Eoin Kelly claims Cork lack leaders

The consensus was almost instant a couple of Saturdays ago.

Eoin Kelly claims Cork lack leaders

Tipperary and Kilkenny had produced August-level intensity in wintry March, their drawn league game the stand-out clash of the spring - and an enticing prospect ahead of the championship.

Eoin Kelly agrees that it was the best game of the year so far, and the Tipperary icon doesn’t rule out an early repeat of that superb game in Semple Stadium.

“The common denominator from people after that game was ‘you’d love to see more games like that’, and you might - if Kilkenny get a win this weekend they could end up getting to a league semi-final or final and it could be a rematch with Tipperary.

“From Tipperary’s point of view, they’d have liked to win, particularly as they were eight points up at one stage of the game - the fact that they didn’t push it on from there is something I’m sure Mick (Ryan, manager) will have focused on since then.

“They didn’t lose the game either, though, so when things were going against them they could point to the fact they were able to show a bit of steel and dig in.

“If they’d lost in Thurles that evening it would have been a big psychological setback.”

It was another instalment in a very encouraging series of league games for the All-Ireland champions.

“Sean Curran did well out around the middle of the field,” says Kelly, who captained Tipperary to the All-Ireland win of 2010.

“Steven O’Brien came on and did well, he got a point, so lads are asking questions of others on the panel in terms of position.

“Also, your two main forwards last year, Seamus Callanan and Bubbles O’Dwyer, didn’t strike top form either. So Mick will probably give them more game time to enable them to get into their flow and to find a rhythm.

“All told, though, Tipp have had a very good league so far. They’d have to be very happy.”

That sense of satisfaction must apply at management level too, he adds.

“Management and selection are a balancing act but what will always make it easier is if you have a squad of players, and Tipperary have that luxury. Not every county does.

“Kilkenny were the one county who had that luxury for a good few years, but they don’t anymore. Mick (Ryan) will also be trying to keep the whole thing fresh and will probably make some changes to the championship team.

“He certainly did last year for the first game of the championship - I don’t think many people would have expected a half-forward line of Sean Curran, Dan McCormack and Noel McGrath, and that’s not a reflection on their ability, but just that combination of players.

“Obviously, though, they were going well in training and as a result they got the start - a good message in every panel.

“For me, a good manager is someone who keeps his players guessing, and I think at the moment the Tipp players are guessing - ‘Am I on? Who’s going to be on’? - and it’s a healthy environment as a result.”

There’s a different dynamic for Tipperary’s opponents tomorrow. Cork began the league with a bang, beating champions Clare, but disappointed in their next outing when losing at home to Dublin.

“With Cork you’d be thinking about inconsistency. They had a great start to the campaign (against Clare) and you think they’ve turned the corner after last year, then back to what we saw in 2016 in the next game against Dublin.

“They put it up to Kilkenny the next day but faded on the physical side - Cormac Murphy came on that day and had a bit of an edge. I like the look of him - but they picked it up again the last day against Waterford.

“The only thing is you don’t know what you’ll get from Cork on Sunday, while Tipperary know what they’ll get.

“Go back to 2013 and Cork beat Tipp 0-26 to 1-11; go back to the game two years ago and Tipp won by one point, Cork 4-21, Tipperary 2-28, having been 12 down at one stage - Noel McGrath got the winner, and that was a big win for Tipp.”

Kelly says getting to Tipperary’s level is crucial for Cork - and leadership is crucial to that work.

“Cork have to work now to narrow the gap that’s been created between themselves and Tipp. And there is a gap now which was never really there in recent years - it was usually nip and tuck, with Cork winning one and Tipp winning one.

“The team with Dónal Óg and the lads was very consistent when it came to Tipp but the balance is in Tipp’s favour now.

“It’s a challenge, nurturing the younger players, who’ve been doing well, but then a lot of the Cork players lined out in the All-Ireland final in 2013 and the replay, as well as the Munster final of 2014. They should be well able for that role.

“Cork probably don’t carry the same leaders that the top teams carry, but I’ve been impressed by Shane Kingston, Mark Coleman and Luke Meade, they’ve done well. I think Cork need to leave the league with a good spine to their team; it’d be a good day’s work for them to settle on that ahead of the championship, but they’ve found a few players at the same time, so that’s a positive note for them.”

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