By Peter McNamara
MICHAEL RYAN may have produced the tactical masterstroke of the season when he shifted Ronan Maher into Tipperary’s midfield.
Earlier in the Allianz NHL Division 1 campaign, Ryan deployed the Thurles Sarsfields’ man in the middle sector and Maher has thrived ever since.
Jason Forde is as highly thought of in these quarters as it gets, and his remarkable haul of 2-11 including 2-3 in open play in Thurles on Saturday night, was exceptional.
It was especially impressive how Forde added two majors to his tally despite having missed one or two frees that he would otherwise put over with his eyes closed.
Yet, it was the performance of Maher that truly excited as the summer looms.
Maher clipped three excellent points in open play as well as two outrageously converted sidelines.
However, those five scores were only the tip of the iceberg. Maher’s overall contribution as Tipp progressed to the NHL Division One final was absolutely fantastic, arguably one of the individual performances of the entire competition.
With Ryan placing Barry Heffernan, Ronan’s more experienced brother Pádraic and Tomás Hamill across the half-back line, it seems Ronan Maher will retain his position in the engine room of the side.
Brendan Maher replaced Hamill at half-time in the defeat of Limerick after extra-time. You could see Brendan Maher and Ronan Maher striking up a devastating long-term midfield partnership, though.
In fact, it seems the Premier are beginning to piece together a title-winning outfit, one that has all the square pegs in square holes.
We could see Brendan Maher, Ronan Maher and Séamus Kennedy all used in the middle-third during the championship, however.
With Forde producing the level of hurling he is at present, we could see him in a two-man inside line alongside chief defensive destroyer Séamus Callanan.
Good luck to those tasked with denying that pairing scores.
You could have one of Brendan Maher or Kennedy named as No 15 and playing as a third midfielder. Possibly.
It could make Ryan’s charges extremely difficult to beat.
That, though, is only one potential line-up because the likes of John McGrath and Noel McGrath will be definite starters in the attack as well when the counties meet again next May.
Could Ryan, if he were to utilise both Forde and Callanan inside, have the McGraths playing a little deeper, feeding off secondary possessions afforded to them by the powerful inside pairing?
Tipp might be on the verge of a seriously productive year. And it is the balance all over their team which has us thinking that way.
They appear now to tick all the boxes. Furthermore, they have banked so much experience at this point that they never panicked when John Kiely’s unit came at them hard.
Previously, Tipp may have been turned over in the circumstances. However, they found a way to win on Saturday night in the most taxing of situations with Limerick gripping at their coat-tails. That bodes well. Extremely well, in fact.
People have referred in the past to Tipp’s wealth of talent. And, of course, they have a depth of quality few other counties can match.
However, that would be irrelevant, essentially, if Ryan and his selectors could not find that aforementioned balance.
Now that they have it, you would have to expect them to be the team to beat this summer.
First, though, Tipp have a league final to focus on. Following their humbling loss to Galway in the Gaelic Grounds last year, you would have to think they will be hellbent on righting that wrong. Ryan concurred with that theory.
“Certainly, that’s how we feel about it. We’re no different to any other squad, we talk about performance levels and getting it up to an acceptable level,” Ryan said. “We certainly didn’t arrive at that or anything near it this time last year when we got to the league final against Galway. We’re delighted to have another opportunity to play in a league final and we’re not to talk about winning it or anything like that, we’re going to talk about an almost championship performance. That’s what we’re looking for.
“We’ve lots of work to do. We’re not even in April, but everything is coming at us a bit quicker and it’s the same for everybody. We certainly have a lot of things to work on and we’re still waiting to get a couple of players back. It’s been that kind of league, it’s been match to match to match.
“This weekend is going to be about getting ready for a league final on Sunday week so the work waits and we’ll no sooner be finished the league final and the lads will be back into club. That’s fine”
May 20 and the Munster SHC clash with Limerick is D-Day for Ryan and co, though.
And, of course, there are key fixtures in between for those trying to ensure a starting spot on the day.
“The club championship that’s coming is going to be hugely important for those guys to get into the mix and hopefully compete earnestly for the jersey on 20 May.
“They’re quality players for us and they’ve been great servants for a number of years. They all want to play which is a great problem to have. We talk about it all the time, competition within the squad, and it’s healthy and it’s only going in one direction,” Ryan added.