'Ryan tried something and it didn't work. It doesn't entitle people to be nasty about him . . . or Corbett'
ASSUMPTIONS can be dangerous little devils. We all thought going into last Sunday's Kilkenny-Tipperary All-Ireland semi-final that the talk this week would be of an epic clash between two real heavyweights, with the result decided on the tightest of margins.
There were even takers for a draw at 10/1. So much for close-run things! Instead, Tipperary ended up with their biggest championship defeat for 115 years, while Kilkenny did what they usually do in August -- make a booking for the All-Ireland final.
Much of the focus this week has been on Tipperary -- their dismal failure, their questionable tactics and a whole range of other curiosities that surrounded their demolition. That's understandable, but first let's put the Kilkenny achievement in perspective.
Coming just six weeks after being soundly beaten by Galway, it was some performance. Now anybody in their right mind would have known that Kilkenny's response to the Galway defeat would be based on the reliable principles that have sustained them in their pomp for so long. One fall -- however hard -- wasn't going to change that.
Kilkenny tightened some loose bolts against Limerick and were so well geared for Tipperary that nothing was going to stop them.
I suspect that Tipperary supporters misread the signals, both from last year's All-Ireland final and from events this summer. They seemed to think that because Kilkenny beat them in September by only four points after dominating much of the game, it was a sign that they weren't quite the force of old.
If that were the case, what did it say about Tipperary? Why didn't they exploit what they perceived as Kilkenny's decline?
And so to this year. Kilkenny went on to win the league after easily beating Tipperary in the first round, and while they lost the Leinster final, there were mitigating circumstances, not least that they played without three or four key figures and also came across Galway on one of their turbo-charged days. Kilkenny were blitzed, but there was always going to be retaliation.
Tipperary won Munster, but how good was the southern campaign? It was competitive and enjoyable, but the quality wasn't there. Tipperary did nothing against Limerick, Cork or Waterford to suggest they were at the level Kilkenny reached last year and maintained right up to the Leinster final this term.
Still, we all thought that Tipperary would rise to the Kilkenny challenge, although I must say I never thought they would win. Like everyone else, though, I was sure they would give it a right go, which they did for around 45 minutes. Still, there were shades of last year's All-Ireland final, even in that period. Kilkenny were the better team and while they found it hard to shake off Tipperary, you always felt it would happen.
Tipperary were very lucky to get back in the game with Pa Bourke's goal, which was down to a goalkeeping error. That gave Tipperary some impetus which they built on just before half-time, but Kilkenny still looked much more likely winners, even when they trailed at half-time. And when they pressed the accelerator around the 45-minute mark, Tipperary couldn't respond, and were then forced to endure a massive humiliation.
What disappointed Tipperary people so much wasn't the actual defeat but the nature of it. That brought the tactic of sending Lar Corbett after Tommy Walsh under the spotlight, given that it led to the four-hand reel as the two lads, accompanied by Jackie Tyrrell and Bourke, were dancing to a tune of their own -- which suited Kilkenny perfectly.
I'm sure Declan Ryan and Co had their reasons for deploying Corbett as they did, but it didn't work, so it should have been changed. Okay, so it was Corbett and Bourke in tandem who squeezed the error and the goal from Kilkenny, but as an overall tactic it didn't work in the first half and was even less of a threat after that.
I would have played Corbett at full-forward from the start and tried to leave some space around him. Tyrrell would have moved in on him but I'd still leave Corbett close to goal. That's where he did the most damage in his best years.
The Tipp management, plus Corbett, have taken heavy criticism this week, much of which is way over the top.
Ryan tried something -- it didn't work, so what? It doesn't entitle people to be nasty about him. He has given outstanding service to Tipperary over four decades and is entitled to respect, not cheap jibes. The same goes for Corbett.
Once you find a scapegoat or two, others can duck for cover. Most of the Tipperary team need to take a good look in the mirror and ask themselves 'how much responsibility should I take for what happened?' If they're honest with themselves, they should find the answer easy.