Sport Hurling

Sunday 22 April 2018

Tipperary standing at crossroads

Tipperary manager Eamon O'Shea speaks to Patrick Maher during the Kilkenny clash
Tipperary manager Eamon O'Shea speaks to Patrick Maher during the Kilkenny clash
Donnchadh Boyle

Donnchadh Boyle

JUST once since the back door was introduced in 1997 has Tipperary's summer been briefer than this one.

That was back in 1999, when Tipp lost out to a rampant Clare after a replay. The back-door system was less forgiving then and as that game was only a Munster semi-final there was no action for Nicky English's side after mid-June.

Against Kilkenny, fate played its part by pitting the two favourites for the All-Ireland together at such an early stage and that led to Tipp's shortest summer in 14 years. But after struggling at times against Offaly, picking up injuries to frontline players and failing to get by Dublin after two attempts, the Cats looked more vulnerable than they had in a long time.

However, on Saturday night Tipp missed an opportunity to deliver a huge body blow to a team that has stood between them and silverware so many times.

Their championship record against their great rivals stands at just one win in the last seven attempts and instead of talking about the end of a 'golden age' for Kilkenny, the talk is of where Tipp go from here.

Give youth its fling

Manager Eamon O'Shea was in reflective mood after the game, hinting that changes were coming down the track.

He was a popular choice with the players when he was appointed to replace Declan Ryan, given the role he played in the 2010 All-Ireland success, but some of those experienced players might now have come to the end of the road.

"There is a solid future there and we have a number of players ready to come on to that panel," O'Shea said.

"For Tipp it is a period of transition. We have had five or six great years of contesting semi-finals and All-Ireland finals and being at the top and we have got to work our way back up again."

The likes of Eoin Kelly and Brendan Cummins might eye the exit door and if they do, O'Shea won't have to dig too deep for talent as Tipp's underage record is good. They have won three of the last seven All-Ireland minor titles and one U-21 All-Ireland in the same period, contesting two more finals.

Last year's minor team looked like a particularly good crop and as Tipp have had a bad habit of losing their way for a few years after winning an All-Ireland, now could be the time to reinvigorate the squad.

Change it up

Kilkenny's defence and half-back line were brilliant on Saturday night, but Tipp consistently fed them the kind of ball that Tommy Walsh and Brian Hogan have built their legend on.

It was clear from early on that they had no shortage of help with Eoin Larkin dropping into that area too.

When Dublin beat the Cats a week earlier, they boxed clever and worked extremely hard to keep that line out of the game as much as possible. It's a starting point for any team hoping to skin the Cats.

The running game

It was a notable feature of the game that James Woodlock's direct running caused Kilkenny the biggest problems.

He set up Kelly's goal chance which might have swung the momentum back in Tipp's favour and generally caused Kilkenny's defence trouble on a day when they dealt with most other things that came their way.

Galway and Dublin can testify that it's a style of play that gives you a chance.

Take the pressure off Lar

When Tipp did manage to topple Kilkenny in the 2010 All-Ireland final, Lar Corbett produced a performance for the ages.

His hat-trick undid Kilkenny's 'drive for five' but he hasn't reached those heights since as the Cats found a way to curb the Thurles Sarsfields man's influence.

Saturday night looked like it could have been different. Before he was forced off through injury, Corbett had found the net, won two more frees that were converted and seemed to be getting the better of Paul Murphy in their duel. Corbett's withdrawal was a double blow as Murphy grew into the game and was part of a very impressive Kilkenny defensive effort.

Seamus Callanan came off the bench and hit two points but they lost a talisman in Corbett.

Find new leaders

If some of the senior members of the squad are to move on, Tipp are going to be without a wealth of experience and some double All-Ireland winners, not to mention some very talented players.

Shane McGrath was named captain for 2013 with Brendan Maher as his deputy and that suggests that there is a changing of the guard under way.

Irish Independent

Sport Newsletter

The best sport action straight to your inbox every morning.

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport