It used be thought you couldn’t win anything with young players, until Alex Ferguson came along and turned that on its head with his team of tyros from the class of ’92. Giggs, Butt, Beckham, and the Neville brothers played beyond their years in that 1995/96 season and in many more after.
The Clare hurlers of 2013 also had their fair share of youth in Podge Collins, Tony Kelly, and Shane O’Donnell, among others, en route toAll-Ireland glory, however unsatisfactory and disappointing the subsequent years would prove to be for such a talented bunch.
Winning with older players seems more logical as they will have experiences to draw from in the heat of battle. The expectation is that older players will be more resilient to the fleeting distractions in the build-up to a big match and therefore more in tune with the game when the ball gets thrown in.
But it can’t be as simple as that either, otherwise Mayo would long since have figured out a way to their footballing Nirvana. The experienced players they can call on are household names such as Andy Moran, Keith Higgins, Lee Keegan, Colm Boyle,Cillian O’Connor, and more.
Even a returning manager with inside knowledge was not enough to stir performances of old. If anything, it appears to have had the opposite effect, with old failingsbecoming even more exposed.
With these things in mind, it adds even more gloss to the season that Tipperary have just had. What Liam Sheedy presided over last Sunday is quite remarkable, when you consider his team was made up of a string of players that many people from outside the county and on the punditry couches around the country were suggesting had passed their sell-by-date.
But calls for him to clear out some familiar faces and replace them with talented youth were put on hold as early as the national league as Sheedy determined whether there was any life left in some of those legs.
Sunday’s emphatic win over their greatest rival Kilkenny was the perfect way to complete his incredible comeback. In fact, anything less would have been unacceptable, in his eyes and the eyes of others, because of the experience he had since managed to coral into an all-singing, all-dancing team once again.
This was a Tipperary team of old, with all the good parts looking better, and anyweak links strengthened. Red card or not, it is verydifficult to see how the result was going to be any different — scoreline maybe, but not the result — especially if Tipperary got their customary goal tally going.
Historically, it isbelieved goals win games and it is no different when these two sides meet.
Of their 26 previous championship encounters before last Sunday, Tipperary had outscored Kilkenny 62-342 to 53-300. Sunday’s victory makes it 12 wins against seven in favour of the Premier County on finals day.
However, in the roll ofhonour, the Cats are still way ahead with 36 titles to 28. One could argue the strength of Munster hurling has always been a factor in why Tipperary are still so far behind.
Yet, their overall figure relies heavily on their efforts up to the 1960s, managing only one All-Ireland in each of the 70s, 80s, 90s, and 2000s. Remarkably, in the same timeframe, Kilkenny notched up 19 titles.
This sobering fact is what may prove to be Liam Sheedy’s greatest challenge in the coming 12 months. Tipperary’s inability to follow one good year with another has long since been their Achilles heel. Infamous stories of marathon celebration sessions that continually leaked too far into the following season are too frequent to be ignored.
Such excess often suggests there was some level of surprise with the outcome, that the end was a means in itself, which of course is never a good philosophy.
Celebrate a win by all means, but the wheels of change and progression wait for no man. The differencebetween earning the right to enjoy yourself for the effort invested and enjoying yourself too much to the detriment of the next campaign is a difficult balancing act and one Tipperary have struggled with over the years.
Ego probably has a large say in these matters when a team becomes a set of individuals once a campaign comes to an end and the overarching vision of the group gets diluted by the voices of a few. This is where this Tipperary team may have what it takes to repeat in 2020, something they haven’t managed since 1965.
To begin with, when Sheedy returned to the helm he was prepared to invite challenge into his own backroom team, in order to set the tone for what the players could expect. Neither Tommy Dunne nor Eamon O’Shea would be slow in calling things out. Their positions in Tipperary hurling folklore counts for a lot.
None more so than O’Shea’s return as a foot soldier to where he was once the general. Such an appointment speaks volumes for what it must have been like for returning players who would’ve been under illusions that they either shape up or get shipped out.
Also, the familiarity that some of these players will have expected when Sheedy re-entered the dressing room would have been quickly quashed as they realised the 2019 version is better than what they remember.
This is often the beginning of the end for returning managers, when players recognise old traits that were deemed unsatisfactory in a previous time, appear to still linger unchanged. It is very difficult to inspire someone towards change when the evidence of growth is not readily available across the table.
So what next for Sheedy, O’Shea, Dunne, and (Darragh) Egan? Their reputations are safe, no question about that, but their legacy lies incomplete.
The next step in the process will be to tag on another, not in a couple of years’ time, but next year. That is the stuff of legend that none of these players or coaches can call their own, yet.
The facts are not kind to Tipperary in this department. Between their wins in 2010 and 2016, Kilkenny repeated twice, 2011 and 2012, and again in 2014 and 2015. Cork haven’t done it since their 2004 and 2005 run. Galway not since 1987 and 1988 and last year’s winners, Limerick, fell at the semi-final stage in July. So, it is not to suggest this is an easy thing to do.
But to elevate the team and the county known as the Premier to a place at the top table, beyond fleeting glimpses of brilliance, they must raise the Liam MacCarthy Cup again in 2020.
No-one would be surprised if such foundations are already in place, as the players themselves will have the disappointments from previous sequels to call on for motivation. But Sheedy and Co will not let anything to chance as they know only too well the bullseye that is now firmly placed on their backs.