This Tipp team might be on the threshold of greatness, writes PM O’Sullivan.
They were the same value for it as Usain Bolt for his gold medals in Rio de Janeiro. Last weekend, Tipperary’s hurlers met a day of destiny and proved more than adequate to the demand.
Nobody can deny the fluency and purity of their hurling. 2-29 is a score for the ages. The spell between the 45th and 52nd minutes, when Tipperary slotted 1-4 on the spin after Kilkenny’s first goal, immediately went down as one of Croke Park’s finest championship passages.
The hallmark of every serious team? Ultimate moment provoking maximum response. While the game continued for 20 further minutes, the contest was over.
Tipperary produced this remarkable display on an All-Ireland afternoon in which no yellow card was waved by Brian Gavin. When did we last see this factor in a do or die match, let alone in a pivotal senior final? Only a churl would deny Tipp their due.
This team might be on the threshold of greatness. The next four or five seasons will scroll a verdict.
The pity is that a wedge of their supporters, the kind that failed to turn up for the homecoming in 2011, hinders wider appreciation of this side’s excellence. Manager Michael Ryan and colleagues are a class act. But so it goes.
Had Tipp lost, the current group was effectively finished. To withstand such pressure took gumption of a rare stamp. Ryan deserves immense credit. He appears to have achieved the requisite equilibrium between carrot and stick, fervour and finesse.
The Tipperary County Board, following so stylish a victory, can take a deeper bow than standard. Announcing that Michael Ryan would succeed Éamon O’Shea, a year before the transition, stood as an unusual move, cutting against received wisdom. Ryan and others acknowledged the decision’s singular nature. Yet the move worked out the finest. The people who advocated said initiative were wise before the event, cutting the deepest groove for admiration.
O’Shea’s prior input glinted in last Sunday’s play like mica in granite. The ceaseless movement and desire of Tipp’s forwards produced bullseye targets of space for deliveries from their backs and midfielders. By the end, the Kilkenny defence must have felt they were dealing with six clones of Robin Hood.
To their eternal credit, Kilkenny ran right to the finish, which is a basis for moving forward in 2017. But an ‘end of era’ inflection became unavoidable. Item: not making any alteration in a straitened defence until the 60th minute.
But only Brian Cody and colleagues saw the relevant training sessions. Nobody should be under any illusion: the team that went out in stripes was as good as the county possessed in September 2016.
As the game’s trajectory transpired, they were never going to win. Probably their only chance of being in the contest with a few minutes left was to get ahead early and put a doubt in Tipperary heads.
Unforced errors and that missed goal chance in the 19th minute, when Colin Fennelly’s drive hit the ground too soon, removed any chance of this scenario.
Once Tipp got ahead, as seemed perfectly clear at half-time, their day was dawning.
On reflection, the only occasion they were vulnerable ended up the semi-final with Galway. Not looking ahead some bit to a day of destiny is difficult.
Larry Ryan of these pages told a wonderful story last weekend about the Kilkenny-Waterford result being announced off the altar in Templederry.
There was a collective groan in the church. But the players were not for groaning.
Michael ‘Babs’ Keating found a bullish mood in this week’s newspaper column. According to him: “The future is now Tipp’s.”
Keating hailed this combination as “unbeatable”. Time will tell but the signs are quite auspicious.
Tipperary players did speak openly afterwards about wanting to take successive titles. As Séamus Callanan phrased it, they want to “put a few together”, which means at least three in a row.
This candour, unusual in GAA circles, is not foolhardy. The core group is now 26 to 28 rather than 20 to 22, as obtained in 2010.
The contrast in tenor between 2010’s homecoming and last Monday’s events was notable (and a touch ominous). Michael Ryan and Brendan Maher spoke exceptionally well.
Wider implications? Well, there is an amusing side to this swerve. With some observers, a deep resentment about Kilkenny’s achievements burst its membrane.
People had been insisting for years that one county winning successive titles was ‘bad for hurling’.
Now these people want to behold Tipperary scorch in the same direction. Seeing where the dandelion fluff of those wishes settles will be an intrigue.
As a great philosopher once wrote: “Out of the crooked timber of humanity, no straight thing was ever made.”
Same goes for the crooked timber of hurling.
There will be attempts to rewrite history. We will be asked to believe that a Duine Eile-led Cork in 2008 or a Duine Eile-led Tipperary in 2011 would have beaten Kilkenny simply because a Michael Ryan-led Tipperary beat Kilkenny in 2016.
Nutshell: because Kilkenny were beaten this year, they should have been beaten every other year. Really? Was there no differential, then, in available talent? No team in the annals of the most beautiful game, managed by whomever, would have got near Kilkenny’s altitude in 2008.
This sort of stuff makes history into plasticine. For meteorologists of such inclination, rain comes from the ground. I would not like to be in a vehicle driven by someone with so slender a grasp of causality.
The matter is straightforward. When a team good enough to beat Kilkenny came along, they beat Kilkenny, same as Tipperary all but did in 2014. The disadvantaged Munster champions angle is a canard, same as the alternative manager angle is a canard.
Anyhow and anyway, the new champions do not need to worry about any of that craic. They got the job done, marshalling a tremendous splice of nerve and verve. Now they can enjoy a Jamaican winter.
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