By Brendan O’Brien
Few folk can take the pulse of Tipperary hurling quite like Nicky English and history tells the former player and manager that they aren’t all that adept at bouncing back from defeats such as last Sunday’s in the Gaelic Grounds.
English claims it’s a trend he has seen “over a lifetime” but the last two years alone would back up that instinct with troubling league final losses, to Galway and Kilkenny, followed by disturbing championship defeats to Cork and now Limerick.
“The league final over the last two years: You’d say getting to them is what you would want to do but becoming holed below the water line in the league final has been a problem for us. This is the second year in a row that it has happened.
"The performance in the league final last year versus the performance in the (All-Ireland) semi-final against Galway: They closed the gap from 23/24 points to one-point. In the first game after the league final, against Cork, we didn’t really turn the ship. It took us a while to build it back again."
Time is of greater importance this season.
With the new format churning out fixtures this next few weeks, Tipp’s season could very quickly grind to a halt if they don’t harvest a win against Cork on Sunday or Waterford the week after.
"Really, it’s backs-to-the-wall on Sunday,” said English.
Tipp people, he admitted, can be pretty hard on themselves when it comes to the small ball but there was an understanding of the bigger picture in his complimentary words for a Limerick side that should have probably won by more than six points.
Cork, too, were given their due, their abilities highlighted and the fact emphasised that the Rebels had Tipperary’s number in that provincial opener last year when the sides met in Thurles.
Michael Ryan is clearly in a difficult spot and the Tipp manager’s failure to engage with the media after the Limerick loss — since acknowledged as an error with yesterday morning’s interview on local radio — has only stoked the fires licking at his feet.
“You hear a lot of talk afterwards,” said English, one of his predecessors in the role. “Mick not talking to the media afterwards didn’t help the situation. I know he has redressed that situation, and that’s no harm, but he has made things more difficult for himself.”
Self-inflicted wounds are only part of it. Injuries have hamstrung the county hurlers, too. Players expected to make it back after the league final loss to Kilkenny didn’t, but the sight of Seamus Callanan and Patrick Maher coming off the bench in Limerick will likely stir the campaign for changes this week. English can understand that and yet it is the very absence of anything approaching a settled side that concerns him the most.
"I have no doubt that there will be pressure on but, at the end of the day, Mick has to make the call. You have to go on what you are seeing in training and if everyone was fully fit I have no doubt they would have been playing on Sunday.
“So, it’s a question of: Do you get a bit of game-time? Does that give you an opportunity to play them this weekend? It’s not easy because you have players who haven’t played a full 70 minutes now expected to come in and turn this around.
“Cork are coming with plenty of form, plenty of energy, plenty of enthusiasm. We didn’t look to have much energy last weekend and that was regardless of who the players were, experienced or inexperienced. There was a lack of energy.”
This story first appeared in the Irish Examiner.