Sport Hurling

Tuesday 12 December 2017

Tipperary have come a long way since their early-season collapse to Cork

Tipp's Noel McGrath shows his anguish in the shock loss to Cork
Tipp's Noel McGrath shows his anguish in the shock loss to Cork
Cliona Foley

Cliona Foley

BOUNCEBACKABILITY. It's an ugly mouthful of a word that is originally credited to former Crystal Palace manager Iain Dowie, even if cult Saturday morning TV show 'Soccer AM' claim their campaign helped to get it into the Oxford English dictionary.

Intellectuals suggested that Dowie only invented it because 'resilience' was not in his vocabulary.

But fans of the word, which now regularly crops up in economic and political debate, argue that 'bouncebackability' suggests not just a facility to recover from adversity but something a little stronger; an ability to come back and improve with each bounce.


If that's the case then it is certainly a word that can be ascribed to Tipperary's recovery this summer after their mauling by Cork in their Munster opener.

Everything coming out of the Tipp camp in the past week has pointed to how drastically they had to reinvent themselves after their Rebel shock.

No one summarised it better than midfielder Brendan Maher when he admitted: "Coming up to the Wexford game, it was probably one of the first times we couldn't name even 10 of the players that were starting in it."

That was some turnaround from their first game of the summer, when they lined out with 13 of the team who started last year's final, with Michael Cahill and Brian O'Meara both given championship debuts.

Full-forward O'Meara was particularly new; a young dual player who had just won a Munster U-21 football medal and also lined out for WIT in the Fitzgibbon Cup. He had only received the senior call-up a month earlier. Forty-three minutes after the throw-in he was whipped off, scoreless.

Tipperary's only second-half score from play came from substitute Timmy Hammersley and defensively they leaked three goals within the hour as Cork handed them a trimming that was as emphatic as it was unexpected.

Management and players alike got it in the neck. They were accused of naivety in several areas; like throwing O'Meara in at the deep end, not being able to shackle Aisake O hAilpin and of not reacting to and countering Cork's obvious short puck-outs.

Was it because they were too complacent -- cocky even -- in their provincial opener? Everyone involved has stressed since that they weren't, but whatever the reason, they had to regroup for the championship's notoriously dangerous scenic route.

By the time they stepped out against Wexford two months later they had totally re-shaped their defence and introduced three more championship debutants; a reshuffle that some feared was a bit drastic.

All Star full-back Padraic Maher was shifted to the wing and with Paddy Stapleton and Paul Curran both injured, they had a totally new full-back line of Cahill, Declan Fanning and Conor O'Brien.

Toomevara's David Young and Patrick 'Bonner' Maher came in to make their summer debuts at half-back and half-forward respectively and Gearoid Ryan also came into their problematic half-forward line.

Young, particularly, was a revelation, scoring 0-3 from wing-back and, with Ryan scoring 0-4 and Maher chipping in with 0-2, those who had doubted the changes got their answer. And while Tipp scored 3-24 they also, worryingly, conceded 0-19 - losing full-back Fanning to injury shortly after throw-in, with Curran replacing him.

Two weeks later the tweaking continued against Offaly. Stapleton and Curran were both back fully fit and, with Cahill, made up the full-back line.

Fanning was restored to wing-back and, in a 'rob Peter to pay Paul' move, Shane McGrath was moved to centre-forward and Young was shifted to partner Brendan Maher in midfield, with Conor O'Brien and Seamus Callanan the two to lose out.

Ryan impressed again with 0-3 from play, but no goals were bagged and the jury was out on the McGrath switch as Tipp simply got the job done, winning 0-21 to 1-12. A week later they faced Galway and, for the first time this summer, actually named the same 15 starters, though McGrath was named on the wing in a direct switch with Patrick Maher.

The suspicion that wing-back was Young's better position was confirmed when he was gone before half-time and McGrath shifted back to midfield.


Both Callanan and John O'Brien did well off the bench and Brendan Maher starred in the brilliantly composed finish that saw Tipp just nick it, leaving everyone to proclaim their 'bounceback' was now complete.

Not unexpectedly, Shane McGrath was back in midfield to take on Waterford and John O'Brien was restored to the starters, but the big question was who would take on 'Brick' Walsh at centre-forward.

Enter last year's 'Young Player of the Year' Noel McGrath, whose performance epitomised Tipp's 'bouncebackability' this summer.

The teen prodigy had failed to score against Cork and shot only 0-1 against Offaly and Galway, but shifting him out to centre-forward unlocked his genius. He tied up Walsh, scored 0-7 (0-1f, 0-1 '65') and John O'Brien also scored 0-6 from play as Tipperary hit the Decies with selfless teamwork and serious physicality.

They actually finished that game with 12 of last year's All-Ireland starters, but the bottom line is that this summer's positional switches in defence, a reinvention of their half-forward line and a very competitive bench have all helped Liam Sheedy's men rebound back into the path of Kilkenny's 'Drive for Five'.

Irish Independent

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