Backroom must fight sense of anti-climax

The initial challenge for management when an All-Ireland final is drawn isn’t conditioning or injuries, necessarily.

Backroom must fight sense of anti-climax

It’s the sense of an anti-climax for the players. Cork hurling selector Seanie McGrath and his colleagues had to deal with that after last year’s dramatic draw with Clare in September, and moving past the limbo that induces is the first obstacle for a backroom team.

“Players train so hard after a semi-final win, that it’s a huge anti-climax when you draw,” says McGrath.

“In fairness to Tipperary and Kilkenny, they’ve been there so often in recent years that at this stage they would expect to be regrouped and back with their clubs at this stage, looking forward to the club scene that they’ve missed for a lot of the summer.

“Then to have to head back to Nowlan Park and Thurles for more county training... it’s nearly alien to them to have to go back in there because they were expecting to be finished with it for the year.”

McGrath points out that the three-week lead-in to the replay brings players back to where they need to be for an All-Ireland final.

“Last year we felt it went well, between the drawn game and the replay, that we handled it well, though I’ve no doubt Clare felt the same.

“From a strength and conditioning point of view, a hurling point of view, we felt we did everything that we could, but it was challenging, there’s no point in saying otherwise, and the sense of anti-climax is the first thing you have to deal with in order to get back into the zone.

“You’re expecting one of two emotions — elation or despair, and that neutral feeling after the draw is even hard to put into words. That said, I’d expect that both sides will have dealt with that at this stage, because as you start counting down again to the game itself, then obviously the hype gets going and the adrenaline starts in all over again.

“One thing I’d have been a little sceptical about last year was the Saturday night replay, but in fairness it turned out to be a magical occasion, even the fact that we started in daylight and finished under lights, that all added to the occasion.”

Kilkenny and Tipperary know each other so well now that there can’t be much to be learned about each other’s game, he feels.

“Not being blasé, but I don’t know is there a whole lot you can pick up from the opposition when you’re talking about teams who’ve played each other so often in recent years. It’s not like football, you’re not going to be able to say, ‘we’ll take them down that wing’ or whatever, as something new.

“The familiarity is there anyway with colleges and league games, even seeing so many games now on television and so on. On top of that, I don’t know if the drawn game has thrown up anything new along the way either for both teams.”

On that basis, the 1999 All-Ireland winner is staying with his initial tip for victory.

“Before the first day, I felt Kilkenny had a small bit extra, I don’t know why,” says McGrath.

“Tipperary had a great game, got great scores and were coming well towards the end, Bubbles O’Dwyer and Lar Corbett were bang in form — but I didn’t see anything to change my mind, either. I’d only have a slight fancy for Kilkenny but I’ll stay with them.”

The consensus is that it was one of the greatest All-Irelands of all time, and McGrath doesn’t buck that trend.

“It was definitely up there. For me, from a biased point of view, 1990 is the All-Ireland that sticks out, which was a completely different kind of game. Galway dominated the first half and then Cork came back, John Fitzgibbon got the goals you need to win a game.

“This year’s drawn game was different — with 10 minutes to go you’d think that Tipperary needed a goal to get back into it, but they kept chipping away and chipping away.

“I’d have to go into a really critical mode if I was to find fault in the game a couple of weeks ago. I thought it was enthralling, really, hurling at its purest.”

McGrath picked up on the mix of the planned and spontaneous also: “Yeah, the funny thing is that it was tactical and yet free-flowing at times as well. Shane McGrath at one stage picked and hit the ball into his full-forward line, and Noel McGrath won the ball through instinct and put it over the bar.

“Old-school, instinctive play, and the game was all the better for it — ask any forward over the years and they’ll tell you some of their best scores came that way, and with the amount of combinations and short passing nowadays, if you try that every now and then, it can catch a defence out, too. Certainly 1990 would be a favourite, but you’d have to put this year’s game up there with it.”

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