would still look the better team that day, leading by five points approaching half-time only for Foley to bat a Kieran McGuckian ball to the net.

That score transformed Cork's energy and, within 15 minutes of the resumption, they were six points to the good. To the end, Tipp fought heroically without ever quite looking like getting there and one of the great, comedic works of art that summer would be a drawing of Fr O'Brien astride a red and white donkey.

 

1991 All-Ireland final:

Tipperary 1-16 Kilkenny 0-15

1992: Again a story of summer heartbreak that didn't exactly come without some conspicuous warning signs.

The most ominous perhaps was a National League final collapse against Limerick at the Gaelic Grounds, Tipp losing the game to a last-minute Ray Sampson point despite leading 0-11 to 0-3 at half-time. Those of a more optimistic disposition in Tipp were inclined to classify the result as freakish, a defeat franked above all by the miraculous form of Tommy Quaid in the Limerick goal.

But Tipp then had to go to Cork for their Munster Championship opener against the 1990 champions on the back of a home-and-away arrangement reached to help furnish the debt on Semple Stadium.

The game proved a hugely intense, close-marking affair that would frank the senior inter-county arrival of Brian Corcoran. Cork always looked the better team and goals from Tomás Mulcahy and John Fitzgibbon would see them home in the end by the margin of a goal.

Keating lamented afterwards that Tipp lacked what he considered the "legitimate aggression" of their opponents. He also questioned the quality of players coming through in the county to challenge the men who had won those All-Ireland titles in '89 and '91.

 

2001 All-Ireland final:

Tipperary 2-18 Galway 2-15

2002: Maybe Nicky English's misfortune as Tipp manager was to get his team to the mountain-top just as Cody was turning Kilkenny into hurling's greatest killing machine and Waterford were finding their voices in Munster.

Justin McCarthy led the Deise to their first provincial crown since 1963, the Munster final win against English's Tipp emboldening them to win again in '04 and '07.

And Tipp then ran into a Kilkenny team, their ears still scorched from Cody's fury at what he considered an unforgivably tepid All-Ireland semi-final loss to Galway the year before.

The 2002 Kilkenny-Tipperary semi-final would prove an epic contest, the sides level on nine occasions before DJ Carey, starting his first game for the county in a calendar year, set up Jimmy Coogan for the vital goal. Hard though Tipp battled, the game was effectively sealed by a marvellous late Henry Shefflin point.

It would be only Kilkenny's second championship win against Tipp in 80 years and their first since 1967.

Cody described Tipp as "great champions" after whilst English suggested "Today you saw every bit of character that they have". The Tipp manager stood down from his position one month later.

 

2010 All-Ireland final:

Tipperary 4-17 Kilkenny 1-18

2011: "It was like hearing the news that somebody had died - and if that sounds like an exaggeration, it's not. I felt physically sick."

So wrote Brendan Cummins in his autobiography, 'Standing My Ground', of the Wednesday night a month after ending Kilkenny's 'Drive for Five' when Tipperary's management team stepped down en bloc.

The departures of Liam Sheedy, Eamonn O'Shea and Michael Ryan caught the new All-Ireland champions completely by surprise, Lar Corbett recalling in his book "I started crying. Crying! Out of nowhere, the tears just welled up. It was like a family had broken up."

In their place arrived Declan Ryan, Tommy Dunne and Michael 'Glossy' Gleeson. It seemed a thankless errand given the bond that Sheedy and his team had built up with the players through four Championship seasons.

But Tipp's subsequent charge through the 2011 Munster Championship - scoring an extraordinary 14 goals in the course of victories against Cork, Clare and Waterford - seemed to suggest that Ryan might just have been moving things to an even higher plain.

Corbett's personal return of 4-4 in the Munster final seemed almost emblematic of a team playing with new reserves of flair and attacking freedom.

But Croke Park would prove a more claustrophobic field for the Tipp attack, Dublin effectively shutting them down in a tense All-Ireland semi-final that the champions escaped from on a narrow 1-19 to 0-18 scoreline. There would be no escaping three weeks later however when Kilkenny caught them in a stranglehold to avenge the defeat of 12 months previously.

 

2016 All-Ireland final

Tipperary 2-29 Kilkenny 2-20

2017: Michael Ryan's men arrived into April's National League final seemingly pitch-perfect, with five wins and a draw from their seven games played and an average winning margin of 11 points.

And then?

A 16-points hammering by Galway, a team that had wintered in Division 1B, seemed to blow all manner of fuses in Tipp's heads. The no-show was inexplicable and, just four weeks later, Cork arrived into Thurles to dump them out of the Munster Championship.

Ryan would be admirably candid in these pages later, taking personal blame for pre-occupation with an appeal against Jason Forde's suspension (the Silvermines player having been involved in an altercation with Wexford manager, Davy Fitzgerald, during the League semi-final).

"I definitely took my eye off the ball and off that game," he said of the league final. "I would 100 per cent blame myself for not being fully focused going into that game. Everybody came for us after that... and so they should."

Having won the All-Ireland so spectacularly in 2016, Ryan's team, incredibly, would win just three of their next nine championship games.

For all that, only a moment of genius from Joe Canning edged Galway past them in the 2017 All-Ireland semi-final, the Tribesmen charging on then to their first All-Ireland crown since 1988.

 

2019 All-Ireland final:

Tipperary 3-25 Kilkenny 0-20

2020: ?

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