ENDA MCEVOY: Time for Tipp to remind us what they’re about

A four-letter acronym, beloved of evangelical Christians. WWJD. What Would Jesus Do? It has a hurling equivalent. WWCD. What Would Cody Do?

The question sprang inevitably to mind after seeing Tipperary expire with a whimper at Nowlan Park a fortnight ago. What if the visitors had been managed by Brian Cody? WWCD? There’s no saying they would have won. There’s no saying they’d have even got within four points of Kilkenny. But of this much we can be sure. They wouldn’t have died with their carpet slippers on.

You’re a Tipp fan looking for grounds for consolation? We’ll give you grounds for consolation. Then we’ll get to the negative stuff.

It was the first outing of the league, and first outings of the league should be legally prohibited from being taken down in evidence and used by prosecuting barristers and angry fans at a later date. And Kilkenny were not only the fitter team, they looked sharp and coherent for this time of year.

And Lar Corbett was missing for Tipp. And Patrick Maher was missing. And the absence of the latter was a bigger problem than the absence of the former, because Maher is the most important member of the Tipp forward line.

Maher gets stuck in. He makes a nuisance of himself and he must be a pain to play against. Witness last year’s All Ireland final. Tommy Walsh was by a distance the man of the first half. By the end he wasn’t man-of-the-match, such were the inroads Maher had made.

When Maher is there, things happen in the Tipperary attack. When he’s not there, Tipp have minimal traction up front. Six forwards doing their own thing instead of one forward working for the other five. Which is not to say the Lorrha man will still be playing inter-county hurling in five years’ time. But at the moment he’s indispensable to Tipp.

Extenuating circumstances a fortnight ago, then. But it was the manner of the defeat, not the fact of it, that grated. The Munster champions travelled to Nowlan Park knowing that Kilkenny would fire the kitchen sink, and everything else to hand, at them.

Because that is what Kilkenny do. Because that is What Cody Does. They don’t fulfil fixtures. They play an All Ireland final every day.

If nothing else, the Munster champions were entitled to be prepared for their hosts’ intensity. Correction: they had to be. And they weren’t.

That’s two years in succession now that Ryan’s Tipperary have underperformed against Kilkenny in the league opener. Last year can be dismissed on the grounds they were the new MacCarthy Cup holders, they’d wintered well. But two underperformances begin to look like a pattern.

The win in the meantime against Clare in the Waterford Crystal final is unlikely to have assuaged many of those natives whose restlessness was discernible from the tenor of the texts to Ronan Quirke’s weekly Extra Time show on Tipp FM last Monday week. For one thing the volume was way above the norm. For another, although they were split roughly 50-50 for and against the manager. The lack of intensity against Kilkenny was one obvious stick to beat Ryan with. The Corbett issue will remain another until unless Lar comes back.

Incidentally, if Nowlan Park silenced that percentile of Tipp supporters who found succour – unwarranted succour — in the fact that the losers were so close at the final whistle last September (ie the “we never turned up and still only lost by four points” school of misplaced thought), so much the better for the county.

Anyway, should Declan Ryan feel in need of solace right now he could do worse than take heart from a chapter in the ongoing life story of his opposite number at Nowlan Park. 11 years ago Kilkenny sleepwalked into that famous All-Ireland semi-final with Galway. They brought a knife to what they assumed would be a gunfight, in much the same way that Tipperary did last September. They were wrong.

What happened next? What Did Cody Do? Having fallen asleep at the wheel, he woke up. He looked into his own heart a la Éamon de Valera, identified the problem, which started with the man facing him in the mirror, and produced a self-diagnosis. Never again would he let Kilkenny get soft.

They’ve lost four championship matches in the intervening decade. Not one of them was lost because their mentality was anything less than ironclad.

One wonders what plans, if any, Ryan has for Noel McGrath, who’s in much the same place now that Henry Shefflin was this time in 2002. McGrath hit his side’s opening score at Nowlan Park 11 days ago with a glorious point from 60m, hard against the sideline, all wrists and swing and a hip movement Shakira might have sung about.

But that won’t be enough for, and from, McGrath this season. He’s a big boy now. Heretofore in his senior career he’s adorned the play and, clearly, done so beautifully. From now on, however, Tipp need him to shape the play, as Shefflin did for Kilkenny in 2002 and ever since.

Tomorrow versus Galway would be a good place to start. He and his colleagues don’t have to hurl like the Tipp team of the 1960s but for their manager’s sake they must win.

What would a Cody Team Do in this situation? I think we know the answer.


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