Where are they now?
(Former Tipperary hurler)
Playing hurling for Tipperary was a always a thrill for Michael Cleary. Whether it was a challenge match in Clonmel on a cold January night or a Munster championship game in a packed Semple Stadium, the honour was the same.
In early 1983, Cleary won a Munster title with the Tipperary minors but it wasn't until January 1988 that he was called onto the senior panel, making his debut in a league game against Waterford.
The following year Cleary won his first senior Munster title and went on to win the All-Ireland. In 1990, Tipperary lost their Munster crown to Cork but they made amends in 1991 and Cleary collected his second Munster medal and another Celtic Cross.
Two years later, he claimed a third Munster title but lost the subsequent All-Ireland final to Kilkenny. Although Tipperary won a league title in 1994, their fortunes took a downturn and in 1997 Cleary decided to retire. Looking back, he wishes he'd hung up his boots a few years earlier.
"My father died in 1993 and if I had it back again I would have finished with Tipperary then," says Cleary. "My main focus up until that was hurling and everything else revolved around it and then all of a sudden I had a shop to look after and everything changed. I remember nights going training and thinking did I do everything in the shop before I left. Straight away hurling is very definitely number two in your life and you can't play at that level unless it's number one. From 1993 I had more bad games than good games. I got by on my reputation for a few years and that's not right."
Since retiring, Cleary has been involved in management, from underage and senior in his home club in Nenagh, to the Tipperary minors and the Tipperary senior camogie team, whom he led to an historic three All-Irelands in a row from 1999-2001.
The four-time All Star winner has two toy shops in Tipperary, one in Nenagh and one in Thurles, and is still a big supporter of the Premier County. He feels that today's final will be very close.
"It's hard to know where Tipperary are at because besides the Dublin match they haven't really been tested. I think both sides have gone back a fraction from last year. I think they can reach the heights of last year but they haven't shown any indicators that they are there yet. But if I had to call it, I'd say Tipperary because they have less years in the legs."
Sunday Indo Sport