Five reasons why high-flying Tipperary are becoming the new Kilkenny

Jackie Cahill looks at five ways in which Michael Ryan’s Tipperary are emulating Brian Cody’s Cats.

Five reasons why high-flying Tipperary are becoming the new Kilkenny

1. Michael Ryan’s leadership

There was a degree of scepticism when it was announced Michael Ryan would succeed Eamon O’Shea in the Tipperary hot-seat – even before the latter’s final season in charge (2015). But Ryan’s appointment has proven a shrewd one by county board officials, and the Upperchurch-Drombane man has hardly put a foot wrong since taking over from O’Shea.

Ryan drew on the positive aspects of the O’Shea template but put his own very firm stamp on the Tipperary camp, delivering on promises of a more direct style of play, and increased levels of physicality.

Ryan isn’t a man to suffer fools lightly and in many ways, his leadership style is akin to that of Kilkenny manager Brian Cody. Ryan appears to be determined to build a Tipperary dynasty and so far, he’s going the right way about it. He learned so much during two spells as a selector alongside Sheedy and O’Shea – and is now putting his own stamp on the top job.

2. Strength in depth

When Kilkenny under Cody were in their pomp, the strength in depth available to the James Stephens man was the envy of almost every other team in the country. But now Cody’s options have diminished and his cause hasn’t been helped by the retirement of a host of All- Ireland winners, most notably marquee stars such as Henry Shefflin, JJ Delaney, Tommy Walsh and Richie Power, to name just four. Cody brought on just two subs against Tipperary in last September’s All-Ireland final defeat – Robert Lennon and Lester Ryan. Tipp, in contrast, emptied their bench with Jason Forde, Niall O’Meara, Donagh Maher, Kieran Bergin and Tomás Hamill introduced.

Last Sunday against Clare, O’Meara, Maher and Hamill all started while Forde has made a big impact in the early stages of the league campaign, and Bergin missed out through injury for the Banner County’s visit. Tipp’s 2010 All-Ireland U21 winners are now in their peak years and there’s also a host of promising young players coming down the tracks. Tipp were also crowned All-Ireland minor champions last year while players like Brian McGrath (brother of John and Noel), Stevie Nolan, Paddy Cadell, Lyndon Fairbrother and Jerry Kelly are key members of the Our Lady’s Templemore team who won the Harty Cup recently, and they could go on to even bigger and better things. Cadell, Fairbrother and McGrath, as captain, started on Tipp’s 2016 All-Ireland minor winning team.

3. Focus

When Tipp won the All- Ireland title in 2010, it’s fair to say they got a little bit carried away. There were even bold predictions of a five-in-a-row assault and that sense of expectation was heightened when the U21s demolished Galway to win the All-Ireland title, just six days after the senior success.

Throughout the winter months, players wined and dined on the back of what they’d achieved and lost a degree of focus. Within two years of that 2010 win, Tipp fell to their heaviest championship defeat since the 1800s, losing by 18 points to Kilkenny in the 2012 All-Ireland semi-final.

Tipp haven’t won back-to-back All-Ireland senior crowns since 1964-65 but the current crop is well placed to end that record. Ryan and his players are determined to win more trophies and that was evident in the muted nature of their celebrations following last year’s All-Ireland win, when thoughts immediately turned to the 2017 campaign. Kilkenny are dab hands at putting back-to-back All- Ireland titles together, and then some, and Tipp want to emulate that.

4. The physical edge

Former Kilkenny star Eddie O’Connor once famously declared Tipp didn’t have the ‘bottle’ for a fight. Under Ryan, that’s all changed. Tipp suffered an agonising one-point loss to Galway in the 2015 All-Ireland semi-final but a year later, they came out on the right side of the result, by the same margin. Tipp are now well able to mix it in the physical stakes, as evidenced by Brendan Maher’s colossal shoulder on Kevin Moran in last July’s Munster final rout. And Pádraic Maher’s shuddering hit on Joe Canning in the 2016 All-Ireland semi-final was one of the Premier County’s standout moments of the season.

“It would have been discussed among players, the three or four around that (midfield) warzone, about the need to lay down a marker and set the tone,” Brendan Maher told this writer late last year. Under manager Michael Ryan, the intensity in Tipp’s training went up a few levels last year – and that was replicated on matchdays.

5. Allianz League tilt

During Brian Cody’s spell as Kilkenny boss, which dates back to 1999, Kilkenny have won six League and championship doubles – 2002, 2003, 2006, 2009, 2012 and 2014. Going well in the spring helps to develop a winning habit that carries into the summer – and Tipp manager Michael Ryan is acutely aware of that. He was anxious to hit the ground running this year and Tipp have done that, winning their first three League games in convincing fashion, averaging 25 points per game.

They struck 0-28 against Clare last Sunday – even without marquee forward Seamus Callanan. It should be noted Tipp haven’t won the Allianz League crown since 2008, a drought that Ryan is anxious to put an end to.

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