O’Mahony set to repay faith

FOR Conor O’Mahony and the newer members of the Tipperary hurling team, meeting Cork in Páirc Uí Chaoimh next Sunday will mean the fulfilment of a dream.

Aside from all the romanticism which their clashes generate, he recognises that all that matters is that he lives up to the expectations of management and supporters.

And, in this context, he is very much aware of the extra pressure which comes with wearing the number six jersey, a position which has caused a degree of difficulty for successive Tipp teams over the last two decades. !Players who have been selected there suffer (unfairly) from comparisons with greats like Tony Wall or Mick Roche but for O’Mahony, a sale representative with the Co. Cork based firm Munster Joinery, it’s all about settling into a position which Babs Keating assigned him midway through last season.

“You hear talk that Tipp haven’t had a settled centre-back. I suppose it’s nice to get the recognition, but all I can do is to go out and play the game as well as I can – and repay the faith the management have in me,’’ he comments.

It’s his third year involved at senior level, having made his debut against Limerick (as an injury time sub). For that brief period he was at midfield and last season he started out against Limerick at wing-back, before moving to the centre for the first replay.

Playing in Páirc Uí Chaoimh will be a new experience for him as a senior, but he has played there, in two Munster minor and three under-21 finals, with mixed results.

“Watching Tipp seniors play there a couple of times from the terraces or whatever, you’d love to be out there playing. Cork/Tipperary games create their own buzz. There’s a great atmosphere in the stadium and it’ll be electric on Sunday. I’m really looking forward to running out on to the pitch.’’

There has been a lot of talk about Tipperary not having beaten Cork in a championship game in Cork for so long (1923, to be exact, but there have been no more than a half a dozen meetings there since), but though they hear it from supporters, they haven’t talked about it as a group.

“It’d be nice to overturn, but our only focus is on the game,’’ he added.

He points out that Sheedy and co-selectors, Michael Ryan and Eamonn O’Shea, have developed a very good understanding with the squad and that this is reciprocated.

“We won the Waterford Crystal and then we went through the league unbeaten. Confidence really is the big factor. We are now working harder in training and doing that little bit more than we used to. When you’re winning you want to keep training.’’

It’s a very different feeling to what they experienced coming off the field in Croke Park after losing in the All-Ireland quarter-final. Part of the problem stemmed from the disappointment of losing out to Limerick after their three-game marathon – and then seeing how Richie Bennis’ team built on that success and went all the way to the All-Ireland final.

Playing three qualifier games in quick succession and then facing into Wexford had not been easy, he explained. “We were very down after the Limerick saga. We had a good result against Cork. We should have built on that but we didn’t.’’

Maintaining an unbeaten record, he says, is down to stability in defence but also the outfield players keeping the pressure on the opposing backs.

“That gives us a better chance to contest the fifty/fifty ball. I don’t think the forwards get enough credit for the work they do.

“I suppose you could say that we have a settled team. That was one of the aims of the management at the start of the year, to have the nucleus of a team and then to bring in a few new lads and try them out.’’

He found it reassuring that Sheedy had sufficient belief in him to retain him at centre-back. However, wherever he was chosen, the most important thing would be to get time to settle there.

“Nobody wants to be moved about, starting at midfield and ending up at wing-forward. For so long, Tipp have been down the pecking order. You have Kilkenny and you have Cork, Waterford, Galway, Clare and Limerick. Tipp have been down, but maybe now people are standing up to it and saying, ‘we can compete with these teams if we just knuckle down.’ It’s only a small thing that separates a lot of the teams,’’ he added.

“Maybe we have taken defeat too easily over the last few years or whatever and we really need to settle down. It’s a big thing losing. We don’t want to lose. We started winning and we just want to keep winning.’’

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