Cummins: Tipp hungrier and more streetwise
Legend feels tactical rejig and revitalised 'Bonner' Maher make Premier a force again
TIPPERARY are a tactically more aware and better structured team ahead of Sunday's opening Munster championship game against Limerick, their retired All Star goalkeeper Brendan Cummins believes.
Cummins will watch a championship match from the stands (or in a TV studio) for the first time in two decades after his retirement last October, and is confident that his old team have found a formula that works for them and gives them a solid spine for the months ahead.
He also feels Tipperary are now more responsive to the way opponents line up against them, admitting that they found it hard to combat sweeper systems in recent years.
"Everyone throughout the league last year and the championship the previous year was putting sweeper systems in and we weren't really dealing with it," Cummins conceded.
"We would have had conversations about it, but now the conversations have turned into action and that's the most positive thing I would take from the league for Tipperary this year.
"They are tactically more aware and are able to adapt with everything we're up against."
For Cummins, the league final defeat to Kilkenny was "another chance lost" but it has helped Eamon O'Shea and his management team to shape a side that has strong foundations, with Padraic Maher at full-back, Brendan Maher at centre-back and Patrick 'Bonner' Maher a re-energised force at centre-forward.
Cummins feels the latter Maher's absence for so much of last year was felt heavily as he committed to a career in the armed forces.
Having him back has even helped Tipperary to reconnect with their supporters, such is their appreciation for his style of play, Cummins reckons.
"Fellas have to change roles and occupations and worry about the 25th of the month (pay-day) as well as their career," said Cummins.
"Last year we definitely missed Bonner an awful lot. No more than Henry Shefflin playing injured, Bonner played with not an awful lot of training sessions behind him.
"When you cross the white line, the public don't care what's gone on before. They just expect you to perform and Bonner last year, the way it worked out with the army, didn't have the opportunity. But this year he has and you're seeing a different Bonner Maher now. The two goals against Clare, he shortened the hurley, there was real purpose in the strike and he put the ball where he wanted to."
"That's why he makes a huge difference to Tipperary hurling. Supporters connect with workrate. The biggest cheer on All-Ireland final day isn't necessarily for the guy putting the ball over the bar, it's the hook or block or that extra effort that he didn't have to do.
"I think that's what we have seen with Tipperary. They have evolved, the workrate has increased and supporters connect with you more.
"Maybe that's not what we had in the last couple of years and maybe the lads inside have identified with it and connected with it."
The placement of Padraic Maher at full-back may have its drawbacks further outfield, but Cummins believes the importance of the stability it brings can't be overestimated. Kilkenny have compensated similarly with JJ Delaney so often over the last decade.
"Paudie sees it as an attractive position now because of the problems Tipperary would have had there during the league," he said.
"You are always trying to fix problems. Coming from wing-back to full-back he probably thought, 'what am I doing here?', but now he knows he is going to be a key element of Tipp (potentially) winning an All-Ireland later in the summer."
The latter stages of the league has offered a template for the team and Cummins believes Tipp will take much more from the final defeat than the corresponding loss to Kilkenny 12 months earlier.
"Coming down in the last 10 minutes, the decision making is something Tipperary will have to learn from but certainly, from where we were at the start of the league, it's huge progress," he said.
"The introduction of Bonner and Conor O'Mahony has made a massive difference to that team. The workrate is up, Conor holds the half-back line and it has meant Brendan Maher is able to sit back a little bit more. The change in tactics, which I was happiest about, was how we developed with the game.
"We've another string to our bow going into the championship."
Cummins believes the fallout from the departure of Donal O'Grady as joint manager after the league will galvanise Limerick.
"It has certainly put Tipperary on their guard. Last year, with 10 minutes left, we were three or four points up and everyone thought Tipp would pull away. But there was a different bite in this Limerick team than there was before."