Operation emulation as Ryan gets Tipp tenure underway

HE WAS a force of nature in his own playing days, combative whether at centre-forward or full-forward, but it’s a gentle introduction to competitive fare tomorrow for new Tipperary senior hurling manager Declan Ryan; the opening round of the Waterford Crystal Tournament against Waterford IT in Clonmel.

Nevertheless, those familiar old competitive juices are already flowing. “I’m looking forward to it,” he says, “I’m looking forward to getting started – only four weeks now until we meet Kilkenny in the first round of the league so it’s a short run-in to full competition.”

A repeat of the All-Ireland final, won by Tipperary, that game will be pretty much full-on, the Cats – as always under Brian Cody – bristling with serious intent. “Yes, but no more than ourselves,” says Declan.

With that fast-approaching league opener in mind, there will be no laxity in Tipperary’s approach, no drop-off in standards allowed, though there will be some experimentation.

“There are cobwebs there to be brushed off certainly, but as All-Ireland champions there are certain responsibilities also. You have to try and match your performances of last year.

“I’m not sure how many of the All-Ireland final team will be there, there are still a few lads involved in the 2010 U-21 championship in Tipp, others who are involved with the colleges, so they’re not available. We’ll be experimenting to an extent, putting out a few guys we want to have a look at.”

Since Ryan was appointed at the beginning of last November, we have had the mandatory GAA inter-county winter break, after which the Tipperary panel went on their team holiday. So the new management team haven’t had much time with their new charges.

“We haven’t been doing anything, really,” Ryan explains, “They’ve been out sunning themselves in Jamaica for the past few weeks, that’s what they’ve been doing, they only came back on Tuesday morning.”

“A good idea”, says Declan of the winter break, but badly implemented. “I’m not sure it’s working very well. You have a lot of lads in third-level education and they don’t stop training. In fact some colleges train even harder than a lot of county teams would do, getting ready for the Fitzgibbon Cup.

Then you look at some of the younger lads at minor and U-21 and they’re training for Harty Cup and so on, so there’s no real break for them either. That means there’s no rest for the best of the young players, those from about 17 to those in their early 20s, and they’re the ones the break was intended to protect. From that point of view I don’t think it is doing the job it was intended to do.”

It’s a very valid viewpoint, one that has been expressed by a variety of managers in both hurling and football, and one that needs to be taken on board by the powers-that-be.

Nevertheless, it will not be used as an excuse by Tipperary this Sunday. Having played with the older team members such as Eoin Kelly and Lar Corbett, and having coached many of the younger brigade in his time as minor manager (he won an All-Ireland with them in 2007), he is already familiar with most of the panel.

And then there is his own well-honed competitive instinct. While WIT isn’t one of Tipperary’s traditional rivals, not even close, they will still field a star-studded side, and will be much more advanced in their preparations.

Hugely successful in the Fitzgibbon Cup since their first win in 1991/92, WIT will host the 2010/11 finals weekend in a few months’ time and are making a huge drive to regain a title they last held three years ago. They will offer a real challenge to Tipperary this Sunday, albeit not in Tipp’s usual hurling stronghold at Semple Stadium, but in Clonmel – football country.

“I suppose you don’t get too many inter-county hurling games in Clonmel,” says Declan, “But you’d still be expecting a good bit of support. It’s very early in the year, I know, and it’s a competition for experimentation, but I’m sure there will be a few people there anyway, to see how we’re getting on, how the new lads are going about their business.”

Great to be back in harness, for all of us!

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