Tipperary legend Brendan Cummins has claimed this year’s team looked burdened by expectation and as if they were going to work instead of a hurling game.
Michael Ryan’s side, All-Ireland champions in 2016, suffered a mid-season collapse when they lost the Allianz League final to Galway and were shocked by Cork in the Munster championship.
They stuttered beyond Westmeath in the qualifiers before knocking six goals past Dublin, beating Clare and running Galway to within a point in the All-Ireland semi-finals.
It amounted to a disappointing season overall having set out to retain the All-Ireland for the first time since 1965.
Cummins, an All-Ireland winning goalkeeper with Tipp in 2001 and 2010, said it looked like players felt under intense pressure to perform.
“What I saw this year, and it wasn’t the fault of the management, it was just the pressure on you when you are a Tipperary hurler, or any All-Ireland winning team I suppose but I can only speak about Tipp,” said Cummins.
“It kind of sucked the enjoyment out of it. The flair that we had, and the whole sense of playing with abandon that was there from the previous year, was gone.
“Looking at the players, especially the seasoned guys, it looked like they were going to work.
“That’s not any fault of Mick Ryan, that’s just external pressure pushing down and when you lose a match in Tipp it’s like the end of the world. ‘This is it, we’re all failures’ and ‘that’s the end of it’. The external pressure just seeped in a bit.”
Tipperary have won six All-Irelands since ‘65 and failed to successfully defend any of them. Various figures in the county have acknowledged that, as a county, they haven’t dealt with success well.
Cummins admits it’s easy for the pressure to get to players and admitted it happened to him in the 2011 final which they lost to Kilkenny.
“It seeped into the group then and it got to me the day of that final as well, I must admit,” said Cummins. “Suddenly I found myself down there (at the Davin End), the floodlights were on and I was going, ‘shit, this is an All-Ireland, Jesus, we better win this one, nobody here has won two-in-a-row’.
“That’s the last thing you want to be thinking. But those things were flashing through my head. The previous year I was thinking about just performing and playing every second, you’re not worrying about what will happen at the end.”
Cummins, 42, is still playing in goals for Ballybacon-Grange who will play Ardmore of Waterford in the AIB Munster club junior hurling final on Sunday in Mallow.
He said Tipperary may need to write off a portion of next year’s league to test out new players. “We are going to need a little bit of patience. While we do have a core of 16 or 17 on the panel that have been there in the last four or five years, we need 30 to win an All-Ireland. There’s another eight or nine to come in and as Tipp supporters during the league, I think we are going to have to take it that we are not going to be firing.”
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