The email from Ger Ryan, the Tipperary PRO, was brief and to the point. “In light of the media interest” in the upcoming meeting with Kilkenny, it announced, Tipp would be wheeling out Eamon O’Shea and one of the players for consumption at the Horse and Jockey Hotel last Tuesday.
And so they did. And the media, scenting a good line if not downright blood, came and asked hard questions. And O’Shea, a man not given to evasions or casuistry, didn’t shirk them.
And like any good manager he took a bullet for his players, blaming himself for their lack of fitness — both physical fitness and hurling sharpness — against Cork the previous Saturday week.
The closing line of the email was equally pointed. “Management and players will not be available for any other media interviews prior to the game.”
In other words, it is time for Tipperary to let their hurling do the talking for them. More than that: it is long past time for Tipperary to let the right kind of hurling do their talking for them.
That isn’t a cliché. Get this. Of the last three halves of serious hurling Tipp have played, they lost one — the second half against Kilkenny last August — by 19 points and another — the first half against Cork a fortnight ago — by 12 points (the second half against Cork they managed to draw).
Character? It wasn’t on show in Croke Park last August and it wasn’t on show in Páirc Ui Rinn two weeks ago. Tipperary’s new psychologist has a job on his hands, and quite a job it is. By way of contrast, the same gentleman also works with Mayo, and quite a contrast that makes for. On the one hand a group with no sense of entitlement. On the other hand a group where some appear to possess what can only be described as an exaggerated sense of entitlement.
How many of the younger Tipp lads want to be serious inter-county hurlers and how many of them simply want the lifestyle that comes attached to success? We cannot be sure.Yet one thing is for sure. With honours come responsibilities. Or as Tim Floyd, the Tipperary county secretary, put it in his annual report last year: “They must remember they have a duty to carry the blue and gold jersey on their back even when they are off the field. They are the privileged ones and the envy of many but they must wear that privilege with dignity and respect.” These were not words plucked from thin air.
Fair is fair. This Tipperary crop can’t be blamed for hitting the scene at the same time as Brian Cody’s Kilkenny. Mill House to Arkle, as it were, or Salieri to Mozart. That didn’t seem such a misfortune three years ago, though, when the All-Ireland was won with such verve and when barrelling back from heartbreak in 2009 took resolve and determination and ambition. The character boxed was ticked with a flourish.
But here’s the rub. Kilkenny show resolve and determination and ambition and character every year, as inevitably as new forms of taxation or a Gareth Bale opening goal. The box is always ticked. Even in the years when they don’t win.
The main items in Eamon O’Shea’s in-tray, this spinal implant job apart? He’ll have to insert a hotline straight to Lar’s inner psyche, but at least he knows how to do that.
He’ll need to revitalise the career of the man long regarded as the real leader of the younger crop, Brendan Maher. The heartbeat of the team in 2010 but a flickering pulse in 2012.
And he’ll also have to make it clear to Noel McGrath that time is passing and that the Loughmore man is no longer a gifted prodigy. We wondered here last year if McGrath, so lavishly gifted, was about to step centre stage and become The Man. At this stage we’re wondering if he ever will.
A number of the Tipperary players are drinking in the Last Chance Saloon. If they don’t produce for O’Shea this year he’ll go in search of a bunch who will. Probably last year’s minors.
Even if Patrick Maher’s immense nuisance value will be missed tomorrow, the visitors to Semple Stadium are far from nailed-on certainties. Last season the summer went on longer for Kilkenny than it ever had before. This season the summer will begin for them earlier than it has for years, with a provincial quarter-final against Offaly on June 9th. As a consequence, Cody’s charges can’t be expected to give as much of themselves in the current league as they did in previous leagues.
But some certainties endure. They’ll be not so much taking each game as it comes — that’s for lesser mortals — as trying to win each game as it comes. The Brian Cody school of long-term planning.
The loss of Eoin Murphy, who was being groomed as David Herity’s successor, is a passing blow. In the medium term the manager won’t be averse to reducing the average age of last season’s defence, which features no fewer than four men aged 30 or above (or at any rate will do so when Tommy Walsh turns 30 in late May). At the same time he’ll be desiring — nay, demanding — that those youngsters who’ve done their apprenticeship on the bench these past couple of years either push on or push off.
Still. Because this is no longer 2008, Kilkenny must make and mend with what they have in the starting XV. For his part O’Shea will almost certainly have recalibrated the training to ensure that the hosts are bouncing off the ground tomorrow, moreover. Can Tipperary can win this? They’ve a far better chance than their supporters believe. And if they don’t, no matter. As long as they pass the character test.