I was working for RTÉ Radio 1 on the evening that Tipperary annihilated Galway in the 2010 All-Ireland U21 final.
Thurles was like a carnival. The hurling Tipp played that evening was sensational. Five of that team had started the previous week’s senior final, when Tipp had stopped Kilkenny’s bid for five in a row.
The future didn’t just look bright for Tipp that evening. The future looked set to belong to Tipperary.
It didn’t work out that way. Kilkenny came back and took over. Tipperary struggled. In hindsight, we were probably all too rash to anoint Tipp as the future in 2010. Kilkenny’s main players still had plenty of hurling left in them. They weren’t going anywhere but when Tipperary smashed Kilkenny in the 2016 All-Ireland final, Tipp certainly seemed set for a period of dominance over their great rivals. And that hasn’t happened either.
Tipp certainly haven’t progressed from 2016 but that has been a recurring theme in the county’s history. Maybe Liam Sheedy knew more about the type of players he had when he pulled out after 2010. And although Mick Ryan has been involved with Tipp for nine of the last 11 seasons, and he tried to completely change the culture after 2016 by locking down the hype, he is probably discovering now just how difficult a job that culture is to fully manage.
Mick did get it wrong last week when refusing to engage with the media after the Limerick defeat. He could have praised Limerick and spoke about how poor his own lads were. It would have been a simple interview in many ways — I’ve given enough of them over the years — but at least Mick rowed back on Tuesday when speaking to Tipp FM.
Some people say it was a backdown but I wouldn’t have thought so. A lot of fellas would have been stubborn in that position but I felt that Mick showed good judgment by dealing with the issue before it became any more of a distraction than it needed to be.
It was also a sensible way of trying to get the Tipperary public — who are obviously unhappy after last weekend — back on Mick and the team’s side.
Tipp expect better. The team should be doing better than what it has produced in their last two matches. It was a strange team to pick last week but it can’t have been an easy run in to the championship either with the amount of club games played, and especially with guys having picked up injuries after a prolonged league campaign. And particularly with Tipp having four games in 21 days.
As well as having club games, those guys were also doing some form of training with Tipp. On older bodies, that can be severe. And some of Tipp’s marquee players — Seamie Callanan, Brendan and ‘Bonner’ Maher — have serious mileage on the clock.
There are weaknesses in the team but, despite the gambles backfiring last week, and the bodies Tipp were missing against Limerick, the of fight and desire required was not there from Tipp. That is the biggest concern. Some guys were way below the expected standard. John ‘Bubbles’ O’Dwyer was obliterated by Richie English last week. Richie is a fine corner-back but that shouldn’t be happening. And if that doesn’t change, Tipp will be well beaten again by Cork tomorrow.
There is that mental frailty in Tipp but they can also show the backlash they’re capable of generating when the heat is on. We saw that last year in the All-Ireland semi-final against Galway when they turned ropey form on its head.
Cork’s intensity and willingness to work was way higher than what Tipp produced last week but Cork’s marquee forwards also got the job done. And do Tipp have the defenders in their full-back line to hold guys like Patrick Horgan and Seamus Harnedy?
Alan Flynn found out last week the reality of championship. Donagh Maher was nowhere near what he is capable of producing. Seamie Kennedy did okay but he had hairy moments. On the basis alone, you’d have to fancy Cork. But I just think Tipp might summon the hurt and desire to get the win.
John Mullane and I have a high-profile bet of €50 (we arranged it live on radio at the RTÉ championship launch) on tomorrow’s Clare-Waterford game. Mullane was saying that day that he hoped Clare would win in Cork because he felt the teams which lost the first round would be wounded animals and primed for a backlash in Round 2.
There is method in that theory. Clare will be stung by what happened in Cork but there is no better place to unleash the venom than in the cauldron of Cusack Park, especially with the place likely to be heaving and dripping with tension and massive local expectation.
There has been a lot made in Waterford of not having any home games so they need to hit the ground running here to take some of the heat off what is going to be a challenging timetable, four away games in 21 days.
Derek McGrath has stacked all his chips this season on championship and, despite the few blips along the way — the withdrawal of the Bennetts, Aussie Gleeson’s injury — you’d still expect Waterford to be armed and ready for battle.
Clare will have to match that intensity but they also need to show more on-field leadership, the kind shown by recent retirees like Pat Donnellan, Brendan Bugler, and Colin Ryan. I was sometimes critical of Colin in open play but his freetaking was as near to perfection as any team requires at this level and how we could do with a Bugler fist pump to lift the park.
That remains a problem for Clare but they need to be absolutely ruthless and efficient in everything they do tomorrow. Ruthlessness often translates into killing teams off but Galway showed last year that you can do that by scoring points.
What would be wrong with Clare hitting 0-27 or 0-28 tomorrow?
It doesn’t always have to be about goals. Clare seem to be convinced that they can still play the very same style of hurling which won those three All-Ireland U21s but senior hurling is more about negotiating a way through a warzone. And if Clare can go to war tomorrow, with the full backing support of the tribe in Ennis, they can edge it.
In Pearse Stadium tomorrow, Galway — and their hurling public — finally get the game they have waited years to host. It’s even more special taking on Kilkenny as All-Ireland champions. And now is the ideal chance for Galway to show how good they really are.
And yet the same applies to Kilkenny. Brian Cody appears to be relishing the prospect. He will get a fair idea of where Kilkenny really are after this test and I think Cody will be glad of that gauge because it’s still difficult to know where Kilkenny are at.
It was hard to read too much into their league win. They showed huge character to beat Dublin but they still got out of jail, big time. Galway brushed Offaly aside at their ease. It took Kilkenny a little more time to put Offaly away, in Nowlan Park.
I’m expecting a big Galway display. They didn’t have a taxing spring. All their big names are back. And the fact that they have been waiting so long for a game in Salthill, they will absolutely demand a performance to match that longing. If Galway fire, they could win this by five or six points.
Wexford will be fully expected to beat Offaly this evening in Tullamore but this might not be as clear-cut as it appears. I’m expecting a massive fight out of Offaly. With their last game against Dublin approaching fast, this is not only an opportunity to get points on the board, because a win here would be like rocket fuel going into that last pivotal game.
At that championship launch on radio a few weeks back, Mullane predicted two shocks in Leinster; Dublin to beat Kilkenny, and Offaly to scalp Wexford. John almost got the first call right but I think he might be just out again this evening, because Wexford should just shade it.
In any case, I’m looking forward to meeting John over the weekend. And hopefully taking that €50 off him.
Beware of the wounded this weekend
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